Upper Rhine region: cross-border differentials foster functional integration

Cross-border metropolitan areas link national urban systems in a way that can generate a number of new opportunities and agglomeration economies. In particular, cross-border metropolises often show more and higher differentials than domestic ones and even if using these differentials is a sometimes complex challenge, it might be a rewarding long term strategy.

As demonstrated in the METROBORDER project, this is very much the case for the Upper Rhine Region crossing the borders between Switzerland, France and Germany. This metropolitan region shows a distinct polycentric structure with its major cross-border urban areas of Basel, Strasbourg, and to a certain extent, Karlsruhe.

The concept of cross-border polycentric metropolitan regions brings together several complex dimensions, in particular ‘polycentricity’ and ‘metropolitan quality’. These regions can be understood as political constructions based on cross-border agreements which consider the existence of national borders as a resource for increasing interactions at the local level and based on the embeddedness of the metropolitan centre(s) in global networks.

In fact, the Upper Rhine region clearly illustrates the high importance of polycentric organisation, which allows for these regions to have an economic and demographic weight that is comparable to ‘classical’ national metropolises.

The high intensity of cross-border employment in the Upper Rhine region is due to a strong presence of a knowledge-intensive economy driven by an international financial centre (Geneva) and high-tech activities (Basel). In order to further strengthen the cross-border polycentric development in the region, a process of strategy -building has been carried out and efforts have been made to develop more efficient cross-border governance structures.

Focusing on problem solving at functional rather than administrative scale

The case study of the Upper Rhine region reveals the importance of national policy frameworks in support of building polycentric networks and problem solving at functional rather than administrative scale. In this perspective, cross-border cooperation projects are not only an opportunity, but also a necessity in many domains, for instance in order to be able to build up efficient public transportation networks.

European research oriented cooperation projects like METROBORDER allow metropolitan policy makers to get an insight on what is done in similar territories and to see what is already working well in international comparison and what could be further improved.