In some parts of Norway, as here in Aalesund, urban regions have grown powerful enough to represent a de facto fourth tier of governance. (Photo: Shutterstock)
So claims Einar Leknes, Research Director at the International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS). Dr Leknes, along with an interdisciplinary research team, has recently concluded a research project on the new regional Norway.
He points out that neither the ongoing reform process in the government administration, Proposition No. 10 to the Odelsting (relating to the Act on amendments to government administration legislation, etc.), nor other state district and regionalisation policy take adequate account of the dynamic developments currently taking place in urban areas.
More research needed
Dr Leknes and his research associates have studied urban areas from the south of Norway and northwards along the coast all the way to Tromsø. He feels there is a pressing need for more research to shed light on the status of urban areas in Eastern Norway.
"Such research is important - especially in light of the current political debate concerning the country’s municipal structure. The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) recently presented results from an analysis indicating that a substantial number of Norway’s small municipalities will have disappeared within 30 years as a result of the population trend. People move to large cities because that’s where they find work," says Dr Leknes.
The project, "The New Regional Norway: Urban or Geographic Regions?" has spawned a number of reports as well as a book, Norske byregioner ("The Urban Regions of Norway", Norwegian only). The project received funding under the Programme on Democracy and Governance in Regional Context (DEMOSREG) at the Research Council of Norway.
A fourth tier of governance
Einar Leknes, Research Director at IRIS in Stavanger, recently concluded a project focusing on the new regional Norway. (Foto: IRIS)
The interdisciplinary research team has found and documented new types of coordination and partnership now taking place in and around Norway’s largest cities. They strongly affirm that urban regions are emerging as a new political tier.
"This has all taken place outside the context of government district policy. We would claim that an informal fourth level of governance can be seen in some parts of the country. With this in mind, we have mapped urban government power structures and compared them against the traditional elected levels of administration," explains Dr Leknes.
Norway currently has larger-scale urban regions (Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Kristiansand) as well as mid-size urban regions of Tromsø, Ålesund, Haugesund, Skien/Porsgrunn and Fredrikstad/Sarpsborg.
Services across city limits
With cities expanding beyond municipal boundaries, local governments have been forced to collaborate to determine how to handle the growth and how to establish necessary infrastructure, Dr Leknes notes.
"The people living in urban areas are not dependent on the municipality they reside in. Service industries have already taken notice and they regard the urban region as a whole, overlooking administrative borders."
According to Dr Leknes, not all urban areas have seen superordinate political and administrative structures arise. Several have layers of project collaboration, inter-municipal councils, committees and companies promoting developments and carrying out vital public-service activities.
"Finding out how to maintain democracy in this new context is a significant challenge. What are the means at our disposal of controlling various companies and collaborative partnerships? This is the issue we set out to bring to light in the project," says Dr Leknes.
No government focus
The question remains as to why there has been so little focus on urban areas at the state level. Einar Leknes believes it is intrinsic to the government district and regionalisation policy.
"The efforts behind government district and regionalisation policy have been poorly coordinated and the push to form regions based on geography are fragmented and lacking in strength. The emergence of politically powerful urban areas is a sure sign that the future of regional Norway could just as easily be dominated by urban regions as by geographic regions," he concludes.
Einar Leknes is the Research Director at IRIS, located in Stavanger. He headed the project, “The New Regional Norway: Urban or Geographic Regions?” (2006-2011) which received funding under the DEMOSREG programme at the Research Council of Norway. The other project participants are Arild Aurvåg Farsund and Ann Karin Tennås Holmen of IRIS and Winfried Ellingsen and Knut Hidle of Agder Research, a social science research institute.
(Translation: Glenn Wells/Carol B. Eckmann)