Planning Approaches for Sustainable Land Management: International Examples and Innovative Solutions

A report reviewing international approaches to sustainable land management from a planning perspective, commissioned under the  ‘Sustainable Land Management’ applied research programme funded by the German federal ministry for Education and Research has just been published. The report (in German) is the output of more than twelve months work at HafenCity University in 2012 and 2013. The English language abstract is reproduced below. The full report is available to download from the website of the research  programme’s scientific coordination (Leibniz- Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research – ZALF).



The expertise ‘Planning Approaches for a Sustainable Land Management’ was commissioned by the scientific coordination team of Module B – Innovative System Solutions (Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research – ZALF) of the Sustainable Land Management research pro-gramme, funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research. The concept of sustainable land management brings with it the potential for an integrated research, policy and practice perspective which transcends disciplinary boundaries and focuses on the management of land as a finite resource in the interests of the common good. In particular, sustainable land manage-ment seeks to combine perspectives from spatial planning, agriculture and forestry and envi-ronmental resource management. This discussion paper focuses on the potential contribution of innovative international approaches from the fields of planning and governance to sustainable land management. The selection of international approaches followed a review of the interna-tional scientific, applied research and policy literatures. As part of Module B, the selection of international approaches also sought to address the goals of the wider funding measure and to respond to the requirements of the researchers and practitioners working within the projects funded in Module B. Two expert workshops held in March and April 2013 provided important feedback on the selection of innovative approaches as well as the methodology of the expertise. The final selection of innovative approaches comprises the following:

 Adaptive Co-Management
 Socio-technical Transitions-Management
 Strategic Spatial Planning and Development
 Spatial Fit, Functional Governance and Variable Geometry
 Spatial Decision Support Systems and Scenario Development
 Green Infrastructure
 Brownfield Redevelopment and Urban Land Management
The estimated relative contribution of each approach is assessed according to eight thematic criteria and in each case graphically represented through network diagrams. This qualitative assessment may be understood as a tool for researchers and practitioner experts to make a quick assessment regarding the relevance of a particular approach to the specific challenges or tasks they face.

The discussion paper concludes that the development of innovative solutions for sustainable land management in Germany can draw significantly on international approaches where experi-ence has demonstrated the relative merits of a wide range of distinct approaches. Learning from international experience must, however, always be approached with a degree of caution. Rather than the simple transfer of best or good practice approaches from abroad, we would, however emphasise the importance of sensitivity to context. Socio-economic, cultural, political, legal and environmental factors provide the framework conditions through which sustainable land man-agement is practised. Indeed, it is also possible to learn from policy failure and shortcomings associated with individual approaches which practical experience in other countries have served to demonstrate. The approaches elaborated here also reflect the goal-orientation and research approach of the funding measure Sustainable Land Management itself. Indeed this expertise has served to confirm the commitment of the Sustainable Land Management to a transdisciplinary approach including engagement with a wide range of scientific disciplines and practice-based stakeholders coming from diverse professional backgrounds. The importance of integrated perspectives, crossing sectoral and professional boundaries is central to the adaptive co-management, strategic spatial planning and functional governance approaches presented above. Sustainable land management, through its practice-oriented approach seeks to combine strate-gic planning and governance with practical implementation measures and the development of targeted solutions to address specific challenges. This key relationship between medium to long-term strategy-making and short-term implementation is similarly found as a core element of the approaches presented here. This is particularly the case with regard to socio-technical transition management, strategic spatial planning, green infrastructure and brownfield redevelopment. Finally, the expertise highlights the importance of a focus on communication. Core concepts such as green infrastructure, ecosystem services and adaptive governance can play a central role in developing awareness and understanding and interest among diverse stakeholders. Indeed, sustainable land management, when associated with the principles and values outlined here, has the potential to act as powerful concept. Furthermore the discussion has identified a number of farther reaching research questions that might be of interest for further elaborating the process and governance dimension of sustainable land-management.


Sustainable Land Management as a Research Priority

The 2013 Status Conference of the German research programme: Sustainable Land Management (Nachhaltiges Landmanagement) took place between 17th and 19th April in Berlin. The ambitious research programme seeks to develop new innovative approaches to address challenges of sustainable land management in Germany, from an integrated, transdisciplinary approach. It is funded to the tune of approximately €100 million by the Research for Sustainable Development programme (FONA) of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research over the period 2010-2015. Although the conference was internal to the research programme participants numbered approximately 500, representing the full range of funded projects, spanning the physical and social sciences as well as practitioner stakeholders, who play a key role in the transdisciplinary research approach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the precise meaning of sustainable land management is the subject of significant debate, with multiple disciplinary perspectives and varying stresses on each of the three elements, sustainable, land and management. The objective, however is to develop approaches which are broader than existing practice in the individual disciplines of  land-use planning, property surveying and management, landscape, spatial and environmental planning and directly engage with stakeholder groups.

The research programme itself includes projects based both within Germany and internationally and aims to develop global as well as regional scale perspectives. I was involved, (with Prof. Jörg Knieling, HCU Hamburg) in moderating one session on international perspectives on governance which included papers/presentations from work in Namibia and Brazil as well as northeastern Germany (Session 40 in the official programme here). The international perspectives served to question Eurocentric perspectives concerning ideas of land use and in particular land ownership and highlighted the often complex relationships between customary and statutory legal traditions and practices. The German presentations, brought to light significant contradictions and ‘asymmetries’ in the institutional frameworks governing land-based resource management and protection in Europe. Such asymmetries are found to be particularly pronounced where user groups and stakeholders seek to introduce new sustainable management practices involved closed loop material and energy flows and where ‘use’ and ‘protection’ rationales are combined through multi-functional approaches.

Directly following this session, we delivered an interactive discussion section focussed on the topic of sustainable energy planning at the regional scale, provocatively asking the question of whether energy planning should be considered a task of spatial planning or a form of sectoral planning. A presentation on selected international approaches to sustainable land management (which we are sub-contracted to prepare an ‘expertise’ on) with potential relevance to the question of energy planning provided the key input to the discussion. From this international review it was clear that there are no ‘golden bullets’ and that governance and management approaches need to be developed within the context of the specific region in question, with regard to actor constellations, power relations, knowledge resources and framework conditions set at other scales. Of course this is what the research programme is in a sense trying to achieve with its transdisciplinary integrated approach. It will be very interesting to continue to follow the progress of the research programme and see what lessons are learned regarding both sustainable land management and transdisciplinary approaches to research. At some point it may be fruitful to compare the approach developed here to other experiences of practitioner involvement in applied research programmes, whether within Germany or elsewhere in Europe. Priority 2 projects under ESPON (2007-2013 Programme) come to mind as well as the vast and varied experience amassed under INTERREG to date.

Unsustainable land management and economic crisis: Insights from Spain

In a previous post, I outlined some key similarities and differences between thecurrent housing crises in Ireland and Spain. Many of the underlying economic and socio-demographic structural factors would indeed appear to be striking similar in both countries. A recent paper by Professor Juan Romero (Inter-university Institute for Local Development and Department of Geography, University of Valencia) and co-authors published in Environment and Planning: C, provides further insights from a new institutionalist political science perspective into the governance failures leading to the speculative property bubble and subsequent crash in Spain.

The authors highlight the importance of ‘informal rules’ in institutional processes related to land management and spatial plannning. Following Ostrom (1998) they refer to a ‘second order collective action dilemma’, where shared expectations of foul play on the part of other actors, influences the behaviour of rational actors to the extent that each individual has something to gain from acting corruptly or turning a blind eye to certain practices. Clear parallels to the Irish case, are of course, evident here.

More concretely, the authors note that the official designation of land as ‘fit for development’ through formal planning processes had immeadiate economic as well as legal implications for the landowners and local and regional property markets. Again the parallels to the Irish case, where specualtion over land-use zoning led to serious corruption are strikingly clear. In both cases, the politics of planning and urban development has been significantly influenced by soft institutional factors which have undermined the capacity for land management processes to effectively serve the public interest.

Academic and policy debates on the causes and consequences of the current economic crisis need to consider the soft institutional aspects which have contributed to serious governance failure in land management at local regional and national scales in Europe. The search for and development of new approaches to sustainable land management furthermore requires a critical, comparative evaluation of the faiures of exsiting governance models. These cases can often prove as insightful as cases of good or best practice!