AuthorSchvab, Andrei
  1. Introduction

    Poverty and underdevelopment are evidently a social phenomenon as human individuals are the essential part and the key element in its structure and relations. But this fact doesn't minimize the spatial aspect in the implication of poverty. In the last decades at EU level an ever more important focus has been put upon cohesion, generally, and on territorial cohesion, specifically, by reducing poverty (European Commission, 2010; 1999).

    The Leipzig Charter (2007), the ESDP (1999) and the Territorial Agenda of the EU 2020 (2011) stipulate that the main method for achieving a balanced territorial development should be based upon a polycentric urban structure. This fact reflects the importance given to the territorial aspect in enhancing cohesion (indirectly said, this means also a reduction of poverty).

    In this light an important aspect in the relation between territory and poverty is given by understanding the way in which the configuration of the territorial system, its structure and relations influence, in different ways, the territorial distribution of poverty. Knowing these types of relations and pattern is an essential condition for the optimization and implementation of antipoverty policies at a territorial level.

    One of the first steps needed in order to link poverty and territory is to understand the way that poverty is conceptualized in relation to space. The attempt to analyze space as a structure enhancing or, on the contrary, blocking flows in the dissipation of various phenomena and processes is not ungrounded at all. Space may thus be interpreted as a dissipative structure (system) (Prigogine and Stengers, 1984) and as an optimally open thermodynamic system (Ianos, 2000). Moreover, space has emerging properties (Kasinite, 1999), more than the sum of the individual attributes of the people living there.

    The present article tries to individualize the most pauper areas inside this region, revealing thus the priority areas for structural and functional regeneration as part of a polycentric development model.

    The authors set a theoretical framework that we consider capable of integrating space as an important factor in generating poverty or enhancing cohesion. After that, a general quantification of poverty is made at EU level, revealing the most pauper regions in EU. As the indicator that sets the general frame is available only at regional level (NUTS 2) and at county level (NUTS 3) a more detailed index is elaborated in order to reveal the inside dynamics (at LAU 2 (1), the lowest administrative unit possible). In the next section we compare the results from the poverty index with the theoretical polycentric development model (the poverty index, the polycentric index and model are calculated based on our own methodology and statistical data). According to the principles behind the polycentric development, this is the necessary framework that induces balanced development. In the discussion section we underline the role and influence of space upon the territorial distribution of poverty. In the final section of the paper we summarize the main findings and draft some policy recommendations in this regard.

  2. Conceptualizing space in relation to poverty and underdevelopment

    Roughly, there are two distinct ways to perceive the involvement of space in various matters such as regional and economic development, or, in the particular case of the present study, to reduce poverty in relation to polycentric development. In this respect, two assumptions can serve as starting points:

    1. Space does not have an active role in the conceptualizations of socio-economic processes (Saunders, 1989).

    2. Space has an active role in the conceptualizations of socio-economic processes (Massey, 1984; Brenner, 1999; Harvey, 2009).

    The point of view expressed by Saunders and his followers (1989), stating that space is a stage, a framework, where various phenomena and socio-economic processes unfold, produces space-indifferent theories and conceptualizations. On the opposite side, those who believe that space is an agent, part of the system, which contributes to those phenomena and socio-economic processes, produce space-influenced theories and conceptualizations.

    The differences between the two approaches are very important as, in the former view, space is outside the system, and it does not directly interfere in the relations between the components. In the latter view, space is a component of the system, interacting, more or less vigorously, with the other components, bringing its contribution to the emergence of a new status-quo, of new structures, relations and functions.

    However, there are also sociologists who acknowledge the importance of space, its dynamic role in structuring society, as well as the role of space in the dynamics of social and economic processes. In this respect, a special attention is given to the role of public policies concerning the territorial systems' dynamics. A series of actions, like decentralization, regionalization and the reduction of political influences in the administrative system, are considered solutions for the optimization of territorial systems' functionality (Mora and Ticlau, 2012).

    If the space-influenced conceptualization is considered as the best-suited approach to the goal pursued, the result of this conceptualization is to understand space as a complex, dissipative, discontinuous structure, discretionary and heterogeneous in the reactions it has with the phenomena and processes that act upon it. One may consider that these few elements presented are conclusive in order to enable a conceptualization of space as an important agent in the genesis, dynamics, perpetuation or reduction of poverty.

  3. Defining poverty (processes that generate poverty and underdevelopment)

    Poverty has been--and still is--measured in countless ways so that the definition of poverty may be unequivocally considered arbitrary (O'Boyle, 1999; Unwin, 2007). In relating space and poverty, the scientific literature also mentions the term of place poverty (Powell, 2001), but the author of that concept only endows it with the meaning of absence of public and community services, so that this concept doesn't fit the purpose of the present study.

    Postmodernist scientists understand poverty, and its emergence, as a social form induced by the processes of economic development (Yapa, 1996; Kay, 2009). This perspective is highlighted also by economists, who attribute an ideological side to it: poverty is a consequence of the absence of economic growth, of free trade and a free market and therefore of the absence of democracy. Sachs (2005) considers that the most important effects of modern economic growth have been the rise of living standards and a bigger gap between the rich and the poor. In other words, economic growth failed to unlock poverty off its path-dependency.

    The same conclusion was reached by a team of researchers led by Lobao, who, at the end of a study meant to show whether macro-level policies and theories in the United States during 1970-1990 managed to cut down inequities at the local level. The authors draw the conclusion that inequities at local level and their social determinants modified little despite the Ford-inspired reorganization (Lobao, Rulli and Brown, 1999).

    The current situation of under-developed regions is not exclusively the result of these spaces not being in geographic proximity (Torre and Rallet, 2005) of economic concentration centers, but also the result of the fact that these territories were produced as distant (removed) from centers of power. Furthermore, even the central spaces are not homogenous, as they feature severe discontinuities in the large-scale distribution of income levels (Rigg et al., 2009).

    Another important aspect is that the tools elaborated to tackle such specific problems, like master plans and territorial development strategies (National Spatial Planning Strategy, County Spatial Planning Strategy, General Urban Plan, Zonal Urban Plan and other master plans) only enhance ambiguity and reduce the impact of decisions assumed by planers, policy-makers and the community. In this regard Dragos, Neamtu and Cobarzan (2012) consider that the implementation level could be enhanced by including a general procedural administrative law.

    Authors such as Harvey (2009), Gotham (2003), Unwin (2007), Rigg et al. (2009), Yapa (1996), Shrestha (1997) see the problem of reducing poverty or leveling social inequities by cutting down territorial disparities, by means of a configuration of the space so that administrative and economic relations avoid path dependency and lock-in.

    One of the main ideas that stand out from the 2009 World Development Report (WDR) is that a proper territorial configuration can improve efficiency, lower the costs of transactions and thus stimulate economic growth (World Bank, 2009). It is the view that comes closest to taking into consideration the importance of space in the matter of poverty and underdevelopment. According to ESPON 1.1.1, ESPON GROSSE and other official EU strategies (Leipzig...

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