Landscape issues in strategic spatial plans of European urban regions: current state and future options

Authors and Affiliations: 

Anna M. Hersperger, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
Simona R. Grădinaru, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
Eduardo Oliveira, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL

Corresponding author: 
Anna M. Hersperger

It is postulated that strategic spatial planning offers a good venue for pursuing landscape thinking in regional planning endeavors. With landscape thinking we refer to a state of mind (i.e. more than an approach) of holistically perceiving, analyzing and managing humans-nature interactions in a territory. Since we agree with this claim, we are interested in a better understanding of this potential. This research is therefore focused on an assessment of the incorporation of landscape issues in current strategic planning, and specifically in strategic spatial plans of urban regions. Many urban regions in Europe and beyond engage in strategic planning and most of them develop plans composed of text and often maps to set and implement long term visions of how a region should develop. Such strategic spatial plans of 14 European urban regions constitute the empirical bases for addressing the research question, i.e. how are landscape issues currently addressed in strategic spatial plans. The method for this study relies on plan content analysis (text and map), adhering to a protocol with the following items: (1) explicit use of the word “landscape”; (2) landscape ecological concepts (e.g. connectivity, movement and flow of species and processes, spatial configuration of land uses and land covers, cultural perspectives and legacies); (3) local landscape initiatives (García-Martín et al 2016); (4) landscape perception and values; and (5) principles for a landscape approach (Sayer et al. 2013).
Preliminary findings indicate that though some plans incorporate many landscape ecological concepts and explicitly refer to “landscape”, strategic spatial plans generally focus more on economic development, built areas for housing and economic activities, as well as transportation. However, strategic spatial planning often adheres to similar procedural principles as the landscape approach, for example when addressing specific landscape elements such as green and blue areas or elements of cultural heritage. Strategic spatial planning can thus provide a way for addressing landscape issues in the transformation of urban regions while taking advantage of governance structures in place. Based on the empirical findings, we propose a some guidelines to systematically incorporate landscape thinking into strategic spatial planning. This could also support the attempts to promote landscape ecology as a science for action and as an effective transdisciplinary approach to achieving sustainable landscapes.


García-Martín, M., Bieling, C., Hart, A., Plieninger, T., 2016. Integrated landscape initiatives in Europe: Multi-sector collaboration in multi-functional landscapes. Land Use Policy 58, 43-53.

Sayer, J., Sunderland, T., Ghazoul, J., Pfund, J.-L., Sheil, D., Meijaard, E., Venter, M., Boedhihartono, A.K., Day, M., Garcia, C., van Oosten, C., Buck, L.E., 2013. Ten principles for a landscape approach to reconciling agriculture, conservation, and other competing land uses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, 8349-8356.

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Oral presentation
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