45th Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Land Use and Water Management in a Sustainable Network Society", 23-27 August 2005, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
In many European countries, territorial development strategies identify the development potential of so-called polycentric urban regions: regions in which a multitude of more or less similar-sized, formerly independent and distinct cities are located close to each other and among which functional relationships seem to be on the increase. Often, such polycentric urban regions are referred to using metaphors as city networks or urban networks. Well-known examples are the Randstad and Brabantstad in the Netherlands and the Flemish Diamond in Belgium. Taken together, the cities of such a region would provide for more critical mass and more agglomeration economies so that the region can compete on a higher level. In order to exploit the potentialities of such regions, often co-operation links have been forged between the cities. From a geographical perspective, applying the network metaphor to such a regional collection of cities seems only appropriate when the regional spatial structure corresponds to what has been labelled as the 'Network Model' (Batten, 1995; Van der Knaap, 2002). It could be argued that the presence of a networked spatial structure is necessary for a polycentric urban region to be more than just a collection of cities. One of the defining characteristics of the network model is that the cities, or the activities and places within them, should complement each other. The paper addresses this issue of complementarity in polycentric urban regions, focussing on the regional structure of urban facilities such as hospital care, higher education and the cultural sector in Dutch polycentric urban regions. The paper will demonstrate how spatially relevant decisions taken within these micro-sectors alter, on a macro-level, the spatial structure of the polycentric urban region. The question is whether these lead to less duplication and, through differentiation, to a higher extent of complementarity. In other words, are polycentric urban regions as the Randstad turning into urban networks?