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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Metropolitan regionMetropolregion

An (urban) agglomeration (largely synonymous with conurbation, metropolitan area) is a concentration of settlements consisting of interlinked and interdependent communities distinguished from surrounding areas by greater settlement density and a higher proportion of built development. As a rule, agglomerations form around one or more core cities surrounded by a heavily builtup inner rings of suburbs and geographically more extensive, partly rural catchment areas. The core or central city with the suburban belt is referred to as an urban region. Major cities with international status and their extensive catchment areas are termed metropolitan regions. With a high concentration of housing and workplaces, urban agglomerations drive economic development and are loci of cultural life. They are accordingly important for the country as a whole. In terms of spatial category, agglomerations or conurbations are the type of area with the highest use density, being the opposite pole to sparsely population rural areas. Communication axes between agglomerations, which partly traverse rural areas, are termed corridors.

Models for urban developmentLeitbilder der Stadtentwicklung

Models for urban development are projections; they formulate objectives and principles for action without prescribing the final result. They are informal tools for orientation, coordination, and motivation. They come in various forms: programmes and manifestos, statements of principle and general plans, quality standards and procedural concepts.

Such models have been an explicit subject of debate in Germany only since the Second World War, where the term arose in connection with the reconstruction of war-damaged cities. Since the mid-1990s, the issue of models has experienced a renaissance after attracting little attention during the 1970s and 1980s. This new boom is the result of economic and societal structural changes and the uncertain prospects they have engendered. The urban development models developed during the first years of the Federal Republic were still authoritarian and normative. Present-day models are based on planning policy discourse between societal actors.

Models are now being generated or relaunched at all levels of spatial planning – district, city, and region (→ guiding principles for spatial development). City authorities use models as tools for clarifying fundamental development perspectives and for positioning themselves in the European city network. Furthermore, precise models provide the basis for many urban marketing concepts, which a large number of cities in the 1990s hoped would bring results in intermunicipal competition. One key question is whether the model of the European city can still point the way for urban development and urban policy. Since models reflect points of view, values, and the state of the art of the period when they are developed, they can apply only for a limited period of time. They have to be updated and adapted to meet changing conditions and values. Communication is the focus. The loss of certainty about the future has brought greater openness in thinking about what is desirable, and greater willingness to take risks and to make more radical course corrections.

Moderation and mediationModeration, Mediation

The broad spectrum of new methods for seeking consensus which go beyond the traditional approaches widely used in politics and in planning authorities can be reduced to three basic types: negotiation, moderation and mediation. Although it is possible to make a clear formal distinction between these three informal approaches geared to fostering co-operation within the planning process and to supporting conflict resolution, in practice the distinctions tend to be somewhat blurred.

The purpose of negotiation within the planning process is to achieve a specific objective and to balance advantages and disadvantages among the various parties affected. Moderators are employed to seek out joint and efficient solutions to planning problems. Their role is to ensure that planning processes remain rational and creative, that the scope for finding solutions to problems is kept as broad as possible, and that it is fully exploited. The prime task for any moderator is to create a clear conceptual structure for problem-solving processes, to spot possible stumbling blocks as soon as they appear, and to find ways of overcoming them.

On some occasions it may be advisable to appoint a mediator to eliminate conflicts on distribution or reduce veto positions on certain planning projects. The principle purpose of mediation procedures is to communicate the perceived sources of conflict to other parties, and to seek ways of working through these conflicts. This is by far the most difficult and the most demanding of the three approaches. Mediators need to display high levels of sensitivity – and the participants in mediation procedures must be committed to working together to find a mutually acceptable solution and common consensus.


Spatial monitoring is the indicator-based, on-going, systematic, and comprehensive identification and description of spatial structural developments in such fields as demography, the economy, the labour market, agriculture, tourism, and the environment. As a basis for planning, spatial monitoring is an important and permanent task both at the national level on-going spatial monitoring by the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR) and by most state and regional planning authorities. It provides planning bodies with early information on spatial processes affecting planning and on the effectiveness of measures that are already running. Spatial monitoring addresses spatial policy and planning issues on the basis of regional statistics and arearelated data. The results of spatial monitoring are presented in maps and diagrams, and increasingly in the form of digital spatial planning registers.

Municipality, local authorityGemeinde, Kommune

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).

Mutual feedback principleGegenstromprinzip

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.