Planning in Germany

Modern urban planning in Germany dates back to the last decades of the nineteenth century, when the first planning laws were enacted and planning agencies were established. The first planning textbook was published in 1879. Regional planning emerged during the early 1920s when the Ruhr Coalfield Settlement Association (Siedlungsverband Ruhrkohlenbezirk, or SVR) was formed to protect the landscape in the Ruhr area, which was almost completely devastated by the rapidly expanding mining and steel industry. The SVR is said to be the world's first regional planning agency, pre-dating the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the United States by about a decade.

General Features. Germany is a federal state with three levels of government: the federal government (Bund), the states (Lander), and the municipalities (Gemeinden). The Constitution, written after World War II, clearly defines the division of power among the three levels. The planning system in Germany is characterized by a strong legal framework and a decentralized decision-making structure. On the national level, there are only general legal guidelines. The legal framework consists of the Federal

Spatial Planning Act (Raumordnungsgesetz) and the Federal Building Code (Baugesetzbuch), which provide the legal instruments for spatial planning on the state level and for urban planning on the local level. This framework ensures a degree of consistency of planning on the lower levels (Lander and Gemeinden). However, each Land has its own regional planning system. Municipal governments enjoy a high degree of autonomy in planning and have fervently defended this against all demands for centralization of power.

The overall objective of planning and spatial policy in Germany is sustainable development—as it is in many other countries since this concept became popular worldwide after the UN Conference in Rio in 1992. Since 1997, it has been fixed in the Federal Building Code. The code includes the following:

  • Improving the economic competitiveness of city regions: efficient transport systems, modern infrastructure, dynamic and vibrant metropolitan regions, excellent universities and research facilities, etc.
  • Protecting the natural resources: saving energy; reducing land consumption; reducing pollution of air, water, and soil, and so on; adapting to climate change: "brownfield development before greenfield development"
  • Supporting social and cultural cohesion: affordable housing and an adequate supply of education and health care for all social groups
  • Obtaining living conditions of "equal value": reducing the gap between, or disparities in, both urban and rural areas and between declining and prospering regions.

These objectives contain many contradictions. Therefore, urban and regional policies are mostly compromises by nature, as they are in every other country. Although the objectives are the same, the strategies selected and pursued may be completely different depending on whether you find yourself in a prospering region or in a declining region—whether you are in a small town in a rural environment or in a vibrant metropolitan region. Munich and the Stuttgart Region in the south, with their modern industries such as automobiles and electronics, are very prosperous. By contrast, the Ruhr area in the west and Ober- lausitz in the east, with their declining mining and steel industry, suffer from high unemployment and little, if any, economic growth. There are also very large differences between non metropolitan areas. Some are prosperous and booming, attracting modern industries (for example, Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria) and Oberschwaben (Upper Swabia) near Lake Constance and some are remote and rural areas, with poor agriculture and no prospects for new industries and/or tourism (for example, parts of Lower Saxony in the west or Vorpommern in the far northeast of the country). Since the reunification of Germany, differences among regions in former West Germany have been overshadowed by the much greater differences between the poorer former East Germany and the rest of the nation.

Planning in Germany After the Reunification in 1989. When World War II ended in 1945, Germany was divided into two states, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), the former becoming part of the Western Alliance and a member of NATO and the latter becoming part of the Soviet Bloc and the Warsaw Pact. These two countries were separated not only by the iron curtain, but also by antagonistic political systems. Thus, the context, the objectives, and the instruments of planning widely differed. In the decades after World War II, planning in West Germany followed very much the same lines as in other Western European countries, whereas in East Germany collective planning on all levels was a central feature of the communist regime, as it was in all other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The breakdown of communism and the fall of the iron curtain in 1989 led to the reunification of West and East Germany. This completely changed the political geography of Europe and the regional context of almost every city in Central Europe. The reunification was a unique historical experience. It called for policies to solve problems for which there was little precedent: how to bring together two countries that, although having a common language, had very different political, economic, and social structures; different cultures; and different social attitudes. These questions were addressed at the political level by fully applying the legal, organizational, administrative, and political structures of West Germany to East Germany. There has also been tremendous investment in the former East Germany by the German government. Much of it has been in the cities: urban renewal of the inner-city areas, maintenance and modernization of the public housing areas from the socialistic period (Plattensiedlungen), extension and modernization of the road network and railway system, and the like. But despite the huge efforts, the task of reunification is far from completed. The former East Germany remains much poorer than the rest of the nation, and unemployment rates there are much higher than elsewhere.

In the first years after reunification, many East Germans moved to West Germany because of the better job opportunities. The urban regions in West Germany thus faced a new boom. Urban growth and the elimination of housing subsidies at the end of the 1980s were responsible for a dramatic housing shortage. At the beginning of the 1990s, the municipalities were again confronted with the necessity of planning and building extended urban areas in the peripheries, even though, for environmental reasons, there is consensus that untouched green areas should be preserved.

One feature of the German planning scene that appeared in the 1990s that has no parallel in the United States or much of Western Europe was the opportunity to redevelop a vast amount of land once in military use. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent withdrawal of the Soviet and American and Allied Forces bestowed upon many German municipalities and states a substantial planning opportunity: the conversion of former military areas into urban development. Some of the garrison towns in former East Germany even now have an abundance of abandoned military land at their disposition. Extended areas, once shut off from the public for decades, are now ready to be integrated into the existing urban structure.

Strengthening the ability of metropolitan areas to accommodate growth by continuously improving the infrastructure through extending and renewing airports, extending the high-speed train net (ICE) while integrating it more closely with the trans-European net, modernizing the motorway system, and the like are important and costly parts of the German planning system.

For about the last 20 years we have seen contradictory trends in the organization of planning in Germany: On the one hand, there is a growing concern for the natural environment, which is reflected in laws for the protection of ground, water, and air; for energy saving; and for reducing CO2 emissions. This concern introduces more and more regulatory elements into the planning process. On the other hand, there is the general trend toward a more property-led development, as noted earlier in this chapter in connection with Great Britain, France, and Sweden. As the financial situation of the municipalities (Gemeinden) became more and more difficult, big urban projects had to be carried out largely with private capital. In order to attract private investment, deregulation necessarily became a major issue in German planning policy.

Since the turn of the century several major social and political trends have had a substantial impact on urban development in Germany: First, the economic, social, cultural, and political ties among the different European countries have become closer and closer in the last decade. As a result of this European integration process, a significant part of the agenda of urban, infrastructural, and environmental policy is no longer determined on the national level, but on the European level.

Second, the population of Germany is beginning to decline and will decline more steeply in the future. Germany now has a population of 82 million people. The 2050 population is projected at 67 to 73 million people. This demographic change goes back to a consistently low birth rate (fertility is about 1.4, compared with a replacement level of 2.1). This means that not only will there be fewer people, but there will also be a significantly higher number of elderly people. That is why constantly high immigration of qualified workers from other countries is considered a crucial precondition for the economic future of Germany. Today, more than 5 million people from other countries live in Germany. In the city of Frankfurt, every third inhabitant carries a foreign passport.

Third, despite the tremendous political efforts and financial support for East Germany, there is still a big social, economic, and spatial divide between Eastern and Western Germany. Whereas most of the West German cities are still growing and prospering, a vast majority of the cities in Eastern Germany are continuously shrinking. The permanent loss of population and jobs has had dramatic impacts: an unemployment rate in the 17 to 20 percent range, a very large number of people depending on social welfare, a rapidly aging population, impaired housing markets, decreasing land prices, reduced purchasing power, and reduced local tax revenues. The effects become more and more visible. The cities are marked by extensive wasteland and derelict commercial sites, streets with many vacant shops and offices, dilapidated factory and residential buildings, underutilized or abandoned social and technical infrastructure, and neglected parks and squares.

In the prospering cities such as Munich, Hamburg, or Stuttgart, planning efforts still concentrate on managing urban growth without compromising environmental goals. Complex projects of urban restructuring are considered crucial elements that contribute to the cities' economic and cultural competitiveness in a globalized world. At present, the HafenCity project in Hamburg is one of the most outstanding examples. It is the largest waterfront project underway in Europe right now.

The shrinking cities in the East face completely different planning problems. How to create a new local economic base? What to do with an abundance of housing and public infrastructure? Toward the end of the 1990s, the vacancy rates in housing rose to a level that was no longer tolerable and in the long run would have led to a total collapse of the housing market and the bankruptcy of major housing companies. In 2002, the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Building and Urban Development initiated a subsidy program titled Stadtumbau Ost (urban restructuring in East Germany). In fact, most of the money goes into so-called Rueckbau (demolition measures). Today, the housing companies obtain a subsidy of between 50 and 60 euros per each square meter of ground floor that is demolished ($8 to $9 per square foot). Between 2002 and 2007, nearly 200,000 housing units were removed from the market in East Germany by demolition. These activities are incorporated into regeneration schemes and accompanied by various measures to improve the conditions of the residual housing stock. Among other things, the restructuring of shrinking cities includes refurbishing public space, creating green spaces on derelict land, and adapting the existing technical and social infrastructures to changing demands.

HafenCity Hamburg—A former harbor area very close to the CBD is turned into a vibrant new urban area for 12,000 new inhabitants and 40,000 jobs, with signature architecture and high-quality design of public spaces.

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