Discontinuous Regions: High-Speed Rail and the Limits of Traditional Governance
Author(s)Stein, Naomi; Sussman, Joseph M.
Globalization and the interconnectivity of the economy have magnified the role of regions, restructuring social and economic relationships into networks that span increasing distances. At the same time, greater attention is due to localized urban quality, as non-vehicular modes and compact forms of development become critical in an environmentally conscious world. Within this context, increasing interest and adoption of high-speed rail (HSR)—a mode that addresses multiple scales—is unsurprising. HSR technology is used both to respond to existing trends of increased interconnectivity between urban centers and to enhance economic connections within regions and mega-regions. HSR has the unique ability to enable long-distance commuting across discontinuous regions that are far enough apart so as not to be adequately integrated by auto travel. This new geography of daily experiences has important potential implications for governance and relations among cities. Using Portugal as a case study, this paper examines the relationship between HSR development and new models of spatial organization and governance. Based on interviews with national and local officials, we discuss ways in which HSR planning is changing attitudes towards regional identity and urban governance, including: the integration of national entities into local planning processes, the potential for new models of commuting, and the role of HSR as an exogenous catalyst for regional cooperation. The case study reveals how HSR can serve as a catalyst for governments to rethink regional identity, intergovernmental relationships, and competitive positioning. The prospect of HSR implementation raises the profile of potential intraregional complementarity and highlights the importance of inter-governmental relationships.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering Systems Division
ESD Working Papers;ESD-WP-2012-22