Public funding and urban governance in contemporary Romania: the resurgence of state-led urban development in an era of crisis

E. Ion

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Ion, E. (1). Public funding and urban governance in contemporary Romania: the resurgence of state-led urban development in an era of crisis. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 7(1), 171–187.

European Union , infrastructure , postsocialist cities , public funding , regional policy , uneven development

In the wake of the global recession, publicly funded urban development projects have reshaped Romania’s cities while transforming local governance practices. This study examines an emergent form of urban governance that is driven by the pursuit of EU and government funding and centres on large-scale spatial restructuring. During a time of severe economic decline, this form of local governance has brought about uneven development through a dramatic increase in redundant public works and urban beautification projects that serve neither the public need nor the EU’s development agenda. Seized by political patronage networks through selective and discretionary allocations of EU and public funds, public works projects have become vehicles for the extraction of public funds.

Main finding
The selection of urban development projects in post-EU accession Romania is driven by the potential of the projects to attract EU and public funds. The socialization of the economic costs of the Great Recession has shifted from privatizing public assets to the redirection and capture of public funds. The competition over funds triggers the formation of political alliances in exchange for funding for public works projects. Moreover, the selection of projects is centered on controlling urban land and projects that qualify for EU funds instead of projects that have longer-lasting economic outcomes. This reorientation is also caused by the pressure to accelerate absorption rates. EU commission managers pressure national ministries to accelerate EU funding absorption because it is a factor in negotiations for new rounds of EU funding. National ministries pressure down local governors, which leads to the systematic selection of large-scale projects and results in land grabs, demolitions (often of historic areas), and evictions.

Description of method used in the article
This study utilizes a qualitative analysis of fifteen large- and medium-scale public works projects authorized in the aftermath of the economic crisis in Romania. Nine large-scale projects were selected from Bucharest and other cities, and six medium-scale projects from rural and small settlements. Fifty-four semi-structured interviews were conducted with planning experts, architects, academics, European Commission project managers, municipal officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and expropriated homeowners. Interviews lasted between thirty minutes and three hours, with many having multiple follow-up discussions. Respondents were prompted to consider how publicly funded development is changing in the context of the economic downturn, how public funds are spent, and the public utility of the projects. Interview data was supplemented by site visits, documenting demolitions, evictions, protests, and the progress of infrastructural works and participant observation at planning hearings and public debates. Finally, researchers examined court documents relating to 72 lawsuits involving the Municipality of Bucharest, the Ministry of Culture, NGOs, evicted tenants, and expropriated homeowners.

Policy implications

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Archival / Historical Interviews Participant Observation
Physical types
Geographic locations