Why Should Territories Cooperate?

Katia Buoro, Xavier Desjardins, 2012

Why do territories cooperate? The reason that is most frequently advanced is that it is important to adjust the parameters of decision-making and managerial structures to the way geographic areas actually function. Indeed, “lived” territories often change rapidly, whereas political and administrative structures can be rigid; at the very least, they must adopt long-term outlooks in order to function successfully and develop a consistent identity. Communes, departments, and regions in France and Gemeinde and Länder in Germany are well known because they have long been a part of administrative and political history. But to manage issues like transportation, housing, and urban planning, one must clearly reconsider administrative subdivisions and ensure that existing levels of local governments cooperate enough to pursue coherent policies. Cities extend beyond their administrative boundaries; daily commuting can often straddle several jurisdictions; and corporate and university networks span multiple regions. Such problems make cooperation between communities necessary.

But beyond the need of reconciling different forms of geography—administrative geography as opposed to lived geography (i.e., lived by residents, businesses, networks, etc.)—there are many other reasons why territories decide to cooperate. Cooperation can take the form of sharing fiscal resources or pooling expenses. It can also be primarily connected to the desire of elected officials to reform administrative structures by creating new work configurations: inter-municipal structures, for instance, are often summoned to exercise many administrative and technical functions that once belonged to municipalities, which often means new flow charts and thus new organizations and work methods. Sometimes, cooperation is encouraged to promote solidarity, for instance between the rich and the poor, when their percentages vary considerably from community to another, or between people of various origins in places where ethnic segregation prevails. Finally, cooperation can occur for economic reasons (sometimes real, sometimes imagined). Economic systems change; today, metropolises are often the appropriate level for promoting territorial economies. Communities are thus encouraged to “become metropolises.” One could continue down the list of economic, political, social, and even symbolic “reasons” that communities cooperate. The goal of this first group of information sheets on cooperation is not to be exhaustive, but to present a number of incentives for cooperation between territories; as we shall see, motivations are often multiple and conflictual. We will try to show that cooperation is never “obvious.” Its nature, forms, and parameters are always indicative of territorial stakes.

See the following examples considered in this dossier: