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COST Action C11

Spatial Planning in Germany

National data on planning systems












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Spatial Planning in Germany

Bettina Opperman


Challenges for Greenstructure Planning in Germany:

some points for discussion

 Back to Working Group 2 notes

1 Brief description of the planning system

  • The German planning system
  • Landuse and masterplan (1:10 000 to 1:5000)
  • Detailed master plan and design of the open space (1:2500 to 1:1000)
  • The informal planning and design process

2 Special goals regarding Geenstructures

3 Difficulties and challenges


1 Brief description of the planning system


German planning system

The German Federal Nature Protection Law of 1976 aims at the protection and

sus-tainable development of landscape both in rural and urban areas.

According to the law, nature conservation must consider the biotic and

abiotic factors of nature as well as the impacts of land use on the

environment. This includes the design and development of urban green


Landscape plans are the main instrument to achieve these goals. These plans

are complementary to comprehensive plans on each level of the planning

system: from landscape programmes for the Länder, regional landscape plans

down to local land-scape plans on the municipal level and open space plans

on the level of master planning. According to the German Nature

Conservation Law, there is also a re-quirement to mitigate the impacts of

developments and to compensate for inevita-ble impacts. Mitigation and

compensation are required for site developments as well as on the level of

master planning.

Therefore, these plans need to be based on scientific information about the

ecologi-cal functions of the area in question. The plan has also to be

approved by political decision makers, who can follow the advice of the

experts or reject their sugges-tions and give more weight to other


Landuse- and masterplan (Flächennutzungs- und Landschaftsplan)

The local level of planning is the most important for greenstructure

planning be-cause it is here where the possibilities and the limits to use

land, build houses and protect natural areas are set. Within these limits

formally described in a land use and a complementary landscape plan (scale

1:10 000 to 1:5000) every private household or firm can build according to

the land-use zones determined in the plan.


Detailed master plan and design of the open space (Grünordnungsplan)

The permission to build is also determined on the next step of the planning

process on a more detailed level. The scale of the master- and open space

plan is 1:2500 to 1:1000. Here negotiations are possible, but again, limits

are set by the municipality. These can be very prescriptive in detail (e.g.

choice of tree species, type of fences / hedgerows) but often they do not

achieve to conserve / strengthen the overall char-acter and qualities of a


The plan is implemented by private, institutional and public landowners.

There is no possibility to force a private land owner to build the ideas of

the planning commis-sion. However, the municipality can encourage the

realisation of a plan by economic or other incentives. This part of the more

informal bargaining and planning process is permanently discussed among

experts but rarely documented or scientifically analysed.


The informal planning and design process

Beside the formal planning process, new forms of planning arise. A master

plan de-signed to last 10 years does no longer absorb all the discussion but

many project-oriented activities are undertaken at the same time. One of the

advantages of this planning approach is that conflicts can be solved

pragmatically. A well determined project can be realised more easily and be

seen and marketed in the public. The problem with this way of planning is,

that a variety of projects will not automatically form a systematic

programme for the development and shaping of the greenstruc-ture. Typical

projectes are: Garden festivals (Stuttgart), special exhibitions (Expo

Hannover) or land art projects. Design and planning competitions aim to

bring spe-cial issues such as places, views, the riversides etc. to the

attention of the people, media and local politicians.

More and more the citizens are encouraged by the politicians and the

administrative body to become a player in the game of urban development. The

engagement and commitment of the citizens is thought to facilitate the

realisation of project ideas. This is why public participation and

cooperation are more and more discussed and practised as well. The experts

involved hold a strong position because they have the knowledge required.

But at the same time they are often discontent because lay people talk about

things they do not understand or these are unable to organise themselves in

an effective way.

Therefore, planning managers and environmental or urban mediators are

engaged now more frequently. However, their professional standards are not

well defined and it is not yet clear if they will become accepted by the

administration, politicians and citizens. Because of the formal restrictions

of the German Law a simple 1:1 adoption of Anglo-American skills and

instruments in environmental and urban me-diation or facilitation will not

solve the problems at stake. Instead, a careful adapta-tion and

implementation of new instruments into the well-developed planning sys-tem

is required.


2 Special goals regarding Greenstructures

In the Federal Law for Nature Conservation there are three main issues for

the pro-tection, restoration and development of greenstructures:

§ Species and habitats,

§ Environmental services: Soil, water, air and climate,

§ Landscape character, nature and landscape related recreation.

These tasks can only be successfully accomplished if the role of

greenstructure for preserving, restoring and enhancing environmental quality

is well understood. Habitat surveys have been carried out in many German

cities and towns. These pro-vide a good information basis for urban

planning. This information has been very useful for site designations.

However, knowledge of the overall performance of greenstructure, i.e.

improving climates, reducing storm water runoff, and serving as corridors

for wildlife, is still poorly understood.

A recent review of habitat corridor planning in German cities and towns

revealed that this concept has only been applied in a small number of cities

(Froehlich et al., 2000). Where the concept has been used it is rarely

supported by strong scientific evidence but is rather pragmatically applied.

Compensation requirements are now increasingly applied by cities on the

strategic level of land use planning to facilitate the development process

on the site level. A pool of compensation areas ("ecologi-cal account") is

built up in advance by the municipality and these are balanced then with

impacts on new development sites. This would allow developing coherent

greenstructures and placing compensation areas for the highest ecological

benefit. However, the choice of compensation areas is not only driven by

ecological criteria but by land ownership and availability.

Compensation can become disconnected from the impact, both spatially and as

re-gards the type of impact. For instance, loss of green space with

primarily climatic functions on a development site may be compensated by

restoration of a wetland somewhere else.

Nature and natural areas are also regarded as a resource for recreation. The

en-hancement of physical and emotional wellbeing is also a function of the

greenstruc-ture and a task for the "green" administration.

In our society we realise a strong shift into a more industrialised

structure for rec-reation, a kind of a new industrial sector with big

festival events (Olympic games, etc.) or a Disney-like design of parks and

open spaces. For these parks we have the investors but not for the type of

green structure to be used everyday by everyone at low prices. Ecological

and environmental issues play a lesser role now in the discus-sion about

urban development and greenstructure planning.


3 Difficulties and challenges

The main difficulties regarding greenstructures resulting from the German

planning system can be characterised as follows:

§ Because of the low economic potential to exploit green structures, it is

the responsibility of the public sector. In times when this sector is poorly

funded and is forced to search economic success, greenstructures are often

planned but rarely realised. The budgets of the green departments are so low

that sometimes they are unable to care for well designed areas with the

effect that greenstructures may loose their positive appeal to the public.

§ If a plan has a good quality and sets strong regulations it is still a

problem to find an investor willing to implement it. Very often the green

spaces that sur-round houses, bank towers and other buildings are only taken

into consideration at the end of the planning and construction process. As a

consequence, the quality of the greenstructure is often very poor, not

because landscape architects cannot do a good job but because the green is

structurally not weighted as important as the "brown / grey structures".

§ Only very few people understand, that the ecological system is not

deter-mined by municipal borders or populated and not populated areas: Many

people agree to preserve nature outside the cities but not in the city

centre. And verbally everybody enjoys the greenstructures but disagrees to

protect them if personal gains are at stake. The NIMBY-Phenomenon (Not in my

back yard!), which was brought up to explain the problems with "locally

unwanted land uses (LULUs)", fits perfectly also to describe the challenge

to build up greenstructures.

The main ecological challenges for greenstructure planning may be summarised


§ To safeguard environmental and ecological quality in the compact city.

While compact cities may reduce the pressure on surrounding countryside,

densifi-cation can impair environmental performance and reduce biodiversity

in the city. This is in particular of relevance in strongly developing city

regions in South Germany where pressure on open spaces in the city is

strong. This can lead to further loss and fragmentation of greenstructure.

§ To restore environmental and ecological quality in old industrialised city

re-gions by developing new types of greenstructures. Derelict land often

have developed into valuable habitats for wildlife, but need to be

integrated into greenstructure planning and urban development.

§ To develop greenstructures for urban expansion. Cities are becoming more

and more city regions. Concepts for planning and implementing

greenstruc-tures are required to define the role of landscape on this level

and these con-cepts need to be proactive, e.g. to help define the future

roles of agriculture and forestry in an urban context.

Other challenges relate to the instruments of landscape planning. The

intensive discussion on their efficiency has highlighted the need for

§ a clearer definition of ecological / environmental goals and targets

("envi-ronmental quality standards"). Standards for greenstructure planning

on the whole city and neighbourhood levels might in turn help to strengthen

the role of open space in master plans for implementing greenstructures.

§ improving public involvement in the planning process. Landscape plans,

in-cluding urban landscape plans need to become more management and

im-plementation led. But the crucial point of this discussion is, that it is

not clear how the roles in the democratic system will change and who will be

the win-ner or the loser in this negotiation. A tension exists between the

representa-tive democratic system, with elected politicians who have the

right to decide, and, participatory approaches where lay people become

active in planning and development of their greenstructures. The latter

should be asked about their own ideas and goals but they also need to

understand the formal plan-ning system to get any influence.


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updated 31 Oct 01

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