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Inequality, urbanization and Territorial Cohesion: Developing the European Social Model of economic growth and democratic capacity (COSHMO)

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - COHSMO (Former Hans Thor Andersen) (Inequality, urbanization and Territorial Cohesion: Developing the European Social Model of economic growth and democratic capacity (COSHMO))

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-10-31

During most of the 20th century, social inequalities decreased between social classes, regions and age groups. Yet, since the late 1970s, the trend shifted towards rising inequalities. Leading researchers and politicians fear that the rising levels of inequalities challenge social cohesion and, in the end, produce unrest, instability and undermine the “European Social Model”. Moreover, the life chances of individuals seem to depend strongly with the place of birth and social background. While welfare state intervention managed to decrease social inequalities through social policies, education and housing policies and regional programmes, the effect of the market forces has become more dominant during the last decades.
The threat of declining social justice and territorial cohesion has several implications for society: First of all, uneven chances appear as socially unfair and largely undemocratic as a part of the population is, in reality, cut off from enjoying the opportunities of society. Secondly, this sense of unfairness may have potential for social unrest and political instability. Thirdly, excluding parts of the population also means that society is losing the benefits of having a better, educated labour force.
The overall aim of the COHSMO project is to identify the structures and processes behind the experienced territorial inequalities. Such an understanding will then help to detect the decisive forces behind the success of some localities; to which degree are these anchored at the local level and to what degree are they depending on national and/ or regional initiative. Finally, is it the intention to point out what can be done at various scales – European, national, regional and local scale. Will social investments be an efficient means to counteract rising differences at various geographic scales?

It is necessary to recognize the different meanings of policy concepts; while correctly translated, their implementation is almost automatically different due to various administrative systems, traditions and context: Consequently, identical policies deliver different results. Thus, the principle of subsidiarity must be taken seriously; there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all.
The first year of COHSMO project aimed at examining key concepts such as territorial cohesion, spatial inequalities and justice, local conditions, delimitation of place. While many concepts appear tempting, some are actually chaotic concepts, which are difficult to make more precise or test empirically. Secondly, the project mapped socio-spatial differences in the seven European countries included in COHSMO. The project’s inherent hypothesis is that inequalities are expressed at various scales depending on the phenomenon in question. For example, socio-economic differentiation, often labelled segregation, is perhaps most visible at urban scale between neighbourhoods, while labour market differences appears on a more regional scale. These facts also indicate of the processes behind the development of spatial inequalities and decline of cohesion. The case study areas represent three types of scale; a large city/ metropolitan area, a suburban district and a rural area.

In the second reporting period, WP4 was the main task; it included three large deliverables based on interviews with stakeholders and informants in all case study areas. The focus was on relations between territorial capital, collective efficacy and territorial governance. The concluding report of WP4 provides a summary of policies and stakeholder analysis.
WP5 focused on an assessment of service provision, i.e. the state of the European social model. This work aims at investigating how territorial cohesion and economic growth can be successfully combined. The WP has focus on active labour market policies, childcare policies and vocational education and training policies.

The third reporting period finalized WP5 in the form of a report across the participating COHSMO-countries. WP6 carried out an analysis of the relationship between territorial cohesion and spatial development policies/ economic strategies in a cross- European perspective. The work was based on results from former WPs and a national report from all partners. The result was a conclusive report on policy recommendations and best practice. On top of the former work packages WP7 aimed at proposing solutions for a more cohesive European territory. The final report in WP7 outlines the possible answers to societal disintegration on European and national scale. Social investments play a major role in this context.
Dissemination and communication activities (WP8) played a key role during the whole project. Dissemination of news and results was done via newsletters, policy briefs social media and the website. Meetings with the National Advisory Boards, along with the project End Conference, have been a strong channel for communication of objectives and results of the project. For the academic audience, the consortium produced – beside other journal papers – a special issue of Social inclusion including ten papers made by consortium members. Finally, dissemination to a broader audience took place via a policy handbook, which provides an overview of territorial challenges and a crosscutting perspective on inequalities and cohesion in Europe. In addition, a story map was produced and disseminated.
COHSMO points to the relevance of a territorial perspective in social investment; too often policies forget about this perspective and the local context when it comes to implementation of policies: Space matters. Moreover, it seems to have increasing relevance. COHSMO-findings represent an original perspective on how and why urbanization affects places more specific and variated than usual. This contrasts a common assumption that urban concentration is the precondition for economic growth and absolute city size is a key main factor behind successful economic performance. This relationship is highly context dependent and seems to be dependent on the country’s size and, many other factors, such as urban infrastructure, adequate level of governance effectiveness, territorial capital, and industrial composition play a non-negligible role in the economic fortunes of cities.
The project highlights the need to include local preconditions for social innovation. Yet, while objective structures can promote and complicate social and economic progress, they do not exclude local individuals and their experiences: their skills and ambitions are of major importance for releasing local potentials. The latter has a direct impact on spatial justice and the strengthening of democratic capacity. Institutions from several countries increasingly adopt location-sensitive planning processes and policies such as mobility infrastructures connecting peripheral neighbourhoods, more equitable and accessible urban public services or co-created tailor-made solutions aiming at place-specific challenges and opportunities. Thus, the outcome of the project delivers a large potential for trimming policies to become more place sensitive and therefore producing results that are more efficient and at the same time improving local and democratic capacities.
To strengthen the project’s impact, there has been a strong focus on communication and dissemination activities. Impact will continue after the end of the project as new papers are in preparation.
The COHSMO Kick-off meeting Cph 2017
Meeting in National Advisory Board, Denmark 2019
Local citizens discussing European matters
Field trip during the final meeting in Aalborg in August 2021
Lands' end - facing the North Sea