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46th Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Enlargement, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean", August 30th - September 3rd, 2006, Volos, Greece
Networks and networking have become fashionable concepts and terms in regional science, and in particular in regional and urban geography in the last decade: we speak about network firms, network society, network economy but also network cities, city-networks, reti urbane, reseaux de villes. Only catch-words for somebody; a true new scientific paradigm according to others. Our opinion is that in fact we are confronted with a new paradigm in spatial sciences, under some precise conditions: - that its exact meaning is thoroughly defined, - that its theoretical economic rationale is justified, - that the novelty of its empirical content is clearly pointed out, with respect to more traditional spatial facts and processes that can easily be interpreted through existing spatial paradigms. The relevant theoretical building block on which the network concept or paradigm may be constructed are: - a new view of the economy as a system or web of links between individuals, firms and institutions, where links depend on experience and evolve through learning processes; the existing endowment of knowledge and other production factors is put into value through a relational capability addressed towards the exchange and collection of information, building reputation and trust, creating synergies, cutting down uncertainty, boosting learning processes; - the acknowledgement of cooperation as a new organisational and behavioural form, intermediate between hierarchy (internal development and merging of external activities through direct control) and market resort; cooperation networks among firms collaborating with each other on technological advances and innovation projects were the earlier phenomena that were abundantly explored in the past. In a spatial perspective, two phenomena in particular are worth exploring today through the network concept: - networking as cooperation among individuals, firms and institutions taking place inside the cities concerning collective action, public/private partnerships on large urban projects and the supply of public goods, and giving rise to new forms of urban governance; - networking as inter-urban cooperation, assuming the cities as economic actors, competing but also cooperating in the global arena where locations of internationally mobile factors (professionals, corporations, institutions) are decided and negotiated. The paper is organised in the following way: - a major section is devoted to the interpretation of the micro-economic efficiency of local networking (local urban networks), in terms of the usual criteria of optimal allocation of resources and collective welfare, viewing the network as an organisational alternative between market failure and state failure; - a transition section deals with the interpretation of cities, a collective actor at best, as individual/unitary economic actors, given the case for collective action among interest groups, the possibility of defining in broad terms a function of collective preference referring to non-mobile local actors, the engagement of public and private actors in processes of strategic planning and definition of shared visions for the future of the city vis-a-vis mobile actors; - another main section interprets competition and cooperation among cities (inter-city-networks) underlining advantages, risks and conditions for maximising overall comprehensive well-being.
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