The politics of landscape change and management


A range of planning and governance instruments has been developed to manage landscape changes. Examples from Germany include local landscape plans as well as spatial plans at regional level. However, these do not always yield the intended results in terms of landscape qualities. While statistical analyses (Wende & Walz 2017) have ascertained that, for example, local landscape plans – in particular high-quality plans – have a positive influence on green infrastructures, the actual contents of the planning documents can only partially explain the variation in plan impacts. Therefore, it is necessary to pay more attention to the political structures and processes through which plans such as local landscape plans and spatial plans at regional level are prepared and applied.


The innovative aspect of the project is to approach landscapes and especially the management of landscape changes from a political angle. This perspective shall be applied to undertake in-depth analyses of key governance and planning instruments such as local landscape plans and spatial plans at regional level as well as processes of environmental policy integration.

More specifically, the research is guided by the following questions: (1) How do political, process-related aspects of local landscape planning influence the development of landscapes? (2) How can the notion of landscape policy integration be conceptualised? Which factors determine the integration of environmental and landscape-related objectives into climate and energy policies? (3) How can spatial planning at regional level contribute to a better integration of these policies? In which ways do planners and political decision-makers interact in the course of planning processes?

Selected results

The project has led to a large number of publications and conference papers. These are some of the results.

Regarding the first objective – landscape planning:

  • The role of landscape in contemporary strategic spatial planning has been analysed in an international study which was based on content analysis of the strategic spatial plans of 18 European urban regions (Hersperger, Bürgi, Wende et al. 2018). Plans were assessed following a framework that focuses on how plans took advantage of landscape's integrative power, how plans are based in knowledge on functioning of landscape systems, and how plans show the contribution of landscapes to human well-being. The findings show that landscape science contributes considerably to strategic planning. Overall, the strategic plans of European urban regions had a strong anthropocentric perspective on landscapes. However, only few use the full potential of the integrative power of landscapes in terms of governance processes, resulting in several recommendations for future strategic planning
  • The metaphors of theatre and performance were used to develop an analytical perspective on landscape planning as a social and political process (Leibenath 2018). This is achieved by referring to the double meaning of the term 'performance', which can be defined both as 'functioning' and as 'presenting' or 'staging'. Based on an understanding of landscape planning as a form of strategic planning, it was shown what landscape plans perform and how their success can be measured and evaluated. Secondly, some assumptions and heuristic questions regarding landscape planning as performance were introduced and the added value of viewing landscape planning as a form of theatre was pointed out.

Regarding the second objective – policy integration:

  • The interrelations between energy, climate and landscape policies were analysed with an eye to the wind energy targets of the state of Saxony in 2013 (Lintz & Leibenath 2020). Conceptually drawing on the Advocacy Coalition Framework and using the method of causal-process tracing, the findings showed that the protests grew significantly when the raised expansion targets for renewables were translated into a higher number of potential wind farm sites. Activists worked through a range of channels across various contexts and several levels of the politico-administrative system, in particular approaching regional spatial planners and a wide range of politicians. The study confirms that the influence of protesters can greatly exceed the previously studied participation in the planning of sites and the approval process for individual wind farms.

Regarding the third objective – spatial planning at regional level:

  • The goal conflict between the establishment of a world heritage destination with 39 individual elements and the development of wind power facilities has been analysed in the German Ore Mountains (Wieduwilt & Wirth 2018). In order to meet these challenges, the authors created a GIS-based so-called "Multiple-Visual-Link Method". By calculating viewsheds with a tailor-made GIS application and defining distance zones (short, middle, long), the user is able to estimate the visual relations between the two types of subjects in a bigger area with a favorable cost-benefit relation. The compact algorithmic approach led to solid results which can be translated into planning recommendations.
  • Professional identities and role orientations of planners constitute an important dimension of spatial planning processes. This idea led to a project proposal, which successfully submitted to the German Research Foundation DFG (see project „Subjectivities“). The project bears the title "The Making of Planners: Subjectivities of Planners Related to Spatial Planning at Regional Level in the Context of Wind Energy in Germany" and it adopts an integrative perspective on planning subjects and the wider power structures in which they are embedded and which they reproduce.

Selected publications

Hersperger, A. M., Bürgi, M., Wende, W., Bacău, S. & Grădinaru, S. R. (2020), Does landscape play a role in strategic spatial planning of European urban regions? Landscape and Urban Planning, 194, 103702

Leibenath, M. (2018), Landschaftsplanung – ein "Theater"? Überlegungen zu Planung und Performance. Natur und Landschaft, 93, 7, 332-338

Lintz, G. & Leibenath, M. (2020), The politics of energy landscapes: the influence of local anti-wind initiatives on state policies in Saxony, Germany. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 10, 1, 5

Wieduwilt, P. & Wirth, P. (2018), Cultural heritage and wind turbines – a method to reduce conflicts in landscape planning and management: Studies in the German Ore Mountains. European Countryside, 10, 4, 652

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.