Sustainable city-regions

Cardiff Capital Regions and its future generations

The project ‘Cardiff Capital Regions and its future generations’ attempts to advance the debates in the city-regionalist literature. Using three bodies of thought – progressive regionalism, regenerative development and collaborative governance – I designed a conceptual framework that can be used to study, understand and improve city-regional policy processes and practice (Axinte, Mehmood, Marsden, & Roep, 2019).

The conceptual framework represents the theoretical starting point of my research which started in April 2016 and investigated the evolution of Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) for two years. The breadth of data collected sheds light upon the emergence of CCR, its development (both the governance and choice of projects) and its stakeholders’ aspirations for the future.

I studied the city region in the context of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (WFGA), a national piece of legislation that makes sustainable development a statutory obligation for public bodies. Besides looking at how the CCR has engaged with this progressive legislative framework, I used it to guide some of my research questions. As a grounded analysis of the conceptual framework, the thesis asked: how do collaborative governance arrangements enable or deter city regions from taking steps to become more progressive or regenerative? Exploring this issue in CCR seems particularly relevant because of the Welsh national legislation which is akin to regenerative development.

Inspired by the WFGA, I adopted an additional angle to analysing CCR: the future generations that will have to live with the decisions taken by leaders on their behalf – essentially, today’s young people. I asked: in what ways would CCR change by engaging young people in its governance structure? How could they engage/be engaged and influence the development processes? These questions appear particularly relevant considering the results of the Brexit vote, as well as the recent youth strikes for the climate.

To explore these issues, I used a mixed-method approach, combining document analysis, interviews, participatory observation and visual methods. The city region’s historical evolution illuminated many of its current features. Besides, studying CCR in the context of the WFGA helped to reveal the discontinuities between the objectives of the wellbeing legislation and the city regional realities. Zooming in on the youth question, the thesis examined the relevance of the city regional scale for young people. The use of creative methods allowed me to investigate the youth’s sense of the city region and how their aspirations fit or not in the city regional project. My reflections on trying to engage – both the city regional leaders and young people – crystallised in sober scrutiny of engagement, in terms of time, effort and outcomes.

This grounded application of the initial conceptual framework uncovered opportunities and barriers for regenerative city regional development. The study is not an extensive investigation, as it would have been impossible to map all the existing collaborations in South East Wales. Instead, the thesis aims to give a flavour of the possibilities that city regions host, as soon as the governance structure opens to other ideas and stakeholders.

Axinte, L. F., Mehmood, A., Marsden, T., & Roep, D. (2019). Regenerative city-regions: a new conceptual framework. Regional Studies, Regional Science, 6(1), 117–129.

Key words: sustainable city-regions, progressive regionalism, collaborative government, regenerative development, youth engagement



Researcher: Lorena Axinte