Update this article: Export

Securing open space and ecosystem protection

Open space from above
Open space from above

‘Placing open space at the front and centre of all planning thought and action!’

The protection and development of open spaces is an important future topic of sustainable spatial development and planning. Open spaces are precious, coveted and a fundamental subject of planning action – their social, economic and ecological functions are as diverse as the conflicts that arise over their use or occupation. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for the need to protect and sustainably use, restore and promote terrestrial ecosystems with Goal No. 15. The (successful) implementation of several other SDGs (including 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13) is also related to the protection and development of open spaces. The National Biodiversity Strategy also argues in this direction, namely that our central planning principles always refer to the economical use of space. This topic also plays an increasingly important role among the population: We are increasingly sensitised to the protection of the qualities and functions of open space, and do not want them to be destroyed for purposes such as coal mining or motorways, which run counter to the global sustainability goals. We discuss the preservation of natural greenhouse gas sinks and the protection of biodiversity, are interested in solidarity-based agriculture, urban farming or other communal models of land-saving economic practices. And last but not least, the current pandemic shows us that open spaces for local recreation are of great importance, especially in densely populated areas.

Central studies such as ‘Natural Capital Germany - TEEB DE’ on the potential and services of nature explicitly support the urgency of open space protection for Germany. And against the backdrop of climate change, the loss of species and biodiversity, as well as the increasing use of and pressure on soil and undeveloped/unpopulated land in general, it must be a central concern of sustainable spatial development to significantly prioritise open space protection and development in all spatial planning practices to a far greater degree than has been the case to date. The fact that the topic of open space protection and development is discussed controversially shows that ‘business as usual’ at the expense of natural resources is not possible.

We note that the effective implementation of goals for sustainable spatial development and, in particular, for the protection of open space is still insufficient under the given political, legal and planning conditions, and we advocate placing open space at the front and centre of planning thought and action – i.e. to focus on it as a limiting and central factor in spatial development.

Open space protection in spatial development and especially in spatial planning

What does this mean for planning at the federal, state, regional and municipal levels? How can the major goals for the protection of open space be translated into planning goals and who must or can become active for this?

Despite a differentiated set of instruments for federal state and regional planning, challenges exist due to the scarcity of landscape resources, among other things, which raises questions regarding integrated open space protection and open space development strategies in the future.

Spatial planning must therefore deal with very different open spaces at all (planning) levels – be it green open spaces in dense cities or alpine open spaces that are becoming scarce and fragmented due to urban sprawl and the construction of technical facilities. The ARL has repeatedly addressed this issue, highlighting and critically assessing the different practices in dealing with alpine open spaces, especially in spatial planning and beyond. In addition, future possibilities for cross-border harmonised practices have been identified.

The 2018 ARL Congress on the topic of ‘Land Development in the Conflict of Interests’ showed that the topic of open space development and protection must be addressed centrally in planning:

Currently, the working group on ‘Securing and Developing Open Space in Spatial Planning – Innovative Approaches in the Context of the Sustainable Development of Settlement and Transport Areas’ (2020–2023) is addressing specific approaches for spatial planning and development and explicitly refers to land-saving goals in regions and municipalities.

The ARL’s transdisciplinary approach is strongly evident in the multidimensional approach to open space preservation and development. Regional and municipal approaches to land-sensitive settlement development, integrated planning approaches, multifunctional and networked areas and large-scale open space networks are being discussed. What tasks do we expect of planning and which innovative open space strategies must play a greater role in the future? The 2020 WBGU report, ‘Land Transition in the Anthropocene: From Competition to Integration’, for example, provides an important impulse here.

Figure: Kufeld/Hüppauff 2021. Visualisation of„soil-bound open space functions“ as a part of he work programme of the working group „Securing Open Space and Open Space Development“.  (Translated (GE-EN) by ARL)
Figure: Kufeld/Hüppauff 2021. Visualisation of„soil-bound open space functions“ as a part of he work programme of the working group „Securing Open Space and Open Space Development“. (Translated (GE-EN) by ARL)

We need to think bigger, and include socio-ecological foundations and processes when it comes to open spaces and their significance and protection. How can we use land sparingly in the context of the transformation to sustainable spatial development? Which actors are central and which strategies can be effective? The working group on ‘Sustainable Spatial Development for the Great Transformation’ (2016–2020) addressed these questions, putting forward a central thesis: we must focalise open space – rather than settlement development – as the centre and starting point of all planning action.

Protection and development of ecosystem services

The protection and development of biodiversity and ecosystem services in general is another current issue with direct relevance for spatial development and planning. How can the goals (e.g. SDGs, TEEB results, national and international biodiversity strategies) be implemented in concrete regional or municipal planning practice? Who are the spatial actors in ecosystem protection, and how can they be addressed and encouraged to focalise ecosystem services? The working group on ‘Ecosystem Services in Spatial Planning’ (2020–2023) is discussing how the move from theory to practice can succeed.

Where do ecosystem services play a role and where can we find examples in the landscape? The following two infographics show the 10 theses on ecosystem services and spatial planning, and the specific services in different landscape elements. Both illustrations were developed in the working group on ‘Ecosystem services’.

10 theses on ecosystem services and spatial planning
10 theses on ecosystem services and spatial planning
Examples of ecosystem service in the landscape
Examples of ecosystem service in the landscape

The study ‘Natural Capital Germany - TEEB DE’ provides the rationale and starting points for addressing ecosystem services. The successor to the international TEEB study (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) aims to make the potential and services of nature more tangible through an economic lens in order to better incorporate them into decision-making processes. One volume deals explicitly with urban spaces and decision-making processes in urban development.

To this end, the ARL is a member of the Leibniz Research Network Biodiversity, which was newly founded in 2021. Here, around 20 Leibniz institutions discuss this major topic from their respective specialist perspectives and jointly develop project ideas and interdisciplinary approaches. This network emerged from the former Leibniz Research Alliance for Biodiversity.

Click here for the German version of this thematic collection (`Themendossier`).


Mentioned articles


Have your say!
Do you want to join the discussion?