The influence of spatial planning on land use in Germany and Switzerland

Analysing governance capacities and impacts


Both in Germany and Switzerland, high land usage and urban sprawl lead to negative effects like fragmented landscape, the loss of fertile soils and habitats, high costs for the maintenance of infrastructure and conflicts over the usage of land. In both countries, current public initiatives show that the problems caused by high land usage and urban sprawl are of high priority among the population.

Spatial planning on a regional level is supposed to manage land use change and to coordinate diverging interests in land use. In Germany and Switzerland, legally binding spatial plans on a regional or a cantonal level serve as an important spatial planning instrument within the national spatial planning systems. Their similar spatial planning systems and their federal structure predestine Germany and Switzerland for cross-national comparisons of spatial planning practices and effects.

Spatial planning research lacks findings about governance capacities of spatial planning, about how spatial planning works and which results it produces under which circumstances. We adopt a governance perspective in a Swiss-German comparison to fill these research gaps. Looking at regional governance capacities can improve our understanding of how spatial planning works. We define regional governance capacities as the abilities and performance of actors involved in spatial planning processes in a certain region to coordinate varying spatial interests and influence land-use change under given circumstances.

Goal, Research Questions and Methods

Using examples from Germany and Switzerland, this research project aims at analysing and understanding the role of regional governance capacities for coordinating spatial interests and managing land use change on a regional level.

The research questions are:

  • How can we analyse and assess regional governance capacities of spatial planning and which regional governance capacities characterize spatial planning in the canton of Zurich?
  • How can we analyse and assess spatial planning outcomes and how do various degrees of conformance occur?
  • How do actors deal with spatial plans in practice and which factors influence them?

The research project starts with a comprehensive literature research and uses single and multiple case studies with cases in Germany and Switzerland to answer these questions. Qualitative survey and assessment methods like expert interviews, observations and document analyses help to gain the relevant findings.


We developed a framework to assess the regional governance capacities of spatial planning and tested it using the canton of Zurich within a single embedded case study. The first findings reveal a co-existence of various regional governance capacities within the canton of Zurich despite one single spatial plan. Regional governance capacities thus depend from spatial challenges and regional and local circumstances and there is no single regional governance capacity of spatial planning within the canton of Zurich.


Kiessling N, Pütz M (2020): Assessing the regional governance capacities of spatial planning: the case of the canton of Zurich. Regional Studies, Regional Sciences, 7 (1), 183-205. >>> [PDF]