Regional integration

The glossary entries are the result of a collaborative process among OpenHeritage consortium partners and have undergone an internal review. However, they only express the perspective of the authors listed under each term, not of all partners. You can find information on the glossary production process and the full glossary here.

Federica Fava
Roma Tre University, Rome, Italy;

Short definition

Regional integration incorporates local developments into a larger territorial framework, contributing to the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of adaptive reuse practices of cultural heritage. Regional integration involves multi-stakeholder agency by orienting different resources and divergent interests towards common territorial development goals. Heritage-related values to a (cultural) site are strategically used to overcome territorial disparities, creating benefits, such as attractiveness and place-based identity and strengthening connections with the surrounding areas.

It is a comprehensive process through which heritage-related values to a (cultural) site are up-scaled to a larger territory, by creating benefits and strengthening connections between people and their surrounding environment. Such integration builds on commons-oriented governance, alternative ideas of ownership, and circular economy via bottom-up adaptive reuse.

Key discussions around the term

Although regionalism has drawn forth a rising interest in several fields of studies, e.g. from social science, to governance and urban planning, regional integration stems from the fields of international political economy and EU integration (Börzel 2016, 63-41). Despite the differences characterizing each sector, it is worth mentioning that integration theories mainly emerged from a European context, making European studies and eurocentristic perspectives on the matter the main reference to measure integration in other parts of the world (Ibid.; Laursen 2010). However, a fresh line of inquiry into the ‘social’ dimensions of regionalism has been recently exploring the nexus between regional integration and welfare, showing the possibility to impact on the (national and international) territory in terms of social and regional development (Riggirozzi 2017, 661-675).

In general, the debate around regionalism and regional integration has focused on two main directions. The social constructivist notions of “new regionalism” or neoregionalism criticize the state-oriented approach of the “old” ones (rationalist) by including, in the definition of a region, more spontaneous processes. The emphasis is thus on “informal sectors, parallel economies, and non-state coalitions” (Laursen 2010, 3), namely in the social construction of a region and including also actors such as those of civil society, often neglected in the study of regionalism (De Lombaerde et al 2010, 23). Accordingly, De Lombaerde et al. (2010, 22) stress that “region is a polysemous concept”: it embraces a highly variable spatial scale, from supranational, to subnational cross-border regions, challenging the very existence of comparative regionalism studies. 

Due to city-centered regional development, and with respect to the OpenHeritage focus, it is worth mentioning the metropolitan scale of regional integration as the key level to evaluate economic disparities (Psycharis, Kallioras, and Pantazis, 2020) and spatial variations (Wan 2019). Already in the late 80s Vartiainen (1987, 126-117) states “territorial integration” is a seminal concept in approaching neoregionalism through spatial policy and planning. By adopting a restricted geographical approach, the author aims at clarifying the meaning of territorial integration, an attempt he develops through the concept of territoriality. It emerges as a local-based perspective, conceptualizing the regional system “in both a physico-functional sense and a socio-cultural sense”. Therefore, locality – “the arena for our everyday life and experiences” – is assumed as the basic element of the regional system (Ibid., 121).

Alongside economic and political aspects, the territorial dimension, particularly through the idea of territorial cohesion, featured in thinking on European integration from the start, supporting the bridge between the concept of (policy) integration and balanced territorial development (Gallez 2018). For instance, the Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020 mainly stresses regional integration in terms of territorial connectivity “for individuals, communities and enterprises” (priority 5) and “ecological, landscape and cultural values of regions” (priority 6). Consequently, in the document the term “integration” couples with “inclusion”, defining a strategy to assure sustainable development objectives (European Commission 2011).

All these aspects are particularly relevant to evaluate the role adaptive heritage reuse might have in the field of regional integration. As is known, cultural heritage is increasingly considered a crucial driver of territorial development, and related social and territorial aspects have been integrated into European documents e.g. the European Heritage Strategy for the 21st Century or in strategical approaches such as the Historic Urban LandscapeMaybe not surprisingly, then, cultural heritage policies are among those sectoral policies deemed as most integrated with spatial planning (Nadin et al. 2020), showing additional facets and opportunities in terms of regional integration.

Reference list

Börzel, Tanja A. 2016. “Theorizing Regionalism: Cooperation, Integration, and Governance.” In Oxford Handbook of Comparative Regionalism, edited by Tanja A. Börzel, Thomas Risse, 63-41. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

De Lombaerde, Philippe et al. 2010. “Problems and Divides in Comparative regionalism.” In Comparative Regional Integration: Europe and Beyond, edited by Finn Laursen, 39-21. London: Routledge.

European Commission. 2011. Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020: Towards an Inclusive, Smart and Sustainable Europe of Diverse Regions. Online:

Gallez, Caroline. 2018. “Enhancing territorial integration through public policies? Insights from intermunicipal cooperation in France”.  J. Farinós Dasí. Territory and States. Essentials for coordination of Spatial Planning Policies in XXI st Century, Tirant Humanides, 189-163.

Laursen, Finn 2010. “Regional integration: some introductory Reflections.” In Comparative Regional Integration: Europe and Beyond, edited by Finn Laursen, 3-21. London: Routledge.

Nadin, Vincent, Dominic Stead, Marcin Dąbrowski, and Ana Maria Fernandez-Maldonado. 2020. “Integrated, adaptive reuse and participatory spatial planning. tends across Europe”. Regional Studies, HAEAD-OF-PRINT: 1-13.

Psycharis, Yannis, Kallioras, Dimitris and Pantazis Panayotis. 2020. Regional Inequalities in Central and Eastern European Countries: The Role of Capital Regions and Metropolitan Areas. In Economic Development and Financial Markets:  Latest Research and Policy Insights from Central and Southeastern Europe edited byŚliwiński, Adam, Polychronidou, Persefoni, Karasavvoglou, Anastasios. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Riggirozzi, Pia. 2017. “Regional Integration and Welfare: Framing and Advocating Pro-Poor Norms through Southern Regionalisms.” New Political Economy 22, no. 6, 661-675, DOI: 10.1080/13563467.2017.1311847

Vartiainen, Perttu. 1987. “The Strategy of Territorial Integration in Regional Development: Defining Territoriality Geoforum.” Geoforum 18 (1): 117-126.

Wan, Yiliang et al. 2019. “Quantifying the Spatial Integration Patterns of Urban Agglomerations along an Inter-City Gradient.” Sustainability 11, no. 18. Online: