Annegret Reinhardt-Lehmann & Jörg Schaub – New models for success for the metropolitan regions – Opportunities for FrankfurtRhineMain

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.

IMG_8332The 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.

Schaub2Fulfilling 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.


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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.

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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.