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.

Hier können sie vom deutschen Begriff ausgehend suchen.


Central-place systemZentrale-Orte-System

The central-place system goes back to the work of Walter Christaller (1933). Since the 1960s, it has had a decisive influence on the spatial planning strategies for developing settlement structure in the Federal Republic of Germany. The central-place classificatory system is an important tool in state and regional planning, and is laid down in spatial structure plans. In addition to supplying the needs of its own population, a central place performs service and development functions for the population of its catchment area. The central place system constitutes a hierarchy of basic, lower-order or small centres, middle-order centres, and high-order centres as determined at the different levels of state spatial planning.

Some states insert intermediate categories in the hierarchy. Depending on their assignment to a central place, catchment areas are defined as local, intermediate or extended areas. The lowest level in the hierarchy is occupied by basic centres (low-order centres, small centres) with a local catchment area. They are designated in regional plans, and their functions include supplying the basic daily needs of the population and providing a minimum of public and private infrastructure (general secondary school, doctor, chemist, tradesmen, etc.).

Middle-order centres are central places that meet more demanding, medium-term needs of the population in the intermediate catchment area (secondary schools leading to university entrance, hospitals, a variety of shopping amenities, etc.), and are designated by state spatial planning. They are also labour-market centres for their catchment area. High-order centres are also designated by state spatial planning and meet demanding, specialisedrequirements of the population in the extended catchment area (technical colleges / universities, specialised clinics, large department stores, etc.). High-order centres also have a greater supply of highly qualified and skilled labour. 

City networkStädtenetz

A city network is a voluntary cooperative grouping on an equal footing of cities in a region or neighbouring regions. The prime aim is to optimise the efficient use of the partners’ endogenous potentials. Central places provide the basis for city networks. To this extent, city networks complement existing planning elements. They can make an important contribution to making planning both more flexible and more oriented towards action and implementation. It is helpful if implementation-oriented objectives are set in cooperation for specific core tasks with spatial impacts in the region.
Two types of city network are distinguished. The first type is the interregional network based on functional commonalities, in which geographical proximity is not decisive. The aims of this type of network might include to join forces to assert common interests in an increasingly integrated Europe, whilst guarding their separate identities, and developing joint strategies for certain policy areas (e.g. university research, technology transfer, city marketing and culture).
The second type is the intraregional network, where cooperation is based on geographical proximity. Networks of this type aim to provide a common focus for the talents and locational assets which exist within a coherent region, and to develop a sense of common regional identity, thereby reducing the rivalry which frequently exists among local authorities, achieving cost savings and exploiting synergies, and establishing a joint regional policy. Under Section 13 of the Federal Spatial Planning Act, cooperation between local authorities must be supported in order to promote developments in individual regions (city networks).

City, townStadt

View in Compendium

A city or town is an urban community  to which the state has granted the right to bear the name. Unlike the status granted by historical city charters, this title has little legal significance. The threshold population for "Stadt" status in most states is about 10,000. However, the legal status of towns and cities in Germany varies considerably.

  • The “amtsangehörige Gemeinde” is a municipality forming part of an administrative association of municipalities. Such communities have transferred their autonomous rights almost entirely to the association (variously termed “Amt,” “Samtgemeinde,” “Verbandsgemeinde”). A "Stadt" belonging to such an association is the exception.
  • The “kreisangehörige Stadt” and “kreisangehörige Gemeinde”, are municipalities belonging to a county (Kreis or Landkreis), which performs many municipal functions on their behalf.
  • The “kreisangehörige Stadt” and “kreisangehörige Gemeinde” with special status. These muncipalities subsumed under counties can perform certain functions of the county if they have a certain population level (between 20,000 and 60,000, depending on the state). From state to state they bear different titles, such as "große Kreisstadt" (major county town), “Sonderstatusstadt” (special status city), and the like.
  • The “kreisfreie Stadt,” (county-free city, independent city, orcounty borough) a city that constitutes acounty in its own right. In addition to municipal functions, it performs all county functions itself. The average minimum population for countyfree cities is about 100,000, although the figure is much lower in some states and higher in others. 114 cities in German have county-free status (status 2003).
  • The “Stadtstaat” (city state), cities which are also states of the federation. In city states, the authorities handle not only municipal and county
  • tasks but also those of a state government. Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen are city states. In the system of territorial units for statistical purposes (NUTS) developed by Eurostat for use in Europe, the three city states in Germany are assigned to the NUTS classification level 1, and the 114 county-free cities to NUTS 3.

Cluster, spatialCluster, räumliche

A cluster is a spatial concentration of small and large enterprises, research facilities, and other actors from the same or related sectors. A cluster encompasses upstream and downstream production and service activities as well as specialised infrastructure to support these activities. Such regional concentration can be theoretically justified in terms of agglomeration effects.

In regional policy, concepts for strengthening regional clusters (so-called cluster strategies) have become increasingly important. Underlying these concepts is the idea of identifying potential clusters on the basis of regional strengths and consolidating them through targeted promotion ("strengthening strengths") in order to enhance the region's attractiveness for commerce and industry and to bind existing firms to the region. Owing to the "Cooperation Networks and Cluster Management" scheme added to the joint programme "Improvement of Regional Economic Structures in January 2005, many states and regions in Germany now operate with cluster strategies.

Contaminated siteAltlast

The term "contaminated sites" refers to disused waste disposal and other sites with extensive soil contamination identified by hazard assessment as a concrete threat to human health or the environment. Contaminated waste disposal sites include closed refuse dumps with domestic and industrial waste, as well as decommissioned industrial sites. The national legal basis for dealing with suspected contaminated sites is provided by the Federal Soil Protection Act and the Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordninance.

Core areaKerngebiet

The Land Utilisation Ordinance classifies types of building use. It distinguises two categories:
First, land-use areas for general types of use:

  • housing land
  • mixed building land
  • industrial and commercial land
  • special building land This rough classification is to be used only in the preparatory land-use plan.

Second, land-use areas for specific types of building use:

  • small holding areas
  • purely residential areas
  • general residential areas
  • special residential areas
  • village areas
  • mixed areas
  • core areas
  • commercial areas
  • industrial areas
  • special areas.

These specific land-use areas can be designated in both the preparatory and the binding land-use plan and are finergrained and more detailed categories.
The Land Utilisation Ordinance defines all the above development areas and provides details on what building projects and facilities are permitted.

County-free cityKreisfreie Stadt

The “kreisfreie Stadt,” (county-free city, independent city, county borough or urban district) a city that constitutes a county in its own right. In addition to municipal functions, it performs all county functions itself. The average minimum population for countyfree cities is about 100,000, although the figure is much lower in some states and higher in others. 114 cities in German have county-free status (status 2003).

Cross-border spatial planningGrenzüberschreitende Raumplanung

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 workingparties) 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.

cubing ratioBaumassenzahl

The cubing ratio indicates the maximum volume of buildings per square metre of plot area. It is calculated on the basis of the external dimensions of buildings from the floor of the lowest full storey to the ceiling of the uppermost full storey. In respect of industrial, commercial and special-use areas, planning designations may be made without the need for details on the number of storeys.