Lakes of Knowledge and Mountains of Expertise: A Roundup of the RSA Annual Conference 2018 in Lugano

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In a beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Lugano and surrounded by mountains, more than 500 academics came together to attend the Regional Studies Association Annual Conference 2018 called “A World of Flows: Labour Mobility, Capital and Knowledge in an Age of Global Reversal and Regional Revival“. City-REDI was there with a team of four which represented a wide range of research from the institute.

The conference, held at the campus of Universita della Svizzera Italiana, started with two interesting plenary sessions. In the first session, Allessandra Faggian focused on refugee movements in Europe, a topic very close to my heart. She analysed the situation and how unprepared European countries were, with significant effects on the refugees. One of the most significant points was that policy sought to relocate refugees to areas where there was a surplus of housing; however, this surplus was of course associated with a lack of jobs and deteriorating socio-economic conditions. Hence, the tensions observed should not surprise us. Seth Schindler followed this with an outline on the revival of regional planning in the global South and its implications for National Urban Plans.

Following this, I attended sessions on the dynamics of entrepreneurial ecosystems, quality and quantity characteristics and the spatial persistence of entrepreneurship in time. Next up was City-REDI’s Charlotte Hoole. Charlotte is part of a research project called “the Democratic Foundations of the Just City” with Charlotte tasked at looking into how Birmingham performs on Just City measures. In addition, I also saw presentations on innovation and knowledge dynamics, before the last plenary for the day on the spatial footprint of illegal and illicit activities.

The second day was dedicated to policy and started with a plenary session on cohesion policy, its history and future. It was sad to see a map for cohesion policy post-2021 where the UK was greyed out. The next session had two presentations from City-REDI’s Brexit project, led by Raquel Ortega-Argiles. Firstly, Chloe Billing presented research on the potential impact of Brexit on the UK Aerospace Sector and then Philip McCann presented on the sub-national governance and policy challenges of the exit from the EU.

My session was next which focused on governance and politics at the sub-national level. I presented a paper with Antonios Proestakis on intergovernmental transfers from the central government to the municipality level. In this study, we find that the political alignment between the municipality and the national government affects the allocation of grants from the latter to the former in the run-up to elections. The presentation received some interesting comments that will inform the finalisation of the paper in the coming weeks. The day closed with more presentations on entrepreneurship and the local business climate.

On the final day of the conference, I saw interesting presentations on the effects of technological change on regional innovation dynamics in a session that was dominated by Birmingham based researchers, as well as an engaging presentation by Nikolaos Terzidis on regional employment polarisation in the Netherlands. The conference closed with another plenary session with presentations on Special Economic Zones and the changing nature of geography and regional studies.

Overall it was a great conference where I learned a lot and I go away with new challenges and ideas for my own research agenda. I look forward to the next one!

By Dr. Tasos Kitsos, Research Fellow, City-REDI, University of Birmingham

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The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham

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