Tue 13 Jul 2021

Live Case 6: It All Works out at the End

Participating in a research project opened up the opportunity to dive deeper into specific topics for which our organisation is responsible, and with which we remain busy. External funding helped, of course, but it is the high-level exchange with colleagues across Europe which is essential, as well as the need and the freedom to reflect on positions and procedures – and the extra internal exchange about these details provided extra added value, too.


The core research interest has been (and remains) better-informed decisions about land take within our formal Regional Spatial Planning. It is a day-to-day challenge for planning professionals anywhere to find the right balance between enabling development and limiting the taking of land, which is a finite resource. Of course, there are well-established methods and procedures in place; however, in light of the ever-growing need to act sustainably, paired with progress in science, these methods and procedures will need a makeover.


Within our Living Lab, we scrutinised the potential of the Ecosystem Services concept for this purpose. It emerged that there is ample scientific knowledge, but that the gap between science and reality remains an issue: This results in too many competing approaches, too much imbalanced detailing, ignorance of legal needs, and lack of insights into data availability.


Together with external experts, we developed an approach including a list of indicators almost ready for use. The great advantage is that they fit neatly into the system imposed by the German planning laws, and should be formally embedded there in the foreseeable future, by way of further modernising a complex legal system which evolved since 1960. We propose that this step is necessary because planning decisions need to take all available information into account.


The step yet to be taken is a pilot application, as well as populating the list of indicators with real data; something well beyond the scope of this project.


The Regional Authority FrankfurtRheinMain is well placed to propose amendments to Federal and Land legislation as its proceedings are, in a way, experimental. This is because we apply one of the few exceptions to the rule that every German municipality has its own Land Use Plan: We are doing a single one for 80 towns and cities.


What should colleagues bear in mind when they plan a Living Lab experience?

First of all, it is a sophisticated undertaking. Maybe stating the obvious: The more complex the issue in question, the more sophisticated the process will be. Experimental as it is, the result cannot be predicted.


It will also be essential to have the necessary resources: This means staff, and that is, senior staff, preferably a team with a portfolio of qualifications. After all, it is a “give and take” process, and you cannot expect good results if you do not put quality into the process. For any town, city or other public authority the political will and the backing of the decision makers is a must. Last not least, the funding: Here, the EU can play a very important role, and the European Office of the Metropolitan Region FrankfurtRheinMain is well placed to advise.


What can go wrong?

As in any experiment, of course:

  • Mind the dependency on other partners – They might be unwilling or unable to contribute as expected. Clear arrangements must be in place but cannot mitigate that risk completely.
  • Participants should mutually benefit from each other and from their participation in a Living Lab. There could be a challenge in scientific partners using the practice side as a resource for data without providing extra knowledge in return. Again, clear arrangements can help, but there is also the need that the practice partners have the necessary dynamic and professional knowledge to interact at eye level with the scientists.
  • Last not least, when working over a period of time, things might develop in other ways than expected during the preparation phase. In a lab, this is part of the game, to a certain extent. If you do account for that in your initial strategy, you should be able to make the necessary adjustments within reason – and it will all work out at the end.

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Mon 16 Nov 2020

Live Case 5: Keep Calm and Carry On

We proceeded with our Research and Innovation Agenda as planned. We focused on our external experts' report (funded outside of the ROBUST project), which provides us with valuable input for our ongoing planning procedure.

Our Living Lab isn’t hypothetical but is linked to the current planning process for the Regional Land Use Plan for the Frankfurt/Rhein-Main Region and its 75 municipalities. We are not starting from zero but are looking for very specific information to further inform the balance of enabling development and reducing land take, with the need to fit the legal and procedural requirements.

This approach has to be applicable in real life, with available data and with financial resources within reason. We’re now trying to transform the report’s proposals into a pilot application. This is complex and needs time. This pilot application will also show us where further research is needed. The Regional Authority will pursue this well beyond the lifetime of ROBUST, and we will report about this process and the findings.

In terms of the innovations aimed at in our Research and Innovation Agenda: # 1 is completed, as we now do have the numeric information about what we now define as "Outer Space" and "Inner Space" (including an in-depth account of the concept).

Innovation #2 is well on track; we do have a set of operational concepts identified and are going for a pilot application. We are, however, still waiting for advice about the demand side of the matching of ESS supply and demand.

Innovation #3 is very well on track because there is an ever-growing insight into the need to minimise land take, not least because of climate change and the COVID-19 crisis. We are, however, still waiting for the feedback from the ROBUST community.

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Thu 16 Jul 2020

Live Case 4: Moving Forward Despite the Crisis

COVID-19 affected Germany severely. Public life came to a standstill from early March on, with dramatic consequences for personal lives and for the economy. The authorities, both Federal and Länder, reacted with previously unheard of measures to provide instant relief, spending unprecedented sums of money resulting in public debts of inconceivable magnitude.

The ultimate effects of all this are unknown, but they will be dramatic. It is already obvious that the effects will be unbalanced. For example, there is state aid for the automobile industry and the Lufthansa airline, but, for example, restaurants and cinemas are forced into insolvency; theatres, opera houses and symphony orchestras cannot perform.

The Regionalverband shifted to working from home, with a ban on travelling and hosting face-to-face meetings. Luckily, much of our ROBUST activity is happening online and by e-mail anyway. We were able to carry on with our collaborative work, both as a Living Lab and within the COP, mainly because much of the work within the current period isn’t necessarily face-to-face. 

On the Regionalverband’s side, we are working with our external experts on their specialised input to answer our ecosystem services research questions specifically within the context of German legal structures of formal spatial planning. This is an iterative process of mutual refining; for example, the Regionalverband developed a method to enrich the somewhat stereotypical urban-rural notion by proposing the "Outer Space-Inner Space" approach (Refining a basic concept: The Outer-Inner-Space notion as a specification of the Rural-Urban dualism). However, we had to replace the interim meetings with our external experts with phone calls and e-mail exchanges. 

Our research partner, PRAC, turned the crisis into an opportunity, as far as this is possible, by doing research on the capacity of regions for shifting to working from home, and the effects on air quality. (Effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the area of tension between the economy and climate change: A case study at rural and city district level in Southern Germany)

What we missed, however, was the Informed Cities Forum and assembly in Lucca, and the possibility to host regional workshops. It is not realistic to simply postpone workshops and meetings. We did produce knowledge and are producing knowledge without them, and this is working out well. Instead of holding workshops for the sake of holding them, we will conceive and apply other sharing and dissemination formats, as appropriate. For example, in the coming weeks we will interpret and partly translate the research results from our external experts, to share with the ROBUST community.

We must also account for shifts in priorities. Municipalities will be under extreme pressure; regions, states and the EU will launch recovery strategies that aren’t necessarily in line with what ROBUST set out to research when we conceived the project almost five years ago. And who knows whether there will be a new COVID-19 outbreak in the fall? Will face-to-face events be possible within the lifetime of ROBUST at all?

There is no point in waiting. We will continue working to our best professional ability.

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Mon 16 Dec 2019

Live Case 3: The ESP 10 Detour

The envisioning so far proved that we are on the right track. We have been (and still are) refining and operationalising what we set out to do as early as in June 2016 . We fine-tuned the algorithm defining what we coined to be Outer Space and Inner Space. We tested different development scenario approaches and agreed to use a set of two most in line with the formal Regional Spatial Planning procedure.

What has to follow turned out to be tricky: The research about the ecosystems present in the Outer Space and the services they provide. Not to mention the switch to the Inner Space, looking at the demand for ecosystem services induced there.

Our approach is sophisticated and reflects the complexities of a complicated planning task from the real world, which we explained at length in various contexts and languages and on multiple occasions. After all, this LL is integrated in a legally-defined and politically-led procedure.

As an interim result of our research, we realised that we need very specific input from specialised experts, who can answer our ecosystem services research questions within the context of the German legal structures that dictate spatial planning.

Fortunately, the leading experts congregated during the Ecosystem Services Partnership world conference (ESP 10) in Hannover, Germany. The Regional Authority participated in the conference by presenting during the session “B9/T18 - Governance of ecosystem services for rural-urban synergies: bridging science and decision-making session” and attending an extra meeting of the ROBUST EcoSystem Services Community of Practice (COP).

This will not replace our Regional Workshop but provides extra input for it. However, to provide added value for the project, this means we will hold the regional workshop at a later date.

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Fri 03 May 2019

Live Case 2: The Ins and Outs of Regional Spatial Planning

Put simply, we are trying to assess the limits to growth in the Frankfurt/Rhein-Main Region.

To this end, we have defined Außenbereich ("Outer Space") and Innenbereich ("Inner Space"), a dichotomy rooted in the German planning laws: There is the built-up area (Inner Space), and the rest. Development – or land take – is consuming parts of this rest, the Outer Space.

The Outer Space is providing ecosystem services, and land take will reduce these services. Demand for ecosystem services is induced by the activies in the Inner Space. After all, we will make up the balance of supply and demand.

In the Envisioning phase we operationalised this. There is a need to reduce complexities and to make assumptions by aggregating regional GIS data, because our database goes into details we do not need to get the picture we want. This process used Baugesetzbuch (Federal Building Law) categories as a guideline.

Outer Space is an aggregation of green areas. It includes priority areas for agriculture and agro land management, forests, ecologically-significant areas, lakes, rivers and priority areas for the extraction of near-surface deposits.

Inner Space consists of residential / mixed / commercials building areas, areas for common use, special building areas, rail, road and air transport, utilities, waste management and sewerage areas.

(It should be noted that both areas in use and areas designed for these uses are covered. Open space within the Inner Space is not regarded as contributing to ecosystem services in this research.)

The Process

During the development scenario analytical process, we first tried buffers around the Inner Space areas. Although this was technically viable, we developed a more sophisticated scheme that took a political policy guideline into account: Future development should be concentrated around railway stations.

Technically, this calculation starts with circles around stations. However, numerous restrictions apply and particular areas must be removed from the calculation, including: Natura 2000 sites, nature reserves, (floodplain) landscape conservation areas, natural monuments, protected landscape components, legally effective compensation areas, legally protected biotopes, flood areas, water protection zones 1 and 2, mineral spring protection areas A and B, protected forest, the Roman Limes (a UNESCO World Heritage designation), 1,000 m buffer around wind farms, safety distances around Seveso III utilities, 400 m buffer around high voltage lines, new delimitation of settlement restriction area, and, last but not least, plus forest and the Frankfurt Green Belt (note: Mind that this Green Belt is inside Frankfurt, unlike London’s Green Belt.).

In short, these restrictions substantially reduce the circular development areas around railway stations.

2030 and post-2030 development scenarios for the Frankfurt/Rhein-Main Region

We applied the Systematic Evidence Review. However, we didn’t restrict our approach to just that, but assessed our needs against our resources and designed a specific database and research agenda. We engaged with our internal Regionalverband GIS and ecosystem services experts. Later, we presented our findings to our scientific partners, who are now investigating whether they can provide additional data, information and knowledge.

We now have a set of maps (with the necessary detailed background information) that represent both our Inner Space and our Outer Space, with two ‘development’ scenarios.

That is: assumptions about land take to be made possible through the on-going Regional Land Use Planning process. Accordingly, this is very much in line with what we described in our first Live Case post.

To be continued…

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Wed 16 Jan 2019

Live Case 1: Dynamic Planning Processes for a Dynamic Region

The Regionalverband (Regional Authority FrankfurtRheinMain) is a specialised authority and a special one: we do regional land use planning for an exceptionally large area - an area which happens to be among the most prosperous and “dynamic” regions in Europe. “Dynamic” should be seen as a shorthand for growth: for more and more inhabitants, more and more jobs, more and more demand for transport, housing, business areas – which results more and more in the need to transform the Außenbereich (undeveloped spaces outside built-up areas) into built-up areas. But, obviously, the Außenbereich is a finite resource…

Photo: Karlheinz Knickel

ROBUST coincides with the process of drafting a new edition of our Regional Land Use Plan. This process follows a legally-defined procedure, and the Regionalverband has highly-qualified staff and decades of experience to tackle this task. However, this operation is far from being standard because it does not concern the territory of just one municipality (which is what the underlying Federal law assumes), but rather 75 collective municipalities, including the core city of Frankfurt am Main.

We could regard this as experimental already because it has not really been done before – too much has changed since the completion of the previous edition of the Plan. Now what is the real ROBUST experiment then?

We will try to assess the limits to growth:

  • How much Außenbereich has to be left to keep this region working?
  • How can growth be designed to be smart, sustainable and inclusive, as the Europe 2020 strategy demands?

To this end we will focus on the ecosystems present in the Außenbereich. What services do they provide? Which of them are indispensable? The whole operation will start with quantitative information based on the Regionalverband’s sophisticated database. Next we will check for the need, the availability, and the value of additional information. As the Living Lab develops, we will define a pilot area to be able to go into detail. Rather than looking at the rather heterogeneous 2,458 km2 in total, we will explore a near-to-core area - the peri-urban zone where urban and rural elements coincide and specific situations prevail that are neither purely urban, nor purely rural.

The Regionalverband’s plan is to engage local authorities, thus political and technical representatives will be involved in the Living Lab. One of the challenges will be to avoid the "nice-to-have" trap: Ecosystem services aren’t limited to endangered species or areas of outstanding natural beauty. This is why this Living Lab has links to two other Communities of Practice. With this Living Lab our planning decisions will be even better informed. Beyond our own area, the results can have an influence on the further refinement of the German planning system, because, after all, this is a sophisticated interpretation of the legal provisions done by one of the big players in this business.

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News about Rural-Urban Europe and the ROBUST project is published regularly in the INFORMED CITIES newsletter.

ROBUST is a European research project involving 24 partners from 11 countries. ROBUST receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727988.

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