Taking a closer look at the structures of metropolitan regions in Europe and the world, one can clearly distinguish two types of organisational models. One model is based on a strong urban centre that bundles the most diverse functions of the metropolitan region: the cultural offerings, business activities, politics, social exchange, health care services, in addition to science and research institutions. The strong functional concentration offers numerous advantages, such as the comparatively high efficiency of the transport systems due to higher bundling effects. Even the so-called governance structures of centralistically organised metropolitan regions appear to be more efficient, as many areas, such as regional planning and the promotion of culture, business or tourism, are organised from a central institution. Such structures often result in faster decision-making as well as earlier and more efficient project and initiative launches and implementations. Not least, this also results in a great number of marketing advantages for the internal and external presentation. The focus on the centre of the metropolitan region gives the region a clear profile, which in turn makes international perceptibility much easier.
Another significant advantage of a centrally structured metropolis is the symbiotic relationship between the core city and its surrounding area. Here one can see a clear allocation of roles. The surrounding area sees itself as a logical benefactor and close partner of the metropolitan region. A fact that is lived and practised independently of actual city and community boundaries. One example that can be named in Germany is the European metropolitan region of Munich, which, apart from the core city of Munich, includes smaller cities such as Ingolstadt or Augsburg. In terms of external presentation, it is very important for these municipalities to position themselves at the level of the Munich metropolitan region, as they otherwise would not be able to attract the same kind of international attention. The symbiosis also leads to a closer collaboration between the various players involved. The mutual benefit that is created through the appeal of the strong centre to the surrounding communities represents an excellent basis for trusting and targeted cooperation.
The author assumed the position as head of the marketing department of Fraport AG in 1997. Since August 2005, she has been responsible for the areas of marketing, sales support and committees. As of 1 May, 2007, she has additionally taken over the position as managing director of the Wirtschaftsinitiative.
Many polycentric structures – as a counter model to the centralised metropolitan regions – can in particular also be found in Germany. The best example for this is Rhine-Ruhr, the largest metropolitan region in Germany with a population of over 10 million. The Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region includes the cities Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Bochum and Bonn, among others. Compared to Munich, this alone demonstrates a significantly higher level of complexity in establishing an allocative function at the level of the metropolitan region. When it comes to a joint positioning and alignment, however, an effective allocative function becomes essential, as the competitiveness and strength of a metropolitan region goes far beyond the mere addition of key figures.
Polycentric metropolitan regions must rather concentrate on clearly defining and underlining the additional benefit of polycentrism, which can usually be found in the diversity of the interactions within the metropolitan region, in the close regional network, economic ties and in the social exchange. From this diversity of interactions, however, it is important to define content-related focuses in the context of developing profiles, which then have to be formulated into strategies. A brand essence, in other words a type of regional DNA, must be carved out from a virtual structure that is neither anchored politically nor socially established and which must reflect the region as a whole.
These types of processes are extremely difficult to implement in polycentric metropolitan regions. The sheer number of the parties involved in the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region intimates just how complex and elaborate these tasks really are. Organising a strategic discussion in terms of content on a continual basis and reviewing the implementation of agreed strategies on an ongoing basis does not make the task easier either.
Fulfilling the function as deputy managing director, the author has been in charge of the Wirtschaftsinitiative FrankfurtRheinMain e.V. branch since May 2007. In particular, he is responsible for the areas of committees, member support, controlling and project management, as well as marketing and press work.
Establishing a corresponding identity therefore represents one of the biggest challenges of polycentric metropolitan regions. Traditional regional boundaries in the Rhine-Ruhr region (“Lower Rhine”, “Ruhr Valley” and “Rhineland”), for example, are still very much pronounced. However, in light of increasing globalisation and competition among the world’s metropolitan regions, it would be more sensible to develop an identity along the lines of “Rhine-Ruhr”. This in turn first requires an appropriate awareness among the players of the metropolitan region and a great deal of patience, as regional identities take a very long time to develop.
As an interim assessment, it can be stated that the centrally structured regions enjoy significant benefits compared to polycentric structures. One decisive question remains: which of the two models can remain in the future and is sustainable in the long term? Against the background of global developments, there might be new opportunities for polycentric metropolitan regions in particular, such as Frankfurt RhineMain.
The steady immigration into the metropolises of this world remains unchanged with no trend reversal in sight. This population dynamics presents ever-growing challenges for many cities. None of the existing infrastructures of the world are able to withstand the projected influx, even if many metropolises are already implementing or planning gigantic infrastructure projects such as the Dubai Metro or the multi terminal in Shanghai. China in particular is trying to cope with this phenomenon by developing infrastructures at a breath-taking pace. In 2012, Chinese authorities announced an investment volume of 157 billion US dollars as part of an economic stimulus package for infrastructure projects.
The permanent adjustment of the infrastructures to the actual and future requirements is one of the most difficult and lasting tasks of a metropolitan region. This is because an adequate availability of modern infrastructures is per se one of the most essential competitive factors of a metropolitan region. Nevertheless, when confronted with day-to-day realities, it can be stated that city planning is basically forced to chase the actual requirements due to its slow implementation. In many regions, the implementation of infrastructure measures is simply not able to keep up with the increasing population, even with the best possible planning. In spite of how extensive the respective long-term infrastructure and investment needs may appear to be, the adjustments required can mostly only be implemented with relatively long delays and, at the same time, very high costs.
Because of this, policy-makers and planners are often forced to concentrate on removing short-term infrastructure bottlenecks. The consequence is that no networking takes place within the projects, thus they are handled completely independently of one another and without any reference to their importance for the metropolitan region. The timeframe, high costs and the complexity of long-term strategic city development, as well as the supposed positive political perception of short-term successes, let this prioritisation appear reasonable. That being said, in the long-term, however, this development will have a negative impact on the region.
As a result, certain repercussions will have to be taken into account increasingly more often, such as traffic jams, restrictions in energy supply, expensive housing, environmental detriments as well as a lack of school and childcare provisions. Centralistically structured metropolitan regions face this problem to a greater extent due to the lack of compensation areas and the limitations in terms of additional densification. The pressure on the core city is increasing at a steady pace, which is highlighted by high rent and high mobility and infrastructure costs. This in turn prevents the seizing of opportunities for growth, impairs the dynamics and chips away at the overall long-term competitiveness of the metropolitan region.
Polycentric structures are able to cushion these effects much better, as the mentioned problematic areas occur in a less profound way and can be solved at a more compartmentalized, local level. The polycentric structure also enables smaller centres to develop their own appeal. The more a subcentre concentrates on clusters of specific topics and handles and represents them for the entire metropolitan region, the more it will be able to develop said appeal.
The polycentric European metropolitan region Frankfurt RhineMain is very well positioned in this context. The automation and material engineering clusters are clearly focused on the Hanau region. Darmstadt has its strength in the areas of science, aerospace technology and IT. As the state capital, Wiesbaden forms the political core of the region and – along with the city of Bad Homburg – has a strong economic profile in the area of consulting and healthcare. The city of Frankfurt is the international metropolis in the finance and mobility segments and is well-positioned as a trade fair destination. What brings the region together are issues such as a high quality of life, internationality, a high standard of living, short distances as well as a diverse and premium range of culture and leisure activities. The Frankfurt RhineMain metropolitan region therefore presents the advantage of not having to focus on a single centre, but rather include a variety of subcentres that are able to offer their own strong individual profiles. However, the biggest challenge in regions such as the Frankfurt RhineMain region lies in the development of efficient control units that can reduce the complexity and the amount of time it takes to make decisions. This requires a great deal of transparency between the partners, a trusting and bipartisan cooperation as well as close coordination and connection in terms of content and topics. In this regard, a special emphasis is placed on the subject of knowledge management. The partners within a metropolitan region must be able to access all relevant information and be given the opportunity to actively contribute to the planning and execution of projects. Furthermore, they must be able to draw up their own project suggestions, in addition to addressing and commenting on regional topics. What the region needs is a smart grid, an intelligent knowledge and communication network with a joint “operating system” in form of a unified strategy as well as the specification of main topics, contents and initiatives. The competitive advantages in this model are created by the degree of networking within the metropolitan region and the intelligent use of the network.
Such networking projects were specifically introduced with the regional “Themenwelt” strategy process initiated by the Wirtschaftsinitiative FrankfurtRheinMain. The House of Logistics & Mobility (HOLM), House of IT (HIT) and the Initiative House of Pharma cluster initiatives must be singled out in this regard. These competence centres are to bundle the projects and initiatives of business, science and politics and additionally offer teaching and top research.
An unparalleled bundling of expertise into one network can and should ensure that Frankfurt RhineMain attracts transregional attention and gains international relevance in the previously mentioned areas. This will make the region more appealing for companies, academics, young talent and international specialists, convincing them to settle down in the Frankfurt RhineMain region and join these networks.
The essential strategic competitive advantage of the polycentric Frankfurt RhineMain metropolitan region is thus clearly the area of knowledge networking. It is vital that the region pursues a pioneering role here.