Borders are territories where abstract political communities and collective identities come together in physical space. They are dynamic phenomena subject to political, economic and social influences. These influences present themselves in a multitude of spatial constellations. A border can take the shape of a wall, a fence or line in the sand, but it can also take the form of a more ambivalent zone, a no-man’s land or a place of exchange.
OVER DE GRENZEN is a research project on the spatial development of national borders in Europe. The European Union’s trajectory since WW II towards more integration and cooperation has come under increased pressure for being out of touch with the everyday experience of its citizens. And while the discussion surrounding the course of Europe is vivid, it only focuses on a united Europe as an idea but not as a physical place.
The aim of OVER DE GRENZEN is to contribute to the debate on the meaning of a united Europe and its borders from a concrete spatial perspective. Currently, European integration is focused mostly on a network of capitals connected by low cost air travel, but less so on the territories where the member states actually meet. What is striking is that border regions have the advantage of physical proximity to a neighboring economy, but this hardly ever materializes in their development. These regions are often characterized by economic and population decline resulting in a landscape of obsolete buildings and infrastructures.
“In OVER DE GRENZEN we want to reflect and speculate on the possible roles these current fringe regions can play in the future of the European project.”
The first phase of the project focuses on Dutch-Belgian border and examines its current state and recent development since it was abolished by the 1985 Schengen treaty. The border between the Netherlands and Belgium has been static and uncontested for decades. Apart from some minor adjustments initiated by the two countries in cooperation, it has not been subject to conflicts like many other borders in Europe. It is this semblance of stability that allows us to clearly examine the effects of the Schengen agreement. How has the “disappearance” of the physical border influenced the spatial development of the adjacent territories?
We start by exploring the border region on foot, by bike and public transport—engaging with the territory in a direct manner. We will be documenting our paths and the current state of the border by collecting images, movies, historical maps or stories we hear along the way. With this exploration we aim to identify patterns of development, anomalies, frictions and exchanges along the 450km long border. For a selected number of sites we will develop a series of spatial speculations that we hope will stimulate the debate on the possible future of (open) borders in Europe.