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Strengthening Regional Cohesion: Collaborative Networks and Sustainable Development in Swiss Rural Areas

Christian Hirschi, ETH Zurich

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Abstract

This paper makes both a theoretical and empirical contribution to a better understanding of how specific forms of network governance play a crucial role in enhancing sustainable development in rural areas. Drawing on the literature on social capital and social networks, I argue that a region has to achieve a certain level of cohesion in the network structure among actors from different societal sectors and governmental levels to strengthen rural sustainable development. However, to sustain positive regional development in the longer term, network structures also need to guarantee fragmentation and flexibility by including actors with varying views and interests. Empirically, the paper looks at the new policy of regional nature parks in Switzerland. The policy provides a good test case for the theoretical argument, because it aims at taking a cooperative and network-oriented approach to enhance rural sustainable development. Two case studies demonstrate that regional park projects have in fact strengthened the vertical cohesion between government levels. Remaining fragmentation at the local level could be a hindering factor while further establishing a park project in the region. In the longer term, however, it could guarantee the necessary flexibility to adapt to new ecological and socioeconomic developments that cannot be directly influenced by a region itself.

Key words

cohesion; regional nature parks; social network analysis; sustainable regional development; Switzerland
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087