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Duration: 2015 - 2020

From plans to land change: how strategic spatial planning contributes to the development of urban regions (CONCUR)

CONCUR logo  
Urban regions are undergoing a highly dynamic global process of land change. Planning and governance have a long tradition in urban areas as a means to guiding spatial development. However, a realistic model of the contribution of planning and policy to land change is still lacking, and planning is therefore only rudimentarily considered in land-change science.

This research project should help clarify how planning and policy affect land change. The key challenge is that planning is context-sensitive while land-change modelling aims for generality. The overall aim of this ground-breaking, highly interdisciplinary proposal is to bridge these distinct paradigms and develop a scientific basis for adequately integrating regional spatial policies into land-change modelling.

missing bridge - small

The first stage is to develop a theoretical model with the following core concepts: (1) spatial concepts as contained in strategic spatial plans, (2) key elements of governance efficiency, and (3) supra-regional development trajectories.

The second and third stages will focus on assessing the applicability of the theoretical framework by operationalizing the model and subsequently testing it in the urban regions of Zurich, Bucharest, and Austin, Texas.

The envisaged results may well transform our understanding of the impact planning can have in urban regions and should lead to more realistic applications of planning intentions and plan implementation in land-change models. These models should consequently improve and are expected to become truly useful for decision-making and support politicians in their quest to guide change in sustainable directions.

Period of the project: 2016 - 2020

Funding body: Swiss National Science Foundation - ERC TBS Consolidator Grant

Principal investigator: Anna M. Hersperger

Development of a theoretical model

The development of the theoretical model will be achieved in the following specific aims:

(1) Establish a method for measuring spatial information contained in strategic plans (2) Identify key elements influencing the performance of local and regional governance process in spatial planning (3)  identify the main supra-regional conditions, and their combinations, that can influence, and potentially explain, local land-use changes in urban regions and their connection with strategic spatial planning
Working hypothesis:

Working hypothesis:

Working hypothesis:

Three primary dimensions: spatial concept, neighbourhood configurations and land change can characterize the spatial relationships and be quantified with spatial indices A governance framework focusing on capacity and purpose will be useful to describe real-world planning and implementation processes and to provide tools to describe the key elements By drawing from complexity as a theoretical standpoint, it is assumed that a limited pool of intertwining and concurrent supra-regional conditions can influence spatial dynamics in urban regions



1.1: determine the type of spatial information contained in strategic spatial plans (both text and cartographic repreentations)

1.2: develop a methodology for the conversion of spatial information into pixel-based data and land change modelling rules

1.3: evaluate the ability of existing spatial indices to measure spatial information in the plans

2.1: analyse existing governance theories of regional governance and attempts to describe and measure its performance

2.2: develop a set of regional governance components and indicators

2.3: conduct qualitative research through practice-oriented interviewing and documentary analysis

2.4: contribute to the conceptualization and operationalization of the set of regional governance components and indicators

3.1: operationalize complexity in urban studies, and specifically in land use changes

3.2: identify the main supra-regional conditions that influence incidents of land-use changes

3.3: identify the configurations of supra-regional conditions describeing land-use change trajectories

3.4: assess the conjunct influence of strategic spatial planning on land-use change

Postdoc in charge of the aim:
Simona R. Grădinaru Eduardo Oliveira Sofia Pagliarin


The theoretical model (persued with Aims 1-3) describes the core components and their relationships regarding the contribution of strategic spatial planning to land change. A systematic application of the theoretical model in the context of land chance modelling requires operationalization tools to describe and measure the components and their relationships. Since most land change models work with pixel maps, the basic approach for an operationalized model relies on a value (V) for the contribution of planning for each pixel.

Working hypothesis: standardized procedures can generate the necessary data about the core concepts and their interrelationships in any urban region

For each pixel, a Value (V) will be determined as follows:

V ji = f (A, B, Cij)

The factors describe:

A – regional governance performance

B – the region`s trajectory of change

C – the value of planning intentions for pixel i.

Postdoc in charge of the aim: Gaëtan Palka


A qualitative evaluation will test the value of the theoretical model. The aim is to test how well the theoretical model achieves the overall goal (i.e., to explain planning`s contribution to land change) while taking into account the realities of planning in practice.

The case studies are chosen to represent three distinct planning cultures and institutional settings:

(1) a Western European regulatory environment in which the model was developed (2) a weak post-communist regulatory environment in transition (3) the American regulatory environment
Zurich - Switzerland Bucharest - Romania Austin – Texas USA
 PhD in charge of the aim
PhD in charge of the aim  
Franziska Birgit Schmid-Herrmann Simona Bacău
Photo Sina Wild / WSL


Photo Simona Gradinaru / WSl
Photo Mike Credille 

News feed:

The workshop includes public lectures on Thursday, 9th November (09:00-15:00) by eight international experts. These experts will lecture on issues concerning strategic spatial planning, territorial governance and land-change science.

Invited experts:

· Frank Moulaert, The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

· Gertrud Jørgensen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

· Raine Mäntysalo, Aalto University, Finland

· Jasper van Vliet, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

· Peter Schmitt, Stockholm University, Sweden

· Peter Austin, City of Oslo, Norway

· Thomas Houet, University Rennes, France

· Peter Verburg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Additional Links:

Global LAND Project

The Landscape Research Center WSL

WSL researcher secures SNSF Consolidator Grant

Follow us on ResearchGate and  twitter #concurWSL 

Keywords Urbanization, urban region, strategic spatial plan, spatial concepts, governance, land-change modelling, land change, operationalization, spatial analysis, Bucharest, Zurich, Austin TX