GaWC Project 103

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The Regional Studies Association Research Network on Polycentric Urban Regions (PURs)


Funded by: Regional Studies Association (RSA) | See also RSA online: Polycentric Urban Regions (PURs)


Ben Derudder, Department of Geography, Ghent University, Belgium,

John Harrison, Department of Geography, Loughborough University, UK,

Michael Hoyler, Department of Geography, Loughborough University, UK,

Xingjian Liu, Department of Urban Planning and Design, The University of Hong Kong, China,

Evert Meijers, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands,


‘Polycentric urban regions’ (PURs) have become a key concept in regional studies, both as an analytical framework to capture empirical realities as well as part of normative visions and goals in regional development policies. Nevertheless, PUR research and policy-making is built on surprisingly limited comprehensive evidence and hampered by the lack of coherence. The quasi-universal identification of PURs and their putative relevance hides the presence of significant analytical and empirical differences. Different methods, data, analytical frameworks, and interpretations are used as the basis for an increasingly prevalent and diverse literature, which thus risks missing direction and face diminishing returns on research time investment. The lack of a comprehensive framework to discuss the identification, theorisation and analysis of PURs has thus led to a regional studies literature that is wide-ranging and blossoming, but also sometimes assumption-rich, disjointed and lacking analytical depth.

This lack of clarity and coherence in the sizable scientific and policy interest in PURs warrants the development of a more concerted regional studies research agenda, and this Research Network explicitly aims to facilitate this agenda in order to expand our understanding of the prevalence, significance, future development and policy implications of PURs. The RSA Research Network on PURs strives to become the chief organisational framework for cutting-edge multidisciplinary PUR research by bringing together the major research groups and the key themes/approaches and the analytical interconnections they represent.

The RSA Research Network on PURs has four more concrete objectives:

  1. Bring together researchers of PURs to critically evaluate the state of the field, and to articulate an agenda for the next wave of PUR studies;
  2. As PURs have often been viewed through the lens of normative local and regional development policies, develop perspectives on critically evaluating, exchanging and comparing policy impacts.
  3. As PUR research has been one of the vanguards in developing new data and methods for analysing city-regional processes, exchange and share new approaches and best practices
  4. Develop a purposeful strategy to serve as a conduit for international collaboration linking senior researchers with early-career scholars working in this field.

The RSA Research Network will focus on, but is not limited to, the following set of regional studies themes (although it is expected that further themes will emerge): definitions and contingent properties of PURs; different pathways towards PURs; methodological and data challenges in PURs studies; PURs in emerging economies; infrastructure development and PURs; cross-border PURs; urban form and function in PURs; governing-planning PURs and the large metropolis; local and regional development policies for PURs.


The proposed activities of the RSA Research Network on PURs include:

Launch event: Special Sessions on “Polycentric urban regions” RSA Annual Conference 2018, Lugano, Switzerland, 3-6 June 2018. (CFP)

Theories, Concepts, Methods, Data: Comparative Approaches for Analysing PURS Ghent-Delft Workshop, October-November 2018.

Special Sessions on “Polycentric urban regions” AAG Annual Meeting 2019, Washington DC, April 2019.

Planning, Policy, Governance of PURS, Loughborough Workshop, August- September 2019.

PUR Futures: Developments, Policies, Trajectories, Agendas, Workshop, China 2020.

Based on the discussions at these events the Research Network will result in a book exploring advances in understanding PURs and a journal special issue comprising papers which establish a renewed agenda for PURs research.