How to Make Soft Space
How to make soft space
The concept of soft space first emerged in the UK, primarily in the context of urban regeneration policies under “New Labour” governments (Allmendinger and Haughton 2009; Allmendinger and Haughton 2009; Hincks, Deas, and Haughton 2017). According to these authors, soft spaces refer to planning processes that prioritise efficiency in “getting things done” over the tidiness of governance practices and are often characterised by pragmatism.
Since its initial appearance in the UK, scholars from continental Europe have started using the concept of soft spaces to describe and understand new spatial delineations in European territorial politics resulting from European integration (Waterhout et al. 2009; Faludi 2010; Galland 2012; Allmendinger and Haughton 2011; Haughton, Chilla, and Sielker 2014; Olesen 2015). They identified new city-regions across national borders, macro-regional strategies that cross national boundaries, and cooperation spaces among European nations to reduce separating forces between countries in Europe by increasing territorial cohesion and mutual learning through cooperation (Faludi 2010; Purkarthofer and Humer 2019; Walsh, Jacuniak-Suda, and Knieling 2015).
Academics from the Nordic regions also started employing the concept of soft spaces in their research on strategic planning at city regional and regional scales. However, their observations on the new spatial planning practices at city-regional and regional scales differ considerably from those of Allmendinger and Haughton, mainly because these emerging processes take place in different administrative and legal systems.
In addition, the actors involved in soft spaces in the Nordic context are to a large degree governmental actors, whereas the practices in the UK are dominated by non-governmental and development agencies and partnerships. These differences are important in understanding the evolution of the concept and its emergence as a normative framework for planning practice in the Nordic countries (Othengrafen et al. 2013; Santamaria and Elissalde 2018).
A critical analysis of the meanings ascribed to soft spaces in the academic literature is essential if we want to improve our understanding of these concepts. We adopt the conceptual approach of traveling planning ideas, a term introduced by Healey (2012, 2013, Lieto 2015; Tait and Jensen 2007). This conceptual framework helps us to grasp the process in which an idea travels from one place-based context to another in order to gather new meanings during the course of its circulation, while maintaining its original content.
The travel of a planning idea leads to an increase in its temporal specificity, especially if the planning activities described by the traveling idea are not directly linked to statutory planning. This is particularly true of the notion of soft spaces, which has become an increasingly prescriptive and normative planning framework (Nadin et al. 2018). To avoid this, we need to better define the content of soft spaces and how they are used in the planning and policy domains.