Central place

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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 planning

City planning is control of the development of land allocation and distribution, land use, locational distribution, built development, provision of local public infrastructure, and the use of open spaces in the city, as well as the targeted coordination of the various private and public building activities and demand for use within the municipal territory.

The purpose of urban planning is to secure and develop the quality of local living and working conditions in their social, economic dimensions, with respect to the built environment, and to cultural and ecological considerations, and it thus a key task of local self-government. The term urban or town planning clearly subsumes a number of other planning categories, e.g., urban landuse planning, urban rehabilitation, and urban development planning. It should, however, be added that there is no definitive legal definition of the German term “Stadtplanung” (urban or town planning). It is often used synonymously with “Städtebau,” also usually translated as “urban planning”.
(Summary from Sander (s.a.) www.muleta.org und ARL 2003)

City, town

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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.

Civic participation

Participation in spatial planning by the general public is intended to ensure that all conceivable interests are given due regard, and takes into account that the addressees of planning are more likely to accept it if they can identify with its content. The public can be involved in many ways. Participation in urban land-use planning is stipulated in the Federal Building Code, and public involvement in state and regional planning is required under the Federal Spatial Planning Act and state spatial planning acts. Moreover, the public is required to be involved in spatial planning in the context of environmental assessment (EA) (Federal Building Code, Federal Spatial Planning Act) and environmental impact assessment (EIA). Local authorities are required to advertise the aims and purposes of planning measures and to provide opportunities for the general public to be heard.

Participation takes place in two stages. The first provides for the public to be informed at the earliest possible date through public advertisement of the general aims and purposes of the plan and of alternative proposals for the reorganisation or development of the planning area, and of the foreseeable impacts of the plan; at this point members of the public are to be given the opportunity to express their views and to gain further clarification. In the second stage, draft plans and explanatory memorandum are placed on public display for a period of one month. During this period, members of the public are entitled to voice any objections to the plan or to make recommendations. In state and regional planning, the states determine in their state spatial planning acts whether and to what extent the public is to be involved in preparing spatial structure plans and in spatial planning procedures. Participation is most intensive in informal planning approaches.


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.

Collective municipality

Associations of local authorities in Germany are voluntary groupings of territorial authorities created for the purpose of representing common interests. The following such umbrella organisations exist:
The Deutsche Städtetag (German Association of Cities and Towns) for larger cities,
The Deutsche Landkreistag (German County Association),
The Deutsche Städt- und Gemeindebund (German Association of Towns and Municipalities), for smaller towns and municipalities.

Compulsory purchase

Compulsory purchase is the complete or partial removal of property rights, the right to own property and the possibility of expropriation being laid down by the Basic Law. Expropriation for urban development purposes is governed by the Federal Building Code. It is the last resort available to a municipality when it requires a particular property, or specific rights attaching to a property in order to attain its urban development aims, and the owner is not prepared to sell the property or to grant the rights in question.

The purposes for which the municipality is allowed to resort to expropriation are listed in full in the Federal Building Code. Expropriation is permissible only in the public interest and where the purpose to be served cannot reasonably be achieved by any other means. Under the Basic Law, expropriation may be ordered only by law or pursuant to a law, the nature and level of compensation also being governed by law. The rules are set out in the Federal Building Code. A claim for compensation may be made by anyone whose rights have been adversely affected by expropriation and who has suffered a financial loss. The Federal Building Code provides three types of compensation: in the form of money, in the form of land, and by the granting of other rights.

Conservation of open spaces

Conervation of open space is defined as the quantitative (free space percentage of total space), the structural (not dissect-lung) and qualitative (improvement of open space functions) protection of free space. Instruments of the open space protection are specialist planning (Technical Planning) expulsions (Nature reserves, etc.) and regional planning designations (e.g regional green belts, green breaks priority areas for certain open space functions); next to it indirectly instruments are acting that the extension of the settled area borders set (for example, by the zoning or designation of self-development communities (Self-development) in the regional plans).

Contaminated site

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 area

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.

Cross-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 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 ratio

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.