The concept of spatial planning is becoming increasingly important in state and development agency policies and in academic work. Many studies have documented the origins and topography of this notion. But increasingly, a central question emerges through the reflections devoted to it: « With decentralization, do we still need spatial planning? » This question poses, from the outset, the « topicality » of a concept that, for a long time, was in search of a scientific status and a solid theoretical basis. And now, spatial planning is being taken in the wrong direction by the State, which has nevertheless legitimized, institutionalized and practiced it.
The reforming state, the first, if not the only, planner, is adopting the policy of decentralization, which is materialized by the transfer of several of its responsibilities to the grassroots, close to the citizens. The transfer or sharing of competencies was also accompanied by the « great reversal » induced by territorial recompositions which are, on the one hand, the product of state reforms and, on the other hand, spatial dynamics of internal and external origin. Thus, the national territory on which spatial planning was based is fragmented, divided up and even networked under the effect of these territorial recompositions. The maps of regional planning remain blurred, their scale is multiplied, their legitimacy is questioned, but the spirit that animates them remains intact and the principles are still the same.
Nicolas Jacquet, Delegate of the DATAR, sheds new light on the issue, particularly for Africa, where NEPAD, which has been in the pipeline for the past ten years, has been working to develop the continent in order to meet the challenges of the third millennium: « We still need regional planning for four reasons. First of all, with the 21st century, we have entered a great period of turbulence, which is the result of both the internationalization of economies and major technological shocks that will occur. Secondly, the enlargement of Europe brings with it a new deal, and finally because inequalities persist in France. »
It also examines territorial fragmentation, in territorial communities and in the networks maintained by the latter. It thus updates the concept of « territory », in particular as a support for collective action, and as the space best suited to the socio-economic development policies of communities. Here, the interest lies in the announced « end » of the territory of the nation-state (Badie 2003) and the risk of losing vitality in many communities if we stick to « territorial complexities », the « increased mobilization of individuals » and the effects of compartmentalization that have taken place. The political territory is no longer necessarily that of development or project. Nor is it necessarily the daily « lived » and felt by citizens. The question of the relevance of the territorial levels is therefore raised with acuity. How should this territorial complex be managed? What territorial frameworks are best suited to meet the requirements of efficiency and relevance? At a time when African countries are preoccupied with building local authorities which, although they have been established on legitimate institutional bases, are not without technical and financial constraints, Europe is seeking to readjust territorial frameworks by strengthening them here through regionalism,52 there by grouping them together through intercommunality (the French example) and elsewhere by cooperating in cross-border areas.
The researchers are therefore interested in the efficiency and adaptability of territorial frameworks in order to promote better conditions for economic and social development. Thus, this article aims to revisit the notion of territorial planning, through its theoretical and practical evolution, but especially through the new approaches it is supposed to embrace, which at the same time integrate the debates on the concept of « territory ». The latter is the subject of an evolving problematic in the quest for efficiency and an ideal framework for collective action. After this theoretical framing of development policy and its territorial support, which has become more complex and multiplied, it is important to show the dynamics that the territorial scales of development have undergone over time and how we understand them in terms of relevance and effectiveness. As some authors have thought, we will seek, at the end of this article, to confirm that it is possible to articulate territorial scales by regulating the different institutional levels, transcending the political limits of the territories.