European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research -

COST Action C11


Case study: The Greenstructure of Munich


The City of Munich has approximately 1.3 Million inhabitants and covers a surface area of 311 km2 within its administrative boundaries.

The city forms the core of a fast growing urban region within the urban 'Blue Banana' of the European Union. The region has a population of 2.4 million inhabitants, however, the commuting zone goes far beyond.

The natural context ....

Munich is situated in the Munich plain, a glacial and postglacialoutwash of limestone gravel. The Munich plain is rhombic in shape. It starts in the south at the rim of the terminal moraines from the last glaciation at a maxium height of 650 m in the south and gently slopes towards the north where it ends at the fringe of hilly countryside near Freising (450m).

The plain has few geomorphologic features to influence urban development except the floodplain of the river Isar with its sequence of river banks and terraces.

While the groundwater level is below 20m under the surface in the southern part of Munich, it comes to the surface at the northern edge of the city, leading to the formation of extensive fenlands. Therefore, a distinction can be made between the dry and the wet part of the Munich plain.

Historically, villages were situated either along the streams, in particular on the border of the river Isar floodplain and along the transition zone between the dry and the wet part of the gravel plain. Within Munich, breweries follow the line of the terraces where water came to the surface.

Naturally, the gravel plain would have been covered by deciduous woodlands predominantly of oak. These woodlands have been mostly cleared to give place to farmland.

In particular in its northern part, the soils on the dry terraces of the gravel plain are very shallow and infertile. Water infiltrates quickly due to the coarse gravel. Therefore, the land was mostly used for extensive grazing by sheep, and developed into very species rich, dry calcareous grassy heathlands and grazed woodlands of predominantly oak and pine. Munich therefore was once called a 'golden saddle on a skinny mare'.

Thus, while the Munich Plain is overall homogeneous, a relatively finegrained sequence of natural units can be distinguished based on gradients of geomorphology and moisture.


1 cultural and political history.....

The City of Munich was only founded in the 12th century on the western banks of the river Isar. King Henry (Heinrich der Löwe) tore down the old bridge over the river Isar further north at Oberföhring controlled by the Benedictine monastery in Freising to build a new one, and the rise of Munich in the crossing of two important European streets for salt transportation and salt trade began. Later, it became the residence of the Bavarian electors and then kings. However, it remained a small town within medieval boundaries until the 19th century.

The topographic map of 1812 shows the city still mostly confined within its medieval limits.

The river Isar formed a continuous belt of floodplain woodlands, extensive pastures and meadows from south to north. Outside the floodplain, the woodlands were mostly cleared in the northern part of the Munich plain, whereas the woodlands in the south were largely protected as forests. Clearings around villages give it a characteristic structure until today. Thus, the clear differentiation between the 'rich' south and the 'poor' north of the city was already founded from the beginning of the city's development.

The first big projects of city enlargement took place in the first part of the 19th century, when the elector Maximilian and King Ludwig I built new neighbourhoods in the north, and northwest of the city. These enlargements follow a grid pattern. They were speculative and very densely built up. Greenspace was only created in the form of small squares with a representative character. Another open space structure originating from this time is the development of the railway system with a main corridor reaching from the city centre to the west.

Together with Nürnberg and Berlin, Munich was one of the cities chosen by the Nazis to demonstrate their power. The art museum (Haus der Kunst) at the southern end of the "Englischer Garten" is an example of the Nazi architecture (and where modern paintings were shown as 'Entartete Kunst'). Many parts of the city were destroyed in WW II. Some squares and blocks were not rebuilt until recently (Marienhof, Marstallplatz) or are still awaiting redesign (Jacobsplatz).

After the war Munich began to develop rapidly. Siemens and some other large companies chose Munich as their headquarter. The economy is now mainly based on information technology, services, banking and the insurance sector. As a consequence, the Munich region has a high percentage of highly paid jobs and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Germany.


In city statistics, Munich is listed as one of the most densely built-up urban areas in Germany. Since the breakdown of the "iron curtain" the good position of Munich in the competition with Berlin is put into question. Film stars move to Berlin, but still the quality of life in Munich and the economic power of the city are its strong points in this competition.

There is a continuing strong need to build new houses but land available for development is scarce. Densification of the city has been favoured by the planners to contain urban sprawl and a strategy called 'Compact - Urban - Green' was adopted. There is a strong pressure on greenspace in low density residential areas by infill densification. As a consequence, gardens with many old trees are lost.

Munich is a concentric and very compact town. It did not succeed to incorporate the neighbourhood municipalities, so the big challenge of today is to cooperate with other cities and counties and find a functional compensation for notwanted infrastructure facilities (Nimby-Phenomenon). The airport today is about 40 km from the center of the city at Freising and caused huge problems for the transportation system.

This was mainly realized with the Olympic games in the 1970s and covers a huge region from Freising to southern lake distict. The planners think how they could transform the centre focused system into a better and mor netshaped system of public transportation. Waste Management and the cleaning of used Water are further functions that Munich can only handle with the help of the region.

To spend recreation and leisure time the region is also quite important. In the south many big lakes and the Alps are a big attraction to the Munich people but until 80 km far away. Since 20 years the northern region tries hard to provide facilities more nearly the settlement of the people.

Lakes and bathing zones are build. They are filled with the ground water of the Munich plain. The water qaulity of the River Isar in the north is not sufficient for bathing, but many people use the river to go out hiking, biking and skating.

More and mor the farmers are included in the maintenance and mangement of important landscape zones. They get help from the municipalities to sell their goods but they have to fulfill a change in their selfunderstanding as city farmers. To provide facilities for recreation is increasingly a task for regional planning


A system of canals connects the castles and residences in the northern Munich plain (source: Burkhardt, 2001) understand the pattern of green structures

The green backbone of the city is the floodplain of the river Isar. Although being largely changed by engineering, the floodplain is still preserved for flood retention. The Englischer Garten of Ludwig Sckell, built at the end of the end of the 19th century, was situated completely outside the city in the river Isar floodplain. The southern part of the city, the Isar still has some non-designed parts with gravel banks which are very popular for recreation. In 1984, G. Grizmek, then professor for Landscape Architecture, started an initiative to promote this kind of "useful technical landscape" and he gained a lot of protest by those experts who held up the qualities of a well designed formal landscape or garden.

The second important historical greenstructure are the summer residences of the Bavarian electors, Nymphenburg and Schleißheim. Originally, these residences were far outside the city and surrounded by farmland.

They were linked to the city by avenues and a sequence of places and small parks. Nymphenburg is today one of the most important habitat for species in the city and designated as a nature reserve. The park is surrounded by villas with large gardens. Sckell transformed the baroque summer residence into a landscape park, but maintaining the baroque structure of the axes.

Schleißheim Castle, another summer residence, lies in the northern part of the Munich plain. Both residences were connected by a system of canals feeding the fountains, but also serving as a transport network, for instance, to carry construction materials to Schleißheim. The canals were built by Dutch engineers and are a masterpiece of engineering with water being taken from the small river Würm in the western part of the Munich Plain, then led two times across the plain to be finally discharged again into the river Würm. Additionally, water could be fed into the system from smaller streams. Most of the canals still exist today.

Between 1871 and the turn of the 19th century the city experienced a dramatic growth from 170 000 to over 500 000 inhabitants. In 1935, Munich had a residential population of 735000 inhabitants (LH München 1990). Most of the industrial development took place in the north of Munich whereas high qualitiy residential areas developed in the south, around Nymphenburg in the west and along the river Isar corridor.

The strong growth in built-up areas at that time was not complemented by the creation of public parks. Only big cemeteries were located in each major direction. Today, the closed blocks of that period are good places for living in neighbourhoods with small shops, cafes, etc. Some houses are restored in a very expensive way. However, there is a great deficit of greenspaces. It is difficult to increase the amount of greenspace in the small courtyards often used as car parks.

There is also a need to regenerate the historic gardens and squares in the city. Munich did not keep its old ring of fortifications with the bastions. Only some squares remind people today of this inner belt along the inner ring road.

The densely built up inner city and neighbouring 19th century developments are the most deficient areas of greenspace. It is important to improve this situation to increase access to greenspace for recreation and to improve the environment.

Larger projects to create new public greenspace were only realised after a long period since the 1970s, with the creation of the Olympiapark in the North, the Eastern Park and the Western Park. Each park shows a very significant "design language ". The area of the Olympiapark was the first airfield in Munich. After WW II, it was filled with the rubble from the destroyed inner city. That is the reason why the Olympic park is so hilly and a special attraction for the population. The mechanism of an international garden festival, was used in to transform a former derelict site into the Westpark in 1983. Garden festivals are a popular means among German municipalities to create new parks andmake these known.

Though everytime we discuss the exibition part of such a festival it is quiet obvious that the people love to spend their time in huge disney like parks. Apart from the money they spend with their families these festival parks create some problems with the neighbourhood (noise, parkings and streets, etc.) and the siting of them is not easy.

A national garden festival is due to open in the new neighbourhood Messestadt-Riem in 2005. The area of Munich Riem was used as the main aiport until 1985. With the construction of the new airport near by Freising the area became available for a mixed development with residential areas, an exhibition centre, commercial areas and a modern park. In turn, the former exhibition centre (Theresienhöhe) is converted now into a mixed neighbourhood in the inner city. Thus, urban development in Munich resembles a Merry-goes-around play. Areas used for infrastructure facilities become usable by rebuilding or modernising the infrastructure. However, the scale of impact increases with every cycle. The new airport and the new exhibition centre are much larger than their predecessors.

This increase in size is of course connected with the loss of green space outside the city such as the fenlands in the Munich plain.

In the North, the municipality now plans a big leisure centre and a new stadium for football to be opened at the world championship in 2006. The debate was decided by a public poll (Bürgerentscheid). Also the river Isar is undergoing restoration in the southern part of city in order to improve flood protection, the ecology and provide better recreation facilities.

The inner and the middle ring road are today some of the most problematic places to live in because of the heavy traffic. Today the function of these roads is an issue of great political debate. In 1996, the green stakeholder groups lost a public poll to reduce the capacity of the street. Instead it was decided to put the street underground and keep the capacity. In the north, greenspaces will be built on top of the covered roads (Petuelpark).

In summary, the greenstructure in Munich reflects on the one hand natural determinants in particular in the form of the broad green corridor of the river Isar flood plain and the lack of development in fenland areas until recently.

However, due to the lack of natural physical boundaries, urban growth was elsewhere largely unrestricted. Parks and forests of the Bavarian electors and kings were created outside the city but were later incorporated into the urban fabric.

To 'step upon the grass' was the metaphor for a new concept of greenstructure management in the 1980s

To 'step upon the grass' was the metaphor for a new concept of greenstructure management in the 1980s


Major cemeteries and recent parks are further large green spaces in the city. While these greenspaces form large islands, there is a lack of connecting green networks, in particular in east-west direction. The redevelopment of parts of the main railway area provides a rare opportunity to remedy some of these deficits. It is discussed right now, how these old infrastructures can be used for this purpose.

In summary, Munich is a strongly developing city where land prices are amongst the highest in Germany. In particular the city region is experiencing very strong growth threatening the ecological and environmental assets. On this level, co-ordinated efforts of the different local authorities and all other stakeholders are required to protect and develop the greenstructure of the future regional city.

The city of Munich itself is already very densely built-up. The population has remained stable since the 1970s. However, due to increasing per-capita space demand and the need to locate new industries and services, the pressure on greenstructure continues to be very high.

Significant areas of greenspace important for nature conservation, environmental quality and recreation have been lost.

The city is aware of the need to protect its greenstructure. The new neighbourhood in München Riem is an example for the creation of greenspace where ecological and environmental considerations played an important role. The so called social land use regulation requires that a tax is levied on the added value from development, and this means is also effectively used to implement social and ecological measures. Mitigation banking is considered today as an instrument potentially very effective to link urban development with the creation of new greenspace.

Mitigation banking allows to develop coherent greenstructures through concentration of compensation measures from urban development.

However, overall the greenspace balance is negative, and the role of greenspace planners and nature conservation is weak in the case of hard conflicts. The conversion of disused railway areas will provide an opportunity for larger and new greenspaces the social land use tax enables the creation of greenspace


See also the Ecology Study of Munich

Click to see larger image

Click to see larger image