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Research department Spatial Capital

The aim of the research department is to contribute to the sustainable development of space and creating equal living conditions by research, development and monitoring.

Spatial Capital is title and object of investigation at the same time. Spatial capital refers to the endogenous potential of regions, cities and quarters, but further includes the following five aspects:

First of all, special consideration is given to the potential which results from demographically and economically shrinking spaces (chance capital). One idea could be to use vacant buildings or brownfield sites for trying something new (living or spatial labs) including the aim to consolidate such projects; what would not be possible in economically strained real estate markets. This could be a significant contribution to the local supply and quality of life.

Second, Spatial Capital makes resources usable in connection with political, economic, social and technological trends (opportunity capital). New low emission and resource-saving production methods (post chimney industry), new technologies (e.g. Internet of Things) and raw materials, a rising demand for sustainable and authentic products (e.g. regional food) and also the decentral energy supply, caused by the German energy transition, are able to promote local added value in quarters and emphasize the value of vacant buildings and areas.

Third, Spatial Capital focuses on monetary capital as a tool in order to use the existing potential in a region. In this respect it is about the monetary capital in a region, the regional holding capacity of capital and funding as well as the access to finance. Monetary capital is necessary to generate social and monetary return from the regional spatial capital.

In fourth place, committed stakeholders (civil society, companies etc.) are examined as actors who also develop spaces and make regional potential usable (engagement capital). One challenge hereby is that monetary and engagement capital are unequally distributed in space, and in regions where monetary capital is missing, it often also lacks engagement.

Spatial capital, as a fifth aspect, is also generated when not only economic competences and buildings and landscape resources etc. are considered potentials but also governance structures, ideas, attitudes, identities and the interaction between actors in networks. In this context,< we do not understand regions and spaces as administrative and political borders but follow the relations between the actors (relational capital).

In order to make concepts applicable for practice our research is primarily done in three thematic fields:

Space and Finance

Monetary capital is unequally distributed in space and in sectors. While globally billions are looking for investment opportunities companies, social organisations, municipalities and private local households are not able to make investments because they are lacking the access to finance. Banks, stock exchanges, investors, private investors and lately also peer-to-peer-platforms (e.g. crowd funding) as well as the public sector (e.g. pensions and social insurance, urban development funds) distribute capital. They cause spatial cash flows, affect regional access to finance and influence the distribution of information and power between debtors and creditors. This research field analyses the spatial organisation as well as the spatial and sectoral results of distribution processes of capital with the objective of improving the access to finance and supporting sustainable investment. One important element is to compare decentral and central banking and finance systems whereby we analyse concrete and practice-oriented questions, like:

  • Can regional banks improve the access to financing opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)?
  • What type of national finance centres is significant?
  • How does pensions insurances influence the business of local banks?
  • Do we need new financing instruments for civil engagement and innovation?
  • Should regional and cohesion policy focus on revolving financial instruments?

Structural Policy and Urban Renewal

This thematic field deals with organising the effects caused by the structural change. Even if regional structural policy has been successful and has been contributing to the development of both structurally weak old industrial and rural areas, the change from an industrial to an information and service society has led to problematic developments in certain cities and quarters. On the one hand we consider new concepts of structural and regional policy like smart specialisation and analyse how a preventive and anticipatory structural policy could be organised. On the other hand we are trying to strengthen the local economy and to improve the (economic) participation in quarters struck by structural change. Spatial Capital explores how local, regional and sectoral structural policy, economic promotion, urban forms of living together and urban renewal combined are able to unfold positive impacts. Apart from the question how structural policy can deal with inherent dilemmas (e.g. Should rather growth centres be focused or should resources be spread in space?), we also pursue the following questions with a specific spatial reference:

  • What is the spatial capital of individual subspaces, and which potential offer especially vacant areas or brownfield sites?
  • How can new methods of production be used for the local economic revitalisation?
  • How can local ideas and knowledge be tracked down for a sustainable development?
  • Why have some quarters shown a negative development during structural change, and what can be learned from that for the future?

Civil Society and Alternative Economies

The third research field is based on the understanding that citizens are interested in shaping their living environment – their space – and want to help finding solutions for societal challenges. In this context the approach of coproduction – a closer and more systematic collaboration between municipalities and citizens – is analysed. The interest to get involved in shaping the environment often leads to experimental undertakings like social enterprises, spatial enterprises or spatial pioneers which can more or less be classified as “alternative economies”. Furthermore, there are new respectively alternative practices for collaboration, knowledge sharing and sharing economies like open access, commons, open data etc., which all trigger new business models and organizational structures. These undertakings are characterised by not focusing on profit maximisation but on societal impact. This raises important questions about suitable financing instruments and appropriate business counselling. Further questions are: 

  • How can administration, politics and civil society collaborate (even) more effectively?
  • How can engagement processes be activated?
  • What are factors and indicators for success or failure?

In how far do innovative business ideas and the usage of vacant real estate property influence the image of a quarter/ the local life quality?

Working Procedures and Research Methods

In order to work on these thematic fields the team of the research department Spatial Capital is made up of interdisciplinary specialists: Specific competences from spatial planning, economic geography, economics, social and political sciences and computer and information science work together.

The research practice of the department is based on the conviction that the method to be used must only take into account the research question. Various research techniques can be applied. Qualitative methods like focused group discussions or narrative interviews and quantitative methods like multivariate statistics, multiple regression models and survival-time analyses are combined (if needed), and supplemented by new, participatory and experimental methods, e.g. citizen science, mental maps etc. The research triangulation is used for the validation of results as well as for the preparation of observations with respect to the specific methodology applied.

We conduct analyses and feasibility studies, provide reports and development concepts, conduct basic research and accompany actors concerning implementation and evaluation. In the sense of a transdisciplinary research model we are not only interested in understanding and describing processes and structures but also in supporting their improvement. This is realized in implementation and accompanying projects where we support actors and actively shape processes. These projects offer the possibility to learn from and with actors and to review the insights we have gained in a structured way.