2016 Regional Studies Association, annual conference, Graz, Austria, 3-6 April 2016IntroductionCities and regions are central spatial scales for investigating the nature, dimensions and impacts of political, economic, social and environmental change. Since 1965, the Regional Studies Association (RSA) has been devoting attention to the theoretical development, empirical analysis and policy debate of issues at urban and regional scales. The 2016 RSA annual conference took place in Graz (Austria), between 3 and 6 of April. The theme of the conference was 'building bridges: cities and regions in a transnational world'. The RSA annual event was hosted by the 'Karl-FranzensUniversitat Graz'. The scientific committee consisted of Michael Steiner, Jorn Kleinert and Johannes Mossbock. The University of Graz, an institution of higher education founded in 1585 by Archduke Charles II of Inner Austria, is Austria's second oldest university and one of the largest in the country. The conference brought together senior and early-career academics, as well as a good number of policymakers with the objective of initiating an interdisciplinary dialogue about the future of a transnational world of urban and regional cooperation.Graz welcomed the delegates with a very warm early spring, and both the weather and the programme made it a privilege to attend the conference. The four plenaries, as well as the 98 parallel sessions, took place in an intensive three-day programme. Several special sessions, including those oriented to academics in the early stages of their careers, also strengthened the conference programme.Plenary sessionsWithin a multidisciplinary programme, this report focuses primarily on plenary and special sessions. With often thought-provoking presentations, the plenary sessions covered different topics from structural transformation in regional economics in the USA, to EU cohesion policy and worldwide demographic and migration challenges in the context of economic and financial crises. The plenary sessions focused on the themes presented in Table 1.In the opening plenary session, Geoffrey Hewings (University of Illinois, USA) focused on regional competitiveness and complementarity. By exploring the links between and within regions, Hewings underlined the demographic challenges and ties as well as ongoing changes in the organisational structures of firms through the example of car manufacturers in the USA. Ron Boschma (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) presented the preliminary results of a working paper on research conducted in 118 European regions. The aim of the study is to deepen the understanding of the role of institutions as drivers of diversification in European regions. The 'quality of institutions' and 'regional diversification', as well as 'social capital', were the key key concepts that emerged from Boschma's presentation, together with a preliminary conclusion that institutions matter for regional diversification.Philip McCann (University of Groningen, The Netherlands) opened the second plenary session of the first day of the conference, with the challenges for the European Union's cohesion policy taking centre stage. Special focus was given to the analysis of pre/ post-crisis in EU-15, EU-17 and regions in decline. Philip McCann also highlighted the changes in labour productivity, mainly due to demographic changes, which will also create challenges for the EU's cohesion policy. From the London School of Economics, Iain Begg presented to and discussed with a fully packed auditorium 'Why We Have an EU Cohesion Policy', questioning whether it makes sense. Begg underlined the misconceptions of the concept of cohesion. This is in line with Molle (2015), who emphasised that cohesion was introduced into EU policy without a precise definition. Despite the fact that the European Union has adopted several strategies to cope with a set of interrelated problems and spatial imbalances (Molle, 2014) - for instance, the Europe 2020 strategy - a handful of challenges remain unresolved, as Begg has argued. …

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