In the past, the contrasts between rural and urban regions were the primary feature of analysis, while today, spatial dynamics are realized by the interactions between spaces and focus on the dependencies of rural-urban areas. This implies that boundaries are not anymore perceived as fixed but as flexible and fluid. With rising spatial interrelations, the concept of the “city-region” has been increasingly regarded as a meaningful concept for the implementation of development policies. Governance arrangements working at the rural-urban interface are often highly complex. They are characterized by horizontal and vertical coordination of numerous institutional public and private actors. In general, they provide opportunities to reap benefits and try to ameliorate negative outcomes but, due to asymmetric power relations, rural areas are often challenged to make their voice heard within city-region governance structures which can too easily become focused on the needs of the urban areas. This paper addresses these issues of rural-urban partnerships through the case of the Metropolitan Area of Styria. It presents analyses on the core issue of how to recognize the structure and driving challenges for regional co-operation and inter-communal collaboration in this city-region. Data were collected through workshops with regional stakeholders and interviews with mayors. Although the Metropolitan Area of Styria occupies an increased reference in policy discourses, the city-region has not grown to a uniform region and there are still major differences in terms of economic performance, the distribution of decision-making power, accessibility and development opportunities. If there should be established a stronger material and imagined cohesion in the city-region, it requires enhanced assistance for municipalities with less financial and personal resources, and tangible good practices of inter-municipal co-operation. The ability to act at a city-regional level depends highly on the commitment for co-operation in the formal and informal governance arrangement, and on the willingness for political compromises as well as on the formulation of common future goals.
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