Third-party funded project

Innovations in Planning: How Does Novelty Emerge in the Field of Spatial Planning? (InnoPlan)

Research Department: Dynamics of Economic Spaces Dynamics of Communication, Knowledge and Spatial Development

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Oliver Ibert Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann

Project Team: Franz Füg

Consortium: Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (Coordination) Universität Stuttgart Technische Universität Berlin

Funding Organization: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Duration: 10/2013 - 03/2016


The DFG research project “Innovations in Planning: How Does Novelty Emerge in the Field of Spatial Planning?” (InnoPlan) analysed the process of developing, spreading and enforcing new planning methods and tools. For this purpose, the social-scientific concept of “social innovations” was transferred to the action fields of urban and regional planning. The social-scientific concept of innovation understands the development of innovations to be complex, social processes which, although being crucially influenced by historical events and particular situations, still happen in a chronologically structured way. Several individual and collective actors contribute to this process, sometimes also conflicting with each other. Thus, in contrast to the passive nature of the predominant term “change”, here the pro-active aspect of intentional learning and acting is emphasized.


The chronological, organisational and institutional dimension of innovation processes in the context of planning was analysed by way of three subjects. In the focus of the epistemic interest were the logics of the chronological process, the spatial spread and the mobility of innovations, of crucial actors and arrangements as well as the institutional manifestation. The research project applied a mixture of methods of discourse and document analysis, qualitative interviews and case studies.


In four action fields InnoPlan analysed the development paths on which specific innovations have pushed through. The action fields under analysis were “The Planning and Building of New Urban Quarters”, “Intermediate Utilisation and Spatial Pioneers”, “Learning Region” as well as “Quarter Management in Disadvantaged Urban Districts”. The latter three studies were conducted by the IRS.


The study of on the action field of “Intermediate Utilisation” focused on the question of in how far, given the manifold challenges of structural change, the intermediate utilisation of empty areas and buildings in Germany has established as a frequent method of planning. Still twenty years ago, similar – informal – appropriations of space were mostly negotiated as being illegal and in most cases suppressed. Thus, the strategic implementation of intermediate utilisations means a clear break with the traditional planning practice.


Whereas the development of this approach was reconstructed in the course of the first part of the project, which referred to the entire planning system in Germany, a second part analysed in particular its establishment in the structurally very different cities of Berlin and Stuttgart. In the field of intermediate utilisation, innovation narratives refer strongly to Berlin. After the reunification, this city with its numerous open spaces and many creative people provided a social-spatial niche for (sometimes illegal) appropriations of space. A new generation of urbanists in Berlin researched and described the potentials of these practices, thus making them known also beyond this niche. Via the revitalisation efforts in the cities in Germany´s East, which were undergoing a shrinking processes at that time, first practices of intermediate utilisation were developed, and there happened an amendment of building law. The worldwide debate on the creative city made in particular culture-oriented intermediate utilisations a location factor even for prospering cities in Germany.


The study on the action field of the “Learning Region” analyses the appearance of approaches in regional policy in the course of which, since the 1980s, a concept of catching-up regional development has been replaced by a model of path-changing regional policy and a focus on the tough regional infrastructure has increasingly been eclipsed by the appreciation of software (that is the ability of regional actors to learn and change). Essential features of this kind of intervention are


- a vision of regional development coming along with its actual implementation by way of projects,

- the far-reaching integration of private and civil society actors into policy-making,

- the implementation of regional development centres,

- the re-scaling of activities to spaces which are constituted by the addressed development problem, as well as

- an increasing festivalisation of planning.


As policies of the learning region must always be specific, this political approach has become manifest less by fixed rules or standards, however the basic elements of the approach count among the standard repertoire of modern planning and have again and again been newly combined at several places over the past two decades.


The action field study on “Quarter Management in Disadvantaged Urban Districts” analysed the innovation process of integrated and district-related methods for the development of quarters. Due to increasing polarisation and segregation processes in big cities, since the 1970s new planning approaches for disadvantaged urban quarters have been developed in Germany. Structural deficiencies and inequalities were supposed to be compensated by way of small-scale social-consumptive measures, apart from structure- and investment-related means. For this purpose, several political levels are vertically included into the planning process, and several political sectors as well as actors from outside the political-administrative system are horizontally included. The implementation of integrated action concepts happens locally and cooperatively, by way of quarter management in the respective district. By integrated quarter development, a method has been established which has not only resulted in improved living conditions in urban quarters but also in a change of the policy of urban renewal. At all levels of administrative planning (EU, nationwide, federal states and municipalities) it has pushed through as the general routine, and accordingly it has been rooted in political programmes and guidelines (e. g. promotion of urban development). Thus it may be considered an example of innovation in planning.



Anyone who experiments is suspending the conventional conditions for a certain period and looking for explanations outside the patterns that are already known to us. Across all sciences and contexts, it would appear that the defining characteristics of an experiment are the fact that it is new, and that it is temporary. Based on a current IRS research project on temporary use, Thomas Honeck and Jan Zwilling discuss what an experiment in the urban context can look like, and what significance the desire to innovate and time limits have. more info


Koczy, O. (2018). Quartiersmanagement als soziale Innovation: Eine empirische Untersuchung zum Prozess der Entstehung, Verbreitung und Ausstrahlung integrierter und sozialraumorientierter Verfahren der Quartiersentwicklung.
Christmann, G. (2020). Introduction: Struggling with Innovations: Social Innovations and Conflicts in Urban Development and Planning. European Planning Studies, 28(3), 423-433. DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2019.1639396
Christmann, G., Ibert, O., Jessen, J., & Walther, U-J. (2020). Innovations in Spatial Planning as a Social Process – Phases, Actors, Conflicts. European Planning Studies, 28(3), 496-520. DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2019.1639399
Christmann, G. (Ed.) (2020). Struggling with Innovations. (European Planning Studies, Special Issue; Vol. 28, No. 3). Taylor & Francis.
Christmann, G. Herausforderungen und Innovationen in Städten: Dokumentation des Workshops Selbstbild und urbanes Potential: Wie Städte neue Wege gehen 17. Oktober 2019, Schader-Forum Darmstadt (S. 13-16)