Spatial planning for open spaces and Green Infrastructure in the Alpine region

spatial development

In the Alpine region, there is a particular need for action in spatial planning to safeguard open spaces and develop Green Infrastructure (GI). In addition to the strong impact of climate change, the sensitivity of Alpine ecosystems, numerous geohazards and the scarcity of potential permanent settlement space lead to diverse land use conflicts that require coordinated spatial planning. The Alpine region can be regarded as a "burning glass" of (future) land use conflicts, which arise there in an intensified form compared to regions outside the Alps. However, this also offers the opportunity to act as a model region for land-saving and sustainable territorial development through well-founded planning mechanisms with a model character for spatial planning in other regions as well.

Important requirements for sustainable territorial development in the Alpine region have been formulated in their main outlines in the Protocols of the Alpine Convention. Since then, steps have been taken to operationalise and implement them, most recently for instance through the work of the Spatial Planning and Sustainable Development Working Group of the Alpine Convention. In order to strengthen the transnational exchange of knowledge and experience on spatial planning in the Alpine region, ARL has founded the permanent European Working Group AlpPlan (Alpine spatial planning network). AlpPlan is an interdisciplinary network open to scientists and practitioners from all Alpine countries, dealing with spatial planning and development from a cross-border perspective.


Safeguarding open spaces in the European Alps

As an observer organisation, ARL was involved in the Interreg Alpine Space project OpenSpaceAlps (Sustainable development of alpine open spaces by enhancing spatial planning governance, 2019-2022). The open space concept refers to areas, which are permanently kept free from buildings, technical infrastructures and soil sealing. This approach focuses on open spaces outside continuous settlements in order to highlight the importance of open spaces on a landscape level. Open spaces should not simply be understood as “residual spaces”. Building on the approaches of Green Infrastructure and ecosystem services, open spaces can also be defined in terms of their specific functions or services for the environment (ecosystems), economy and society (cf. Figure below).

Figure: Overview of open space functions in relation to ecosystem services (Meyer et al. 2022: 18)
Figure: Overview of open space functions in relation to ecosystem services (Meyer et al. 2022: 18)

The specific instruments of spatial planning differ between the Alpine states and regions. However, commonalities can be identified in the form of “planning principles”, which form the basis of spatial planning decisions. Spatial planning strategies for open spaces differ in relation to the affected types of alpine spaces. The aim of the OpenSpaceAlps project and its planning handbook is to encourage and promote a more consistent approach to safeguarding open spaces throughout the Alpine region. A schematic example for consistent safeguarding of open spaces is visualised in the following figure.

Figure: Schematic visualisation – consistent safeguarding of open spaces (Meyer et al. 2022: 89-90)
Figure: Schematic visualisation – consistent safeguarding of open spaces (Meyer et al. 2022: 89-90)

Spatial planning and Green Infrastructure (GI)

While the open space concept focuses on the presence/absence of buildings and technical infrastructure, the Green Infrastructure (GI) concept focuses more on the diverse functions and services of green spaces. GI is defined as “a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services […”] by the EU Strategy on Green Infrastructure. As a cross-cutting issue, GI is linked to many relevant fields of action, such as e.g. climate protection/adaptation, energy transition, biodiversity protection, ecological connectivity, sustainable tourism or natural hazard prevention.

The following figure from EUSALP AG7 shows the large variety of the different Alpine GI topics and perspectives. Their multifunctionality, benefits for the people and interlinkages between green cities, rural landscapes and the inner-alpine areas are at the core of the graphic.

Figure: Alpine Green Infrastructure (All rights reserved – Contracting entity and owner of the graphic is the Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection)
Figure: Alpine Green Infrastructure (All rights reserved – Contracting entity and owner of the graphic is the Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection)


AlpPlan workshop “Advancing Green Infrastructure in the Alpine Region”

At the invitation of the Research Unit Land Policy and land Management Research at TU Wien, AlpPlan met in Vienna on 7 and 8 November 2022. 22 participants were present and 18 joined virtually. Considering the qualities and functions of Green Infrastructure (GI) in planning processes and documents is becoming increasingly relevant in political strategies. In practice, however, there are still ambiguities or deficits in the concrete operationalisation and implementation of GI at local and regional level. Developing methods and proposals for implementation represents an important task for the Alpine spatial planning network AlpPlan.


AlpPlan Workshop Vienna 2022
AlpPlan Workshop Vienna 2022

Focus: Mainstreaming ecological connectivity in spatial planning

Direct (habitat degradation) and indirect (urban sprawl and landscape fragmentation) effects have severely limited ecological connectivity in Europe over the past decades. Due to the comparatively lower intensity of land use, there is still scope of action in the Alpine region to preserve/restore (supra-) regional migration corridors and to safeguard them through planning. The coordination function of spatial planning for the connectivity of protected areas is particularly important. As a multifunctional part of Green Infrastructure, such areas not only have a function for ecological connectivity, but also feature multiple other synergies, such as adaptation to climate change or the preservation of the cultural landscape.

Interreg Alpine Space project PlanToConnect (2022-2025)

The PlanToConnect project (Mainstreaming ecological connectivity in spatial planning systems of the Alpine Space) is approved for co-financing as one of 14 projects in the first call of the Interreg Alpine Space Programme 2021-2027. Ten partner organisations from five alpine countries work together with the aim to promote and support widespread implementation of ecological connectivity in spatial planning across the Alpine Space. As an observer organisation, ARL involves the EWG AlpPlan by establishing a transnational expert working group with a consulting function for the project.


Looking ahead: Current and future challenges for green infrastructure planning

Spatial planning in the Alpine Region is challenged by numerous future-oriented tasks related to the above-mentioned topics. These include for instance:

  • (Supra-)Regional coordination of renewable energy installations
  • Integrated spatial and energy planning
  • Fostering GI multifunctionality and connectivity
  • Incorporating ecosystem services in spatial planning

Many of the issues addressed require cross-border coordination and cooperation. The "Alps2050" project has provided an initial orientation for common visions/guiding principles for spatial development in the Alpine Region. A common transnational "Alpine Spatial Development Perspective" is currently under discussion.


Related Thematic Collections


Hubert Job

Mentioned articles

From ARL EWG AlpPlan:

  • Academy for Territorial Development in the Leibniz Association (ARL) (Ed.) (2022): Safeguarding openspaces in the Alpine region. Position paper by a group of members of the ‘AlpPlan’ Alpine spatial planning network at the ARL (= Position Papers of the ARL, No. 133). Hannover. URN:
  • Job, H., Meyer, C., Coronado, O., et al. (2022): Open Spaces in the European Alps—GIS-Based Analysis and Implications for Spatial Planning from a Transnational Perspective. In: Land 11 (9), 1605.

Other publications:

  • Città metropolitana di Milano, Fondazione Lombardia per l’Ambiente (Ed.) (2022): Shaping a sustainable future with Green Infrastructure. Interreg Alpine Space project LUIGI. Milano.
  • CIPRA Österreich/ Umweltdachverband (Hrsg.): Alpine Raumordnung. Ein Raumentwicklungskonzept für den Alpinen Raum. Wien. URL: (06.12.2022).
  • Job, H., Willi, G., Mayer, M., Pütz, M. (2020): Open Spaces in Alpine Countries: Analytical Concepts and Preservation Strategies in Spatial Planning. In: Mountain Research and Development 40 (3): D1-D11.
  • Job, H., Mayer, M., Haßlacher, P., Nischik, G., Knauf, C., Pütz, M., Essl, J., Marlin, A., Kopf, M., Obkircher, S. (2022): Analysing, assessing and safeguarding Alpine open spaces through spatial planning (= Forschungsberichte der ARL 7, translation of the original version from 2017). Hannover. URL: (06.12.2022)
  • Meyer, C., Job, H., Laner, P. et. al. (2022): OpenSpaceAlps Planning Handbook: Perspectives for consistent safeguarding of open spaces in the Alpine region. Interreg Alpine Space project OpenSpaceAlps (translated in DE, FR, IT and SLO).
  • Perrin, M., Bertrand, N., Vanpeene, S. (2022): Ecological connectivity in spatial planning: from the EU framework to its territorial implementation in the French context. In: Environmental Science & Policy 129, 118-125.
  • Slätmo, E., Nilsson, K.; Turunen , E. (2019): Implementing Green Infrastructure in Spatial Planning in Europe. In: Land 8 (4), 62.