New Borders for the Old World ; in the Global Economy, Provincial Cities Look to Foreign Neighbors for Commercial Survival

By Woodard, Colin | The Christian Science Monitor, August 16, 2001 | Go to article overview

New Borders for the Old World ; in the Global Economy, Provincial Cities Look to Foreign Neighbors for Commercial Survival


Woodard, Colin, The Christian Science Monitor


Until recently, Per Belfrage could tell he lived in a provincial city every time he journeyed back to this Swedish university town from an overseas conference.

"It would take six hours to fly from New York to Copenhagen, and in bad weather sometimes another six hours by taxi, boat, and train to get back to Lund," says Mr. Belfrage, a researcher and former dean of the Lund University Medical Center. "Now I hop in a cab and I'm home in 30 minutes."

Citizens of Lund, Malmo, and other southwestern Swedish towns are discovering that they've suddenly become part of a newly emerging international metropolitan area.

The Danish capital, Copenhagen - the "big city" in this part of the world - has suddenly become as close to this part of Sweden as San Francisco is to Oakland or Washington to Baltimore.

That's because last summer workers, completed the new $4 billion Oresund Fixed Link, an impressive 10-mile long tunnel and bridge project across the Oresund Strait, connecting Denmark and Sweden for the first time since the last ice age.

The bridge, which carries cars, trucks, and trains, promises to create an integrated transportation system stretching from the Swedish university city of Lund to the farming hinterlands of western Zealand, the large island on which Copenhagen is situated.

"With globalization, competition is not so much between nations but between large cities," says Christian W. Matthiessen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen's Institute of Geography who helped plan the bridge. "By building the bridge, we've made it possible to create a regional economy that can compete with the large metropolitan areas of Europe."

Until completion of the bridge, the Danish capital and the southwestern Swedish region of Scania had little to do with one another. Of the 1.2 million people who commute in this area, only about 2,000 crossed the Oresund in 1999, according to the Institute of Geography.

Zealand's trade flows with Scania were 1/14th that of its trade with the similarly sized Danish region of Jutland, which is 100 miles from Copenhagen across another enormous bridge connecting Zealand with the rest of Denmark.

But now Sweden has joined the European Union, and from Brussels to Berlin, from Cadiz to Copenhagen, the new buzzword is "regionalization." This is the idea that as globalization erodes the power and relevance of nation-states, cities are replacing nations as the basic unit of economic competition, much as they were in the Middle Ages.

Large urban clusters like San Francisco Bay, Greater London, or the Amsterdam-to-Rotterdam corridor are duking it out in a battle for skilled workers, investment capital, and a share of global trade. But smaller, more peripheral cities like Copenhagen or Malmo will fall behind, according to the theory, which is somewhat self- fulfilling because it's become part of the thinking of many European companies, banks, and multilateral organizations.

Nonetheless, Danish and Swedish planners think that if the 500,000 people of the Malmo-Lund area can be added to the 1.7 million in Copenhagen, the new region might play with the big boys.

It was with this in mind that Sweden and Denmark decided to build the Oresund Bridge over the 10-mile wide body of water separating them. Now authorities are confronting the more difficult task of building an integrated metropolis across the shared frontier.

This task is simpler for Sweden and Denmark than it might be for many other countries. There's a long history of regional cooperation in Scandinavia, including shared working privileges, power grids, and SAS, the cooperatively owned regional airline. Danish and Swedish are also mutually-comprehensible languages.

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New Borders for the Old World ; in the Global Economy, Provincial Cities Look to Foreign Neighbors for Commercial Survival
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