From multi-utility to cross-utilities: the challenges of cross-sectoral entrepreneurial strategies in a German city

Abstract : In the water and energy sectors, projects geared towards new forms of cross-sectoral functioning have boomed in most European countries over the past decade, and have deeply transformed the ecology of urban services. These projects are often considered as an answer to a rising challenge affecting numerous traditional utilities: the unforeseen urban change relating to shifting (i.e. declining) demand patterns that are undermining traditional models of infrastructure management. The development of cross-sectoral strategies is considered a way both to tackle the attrition of traditional sources of revenue and to develop greener infrastructure systems by enhancing their efficiency level, often in line with low-carbon programmes implemented by national or local governments. Its appeal lies in a fairly static perception of infrastructure management and technological change. Based on a detailed analysis of a traditional German local multi-utility and informed by a 6-month internship within the company, the article deciphers the rationale of multi-sectoral practices, in particular the company's transformation into a cross-utility that devised a common strategy for all SWM's infrastructure networks and its ambiguities. Various facets of such "boundary work" are analysed, focusing on organisational and financial aspects to reveal the new sites of tensions and negotiations between sectors, but also on the material component of these cross-sectoral projects through the case of one such nexus programme, a waste-to-energy programme. This programme embodies the potential contradictions between the call for reduced use of resources (i. e. the production of less waste) and the development of new urban technical systems relying primarily on those same resources.
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Daniel Florentin. From multi-utility to cross-utilities: the challenges of cross-sectoral entrepreneurial strategies in a German city. Urban Studies, SAGE Publications, 2019, 56 (11), pp.2242-2260. ⟨10.1177/0042098018798974⟩. ⟨hal-02189533⟩

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