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Borders of Hydropa - What planners can learn from water policy

What would Europe look like if hydrological boundaries and not political boundaries determined its structure?

Andreas Hengstermann - When planners speak about space, they usually mean territory: the politically influenced surface of the earth, which is shaped by ideas and objectives. Amongst the most intriguing cases to consider are the marginal zones of territory: the borders.

Borders are invisible lines that determine the limits of power - human power. Borders are not the demarcations that define optimal spaces according to their requirements. Borders are not classifications that specify spaces according to effective planning approaches. Borders are the limits of governmental areas of influence.

But social developments have slowly started to undo this model of boundary. When assessing industrial locations, regions of Portugal are competing with areas in Romania. Young people are moving from Copenhagen to Paris. German pensioners are spending their old age on the Mediterranean coast. Modern society is overcoming the borders of national states. Systems of political power distribution are lagging behind and are just starting to catch up.

By seeding different types of plants this landart project by Jaroslaw Koziara crosses a Schengen border between Poland and the Ukraine

However, policy areas that already think successfully in functional spaces do exist. They demonstrate in an obvious way the cross-border interrelations of planning challenges and political reactions and have started to think post-nationally. Water policy can be seen as a pioneer of this movement.

The first efforts in transnational water policy go back to the end of the 18th century with the signing of bilateral documents on the usage of lakes. These attempts were institutionalized in Europe by several commissions of water protection since the 1950s. After the big flood events at the Rhine at the beginning of the 1990s, their content was extended primarily to flood protection and risk management alongside the entire river basin. Recently European law adopted this approach and organized their water management in these hydrological boundaries as well.


These developments show that there is a European space of action beyond national boundaries. What if this thought were to become a rule? What would Europe look like if hydrological boundaries and not political boundaries determined the structure of Europe? The map of Hydropa has been developed based on these criteria and illustrates such a constitution.

Map of Hydropa: Hengstermann 2011: Hydropa - Einflussstrategien der europäischen Politik des territorialen Zusammenhalts auf raumrelevante Sektorpolitiken am Beispiel des Hochwasserrisikomanagements

Water would organize Europe into many small and several bigger entities as well. The challenges would distinguish in “País Ebro” from “Koninkrijk Maas”, but the demarcation would determine adequate spaces of action. These boundaries would set the frame to engage the challenges. Thinking this through – does this not imply that Europe is (or should be) composed of an almost infinite number of mosaics of functional boundaries?

Andreas Hengstermann holds a Diplom degree in Spatial Planning from the TU Dortmund, Germany (2011) . He is also working towards a Masters degree in Local and Rural Development from the Huelva University, Spain, which will be completed in summer 2012. Currently, he is working as an Intern at the IFHP Secretariat in The Hague. He is conducting research in the field of European territorial governance and its interrelationship to sector policies. His Diplom thesis focused on the field of flood risk management and its links to territorial cohesion policy. The map of Hydropa was inspired by Rem Koolhaas and his map of Eneropa

Top Image: The city of Baarle-Nassau/Baarle-Hertog and the Dutch-Belgium border - Wikimedia Commons

Second Image: Water doesn’t care about borders. The German-Polish border during the Elbe-Flood 2002 -