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Possible and desired territorial futures for the Baltic Sea Region

Liene Gaujeniete

How do we plan for a better future? How can we be better prepared for unexpected developments? The applicability of and lessons learned from the spatial scenarios method, as well as integration of terrestrial and maritime spatial planning, were discussed in an inspiring online webinar this autumn, as part of the 11th Annual EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) Forum. Although developed before pandemics, all scenarios clearly showed some of the characteristics that we have been experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three territorial scenarios were developed as part of the ESPON project 'Territorial scenarios for the Baltic Sea Region' (BT2050), which ran during 2018?2019. In addition, analyses of future trends were carried out and presented. The ESPON BT2050 spatial scenarios are described below.

A quant it at ive baseline scenario showed the most likely scenario for the development of the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) based on current and past trends. Under this scenario, the gap between the east and the west of the region narrows; however, disparities between fast-growing urban areas and rural areas remain in place. Still, BSR has moved closer to the EU average and to cohesion by 2050.

'Well-being in a circular economy' imagines a 'slow life'in the BSR: slow and local food, slow and lasting fashion, slow and responsible production. The people of the BSR are less stressed, commute less and consume less, so quality of life increases. The importance of regional centres in the polycentric manufacturing network has increased, and new employment opportunities arise, mainly outside the big cities.

'Growing into green-tech giants' imagines rapid eco-development in the BSR, where ?green is the new black'. Major metropolitan areas thrive and technological growth is combined with fewer emissions, leading to guilt-free consumption.

Three further scenarios for the Baltic Sea and the Finnish marine areas in 2050 were developed as part of the Finnish maritime spatial planning process (supported by the European Marine and Fisheries Fund). These marine area scenarios are described below.

'Dancing with big business' describes a Baltic sea at a time when market liberalisation has taken place in EU and economic growth is the main driver of development. Countless offshore wind farms and the Helsinki?Tallinn Tunnel have been built.

'Profitability under the environment's terms'  presents a future in which recreation and environmental protection thrive in the Baltic Sea near Finland, consumption decreases and sustainable choices are being made.

Under the 'Baltic Sea of restrictions and tensions'  scenario, the Baltic Sea becomes a playing field for superpowers, the EU strengthens its joint environmental and energy policy, and tension with Russia increases.

Clearly, there are many striking similarities between developed scenarios, which demonstrates how interdependent these planning processes are and the need to take an integrated approach to terrestrial and maritime planning. The scenario ?Profitability under the environment?s terms?extend the ?Well-being in a circular economy? scenario, and ?Growing into green-tech giants?and ?Dancing with big business?go hand in hand.

In the context of the pandemic, we can see that some of the predicted future trends, such as e-health development, remote working and alternatives to mass tourism, have accelerated. However,the indications are that in the long run the impacts of the pandemics are minor. This highlights that if we want to change territorial development, we have to introduce radical changes through the policies and plans we develop.

The examples of scenarios given here have been or will be used to develop strategic spatial planning documents. The Finnish maritime scenarios have served as an input into the Finnish maritime spatial plan 2030, and the ESPON BT2050 scenarios will serve as an input into the process of updating the Vision and Strategies Around the Baltic Sea (VASAB)strategic document Long-term perspective for the territorial development of the BSR. They could also provide a basis for political discussions (e.g. at the next VASAB Ministerial Conference) or discussions with other EUSBSR stakeholders and stakeholders in Europe more broadly.Furthermore, they could be used in developing national, regional and even local strategic planning documents in the BSR countries.

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL