The Need for ‘Smart Moves’: Metropolitan Challenges to ‘Old’ Certainties of State Order

‘Metropolitan elite’ has become a new battle cry in current populist vilification of the architects of globalisation and its seemingly failed promise of rewards for all. It marks increasingly evident deep divisions – both actual and perceived – within European and North American Society between metropolitan ‘winners’ and the ‘rest’, that run across states and through societies. These gaps give little consideration to administrative structures, territorial arrangements or forms of state organisation, reflecting instead a combination of anxieties, sense of threat and perceived injustice in access to opportunities. Much of that conflictuality expresses itself in the clash between claims for borders and boundaries to be re-/erected as defensive bulwarks and manifestations of territorial ownership and control, versus advocacy of openness and trans-border internationality.

Cities and metropolitan regions have become the foci of attention in this conflict between perspectives and agendas, as they represent both – quests for competitiveness, also supported by ‘their’ states eager to push out their best ‘horses’ in the competition of gains from globalisation, and a sense of belonging to states as expressions of shared interests and cohesive community. In other words, cities are located at the intersection between competitive localism, a manifestation of regionally-scaled economic pre-eminence, and acting as a tool of national economic development strategies in a globalised environment (Harding, 2007, Herrschel and Newman, 2002, Jobse and Needham, 1988, Scott, 2001). The result, it appears, is a de facto clash of metropolitan versus non-metropolitan political and societal cultures and agendas, which vie for own voices in the established state-based structures of power and identity. As cities’ ambitions increasingly reach across scales to the international or global level, this has fundamental implications for the role and nature of territoriality, democratic representation and participation, legitimacy, and political processes and mechanisms in both their individual manifestation and interaction with each other.

Facing these challenges, this paper argues, cities have become active players in their own right – increasingly independent of the confines of ‘their’ respective nation states. This development also raises questions conventional disciplinary approaches to ‘city’/’city-region’ and ‘internationality’ and their ability to embrace this de facto ‘pixelisation’ of state territory by policy making urban entities. ‘Smart’ signals here policy innovation or, at a more fundamental, structural level, political innovation, driven inter alia by actors taking political risks as they leave established ‘safe’ practices and formulae and push the boundaries of familiar conceptual and disciplinary explanations offered by urban studies and international relations, for instance.

Using the case of the international city-centric Øresund Region in southern Sweden, and its conflict with the geo-societally integrationist, conventional agenda of the surrounding administrative region of Skåne, this paper looks at the contestation between state structure, including internationality, trans-scalar urban/metropolitan agency, and concerns about democratic representation and voice. What lessons can be learned?