The glossary

Planning terms are often rooted in the administrative and planning culture of a particular country and cannot be straightforwardly translated.

The English-language glossary presented here is intended to offer a translation and elucidation of central terms in the German planning system to a non-German speaking readership in the interests of facilitating discourse.

Our intention is to ensure as much consistency as possible in the key terms used throughout this platform and the publications of the ARL that can be found here.

The definitions used are based on those found in the national glossary for Germany, which was elaborated in the framework of the BSR INTERREG III B project COMMIN.

Click here to perform a search based on the English term.

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Gebiets- bzw. RaumkategorieSpatial (order) categories/area types

Spatial categories (spatial order categories, area types) are areas defined in terms of specific criteria in which comparable structures exist and where similar spatial planning goals are pursued. Spatial categories can be defined in terms of settlement structure, quality, or potential. There is no binding set of area types. Comprehensive spatial planning and state spatial planning define them for their own purposes. The administrative borders of territorial authorities (municipalities or counties) are generally taken, although more recent models use geographically more precise boundaries. The most important defining criteria are population density, centrality, and location. The numbers and names of categories vary. In settlement structure approaches, for example, the spectrum runs from metropolitan area (agglomeration, conurbation) to rural area (sparsely populated region). Problemoriented approaches make use of spatial categories like “growth region” (area with good development prospects) or “structurally weak area” (region with adverse economic development).

GebietskörperschaftTerritorial authority

A territorial authority (or “territorial corporation”) is an area-based legal person governed by public law whose territory consists of a spatially demarcated part of the national territory. It is assigned certain sovereign functions and sovereign authority over persons present in its territory. Territorial authorities have the right of self-organisation and self-government. The most important territorial authorities in Germany are the federation, the states, counties, and municipalities.

GegenstromprinzipMutual feedback principle

View in Compendium

This principle (also known more accurately as the “principle of countervailing influence”) is a principle of spatial planning under which local, regional and supra-regional planning each influences, and is in turn influenced by, the other levels of planning. The purpose of this mutual influence is to ensure that actions taken to develop, structure and protect sub-areas of the territory are consistent with the conditions and requirements of the whole; similarly, actions to develop, structure and protect the overall territory should also take account of the conditions and requirements of sub-areas. The mutual feedback principle is enshrined in the Federal Spatial Planning Act.

Gemeinde, KommuneMunicipality, local authority

The municipality, often referred to as local authority, is a political and administrative unit with its own territory. It is a territorial authority (Gebietskörperschaft) constituting the lowest level in the administrative structure of the Federal Republic of Germany. According to Article 28 of the Basic Law, municipalities have the right of local self-government, that is, the right to manage all the affairs of the local community on their own responsibility. The term “Kommune” is used synonymously with “Gemeinde,” and larger municipalities are also referred to as “Stadt” (translated as city or town depending on size). In terms of independence and size, municipalities are divided into municipalities belonging to counties (kreisangehörige Gemeinden), cities belonging to counties (kreisangehörige Städte), county-free cities (kreisfreie Städte) (often also translated as “county borough” or “independent city”), and municipalities integrated into administrative associations (Verwaltungsgemeinschaften). Such associations group small municipalities with fewer than 3,000 to 5,000 inhabitants in order to enhance the administrative capability of the communities. The groupings differ in name from state to state: “Verwaltungsgemeinschaft,” “Samtgemeinde,” “Amt.” The decision-making bodies of these associations are termed association councils (“Gemeinschaftsräte”), composed of the mayors and representatives of the municipal councils of member municipalities.

Municipalities are competent in all areas directly affecting the local community. These functions are referred to as self-government tasks. They are either non-mandatory or mandatory. Only tasks that by their nature have to be entrusted to other levels of government and administration are excepted from local autonomy. To ensure the effective performance of their autonomous functions, municipalities have the right to adopt generally binding bye-laws for managing the affairs of the community. Apart from their autonomous responsibilities, municipalities have delegated functions to perform. In so doing, municipalities act in an executive capacity on behalf of the state or federal government. In the system of territorial units for statistical purposes (NUTS) developed by Eurostat for use in Europe, the administrative associations and municipalities in the Federal Republic are classified as LAU 1 and LAU 2 (Local Administrative Units).

Gleichwertigkeit der LebensbedingungenEquivalence of living conditions

View in Compendium

The establishment of equivalent living conditions is a prime guideline of federal and state government in the balanced development of their respective territories, and is entrenched as such in Section 1 (2) of the Federal Spatial Planning Act. The aim is to create and maintain standards of living throughout the country which, in keeping with the local context, are equivalent in value. Equivalent does not mean identical, which is neither practicable nor reasonable. Living conditions involve all spheres of life and hence all infrastructure and economic development. In effect, the policy of equivalent living conditions primarily benefits rural areas, since there is usually a greater backlog of structural development in the country than in urban areas. Basically, however, problematic structures can require action to ensure equivalent living conditions in urban agglomerations, too. The discussion on upholding the principle at a time when public resources are limited is one of the chief current issues in spatial planning. The alternative under debate is to concentrate support in growth cores whose dynamics spread to peripheral regions, thus benefiting them indirectly.

Grenzüberschreitende RaumplanungCross-border spatial planning

Cross-border spatial planning encourages the exchange of information and the coordination of planning in border areas to avoid contradictory or mutually incompatible action. Crossborder spatial planning can take place on a number of levels, across national, state, and regional borders. Cross-border cooperation in planning with neighbouring countries is often entrusted to bilateral or multilateral spatial planning consultative bodies, especially in the form of spatial planning commissions and working groups. Co-operation on spatial planning across state borders within Germany is a matter of cooperation between the supreme state spatial planning authorities and/or the regional planning authorities of two or more states. It takes place within a variety of organisational structures (e.g. ad hoc/special purpose associations, joint working-parties) with differing legal bases (e.g., statute, treaty, administrative agreement, or agreement under public law).

Whereas within the country, in the case of spatial structure plans crossing state boundaries, planning that is binding on downstream plans is possible if inter-state treaties have established the basis, this is still not possible in the case of planning across national borders. Owing to their lack of binding force, transnational concepts are more in the way of development concepts. However, there are also cross state development concepts within Germany. In the case of cross-border development, greater emphasis is placed on the development concept and the coordination of objectives than on organisational elements.

GrundbuchLand register

The public land register maintained by the local court (Amtsgericht) contains entries for all of the properties within the jurisdiction of the court including details of all legal relationships attaching to each property, e.g. details of ownership and of any charges on the property. The entry (or “sheet”) for each property records changes in ownership as well as any new charges on the property. The land register serves to safeguard real estate transactions; everyone can rely on the completeness and correctness of entries.

Grundsätze der RaumordnungPrinciples of spatial planning

The principles of spatial planning are general precepts concerning the development, structuring, and securing of spatial entities to be taken into account in weighing up interests and making discretionary decisions. These principles of spatial planning applicable throughout the country are set out under 15 points in Section 2 (2) of the Federal Spatial Planning Act. They are to be applied in the pursuit of sustainable spatial development, giving concrete form to this guideline, and providing general ideas for attaining it. At the state level, these principles are worked out in greater detail and adapted to the conditions prevailing in the given state. The states are entitled to adopt additional spatial planning principles, provided they do not conflict with the principles laid down in the Federal Spatial Planning Act. The states are required to weigh and balance the principles of spatial planning and to implement them territorially and substantively as goals of spatial planning in spatial structure plans.


"Grundstück" is a very broad term, to be translated, depending on context, as “property,” ”site,” “parcel,” “lot,” “plot,” etc. Common to all these concepts is that of a bounded and cohesive piece of land capable of being put to use for some purpose. Every property is numbered and recorded at the public land registry on a separate property sheet.

Grünordnung und GrünordnungplanGreen structures policy and green structures plan

Green structures policy (also referred to as "green spaces policy") are framed by local authorities and encompass the entire range of landscape management and nature conservation measures for cities, towns, and villages. In the framework of urban development, the purpose of the green structures policy is to organise and protect all green spaces and green elements, in both spatial and functional terms, in relation to one another and to physical structures in the pursuit of intellectual and physical well-being.

The green structures plan is the instrument through which green structures policy is implemented. It is a sectoral plan for nature conservation and landscape management with the status of a binding land-use plan, and consists of plans and written text setting out measures and policy goals. The plan has a number of functions. It serves as a site-related design plan for inner-city green spaces, as an instrument to safeguard open space, as a planning instrument to structure and assign functions to areas on which building is not permitted, and as a planning instrument to implement the goals and principles of nature conservation and landscape management. Rules governing green structures plans are to be found in a number of state nature conservation acts.

GrünzugGreen belt

Green belts and smaller, supplementary green breaks and divides are tools in regional planning to safeguard open spaces. A regional green belt is a continuous expanse of land reserved for ecological functions or recreational purposes and accordingly forbidden for settlement or other functionally incompatible uses. Green breaks or divides are smaller protected open spaces areas close to settlements to be kept free of development for local recreational purposes and in order to break up densely built-up areas. Green breaks should link up with the open countryside and act as a climatic corridor and habitat, as both refuge and exchange area for plants and animals.