“Conversational Cuts“ on European planning systems

Conversational Cuts on European planning systems

Patricia Feiertag, 29 Feb, 2018

How are planning systems in different European countries evolving? Do they show convergent or divergent dynamics? And what do these differential dynamics mean for existing typologies or families of planning traditions?

During the 2018 Dortmund Conference (5th-6th February at TU Dortmund), a session on “European Perspectives” chaired by Prof. Karsten Zimmermann and Prof. Maros Finka took place, including contributions about:

  • the recent changes in Swiss Planning Legislation (Andreas Hengstermann, Universität Bern),
  • Macro-regions in the Baltic Sea, Danube and Alps (Jens Kurnol, BBSR),
  • new Planning approaches in the Netherlands (Dr Sebastian Dembski, University of Liverpool) and
  • Metropolitan cooperation in France (Patricia Feiertag, TU Dortmund).

The core aspect of the session’s debate was the current development of planning systems.

Switzerland and the Netherlands have both reacted on perceived shortcomings of their planning system with recent legal reforms: the revision of the Swiss Raumplanungsgesetz (RPG, 1st into force since 1.1.2014, 2nd revision ongoing) and the Wet ruimtelijke ordening (WRO, into force since 1.7.2008). The intent and direction of the legal reforms was quite different though and could be interpreted as leading in opposite directions. In Switzerland, urban sprawl and perceived lack of impact of the passive land use planning has led to a more active land use policy, including a reduction of oversized building zones, mandatory land value capture and obligation to build within 15 years so as to avoid stagnation and speculation. The Netherlands, on the other hand, disposed of a well-ordered land development and active land policies at the municipal level; in the wake of the financial crisis, this model was perceived as overly rigid and produced municipal financial risks. Instead, planning on the national level was cut down in favour of experimental and more organic planning led by civic initiatives.

Stemming from the session, the questions about the extent of change were further probed. According to the discussion participants, significant changes towards a more active land policy took place in Switzerland. This has not been, however, a total reorientation of the Swiss planning culture. In the Netherlands, the urban development practices tested in some pilot areas were halted because of a changed economic situation and high demand for housing. Ironically, the unexpected challenges made the old model of active land use policy attractive again. The national influence has been weakened though, and is concentrating on core infrastructures instead of defining areas for city development in the country.

Returning to the topic of changing planning systems in the second session of the track on comparative planning studies, Peter Schmitt from Stockholm University, presented preliminary results of the ESPON COMPASS project on the development of European planning systems between 2000 and 2016. He questioned on the background of heterogeneous characteristics how meaningful planning culture prototypes introduced by the EU Compendium of spatial planning systems and policies (1997) like the “comprehensive-integrative type”,  to which Austria, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland belong as one subgroup, still are. Nevertheless, this typology remains a frequently used starting point for comparisons between European countries.