From rags to riches? New planning implications of temporary use in Germany By Thomas Honeck (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development & Structural Planning, Germany)

Those who have visited German cities such as Berlin, Leipzig or Stuttgart in recent years might quickly have noticed the importance of temporary spatial uses for local identities. During the last 25 years, temporary uses have developed from informal – often even illegal – civil society initiatives to institutionally funded features of formal urban planning in Germany. While planners’ appreciation of temporary uses first grew in transforming cities in the East of Germany, such projects are nowadays also planning options in prospering cities and form part of the local business promotions. During the last two decades, German urban planning embraced temporary uses and gradually institutionalized related practices: in 2004 the building code was changed; nowadays many cities conduct public agencies or hire private consultants to facilitate temporary uses, and different administrative levels up to the federal ministry instruct studies on the potential of transient spaces.

In our project InnoPlan funded by the German Research Foundation (similar to British ESRC) at Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS) and Stuttgart University we research such drastic changes from former planning routines and ask how new planning approaches emerge, institutionalize and spread. Focusing on intentional acts of stakeholders during these processes we conceive the new way planning involves temporary uses as a social innovation. It is critical to point out, that our understanding of innovation does not include any normative assignments: in contrast to most notions in international literature, we do not conceive social innovation as ‘positive’ from a moral or ethical standpoint. Instead, we apply the analytical conception of social innovation proposed by the sociologist Werner Rammert.

Projecting Rammert’s understanding of social innovation (2010: 39) on the “rise of temporary use” in German planning, three aspects appear as essential. First, temporary uses can be understood as recombinations, reinterpretations and redesigns of already existing elements of planning or other fields. Second, temporary uses have been perceived as improvements and have, hence, been imitated in other contexts and adapted to them. And third, the new meaning of temporary uses may lead to a larger scale conceptual change of planning in Germany. Furthermore, we define social innovations in planning as social constructions with fluid identities, meaning for example that first experiments with temporary uses may differ to recent transformations and adaptations of the concept (Braun-Thürmann 2004: 4).

The long tradition of innovation research provides a large diversity of analytical and methodological concepts and tools that can be applied to the fields of urban planning. The possibilities of our proposed perspective as well as the results of our research will be presented in a full paper soon; but a few appetizers shall be mentioned here already. As a result of a discourse analysis, we identify five main phases in the lifecycle of the innovation. In a first phase of latency starting in the 1960s, the stage for the innovation process had been prepared in two main discourses: on the one hand, the planning system was criticised for its top-down dominance and tabula rasa approaches in urban renewal. On the other hand, the consequences of multidimensional structural changes such as large inner city vacant sites became more obvious, and planners and academics started to notice a lack of tools to react to them. The second is a phase of formation, in which the first experiments with temporary uses were carried out especially in East German cities such as Leipzig and Berlin or the Ruhr area, one of Europe’s largest deindustrialising regions. In this phase, the duality between informal temporary uses and formal urban planning slowly turned into dialectic. More and more positive notions of temporary uses appeared in related discourses. A third phase of fermentation was mainly characterised by processes of learning. From this time on, the literature on temporary use increased rapidly, research projects have been carried out and different administrative and political levels drew attention to temporary uses. Particular groups can be understood as agents of change since they facilitated symbioses between different actors and intentions. During a fourth phase of stabilisation, the new ways of planning involving temporary uses gradually became formalised and normalized. As a strong legitimation for the formerly new practices, the discourse on creative cities and creative industries gained attention in Germany. Subsequently, the economic dimension of temporary uses for a city became more evident. More prosperous cities considered temporary uses as relevant for their cultural and economic development.

Parallel to the normalisation of temporary uses in planning, in a fifth phase of critique, conflicts related to temporary uses reached the surfaces of several discourses. Temporary uses were described as “motors of gentrification” and “fields of self-exploitation”. Due to conflicts related to the immanent temporality, as for example in the case of the Berlin airport Tempelhof, planners started to be more careful involving temporary uses. In reaction to the critique – and similar to the phase of latency – nowadays, new forms of projects involving temporary uses develop as “innovations of the innovation” or “process innovations”.

As our short teaser suggests, the German debates on temporary uses are extensive. The innovation-perspective we chose is an analytical and non-normative one. Nevertheless, the presented results may provoke critical interpretations and inspirations for further research: how did the constellations of actors and motives of temporary uses in planning change from early to current implications? Can we maybe conceive the way planning recently embraces grassroots-practices as a commodification?



Rammert, W. (2010): Die Innovationen der Gesellschaft. In: Howaldt, J. and Jacobsen, H. (ed.): Soziale Innovation. Auf dem Weg zu einem postindustriellen Innovationsparadigma. Wiesbaden: VS Verl. für Sozialwissenschaften, 21-51.

Braun-Thürmann, H. (2004): Zum sozialwissenschaftlichen Verständnis von Innovationen. Planungsrundschau. 9, 9-17.


Thomas Honeck (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning)


‘When an uprising of the property owning classes in Hampshire is your best hope for the future you know you’re in trouble’ By Andy Inch (University of Sheffield)

This is a post about the land-use planning system in England. This is not a subject that makes it high up the list of topics that ‘critical urbanists’ tend to consider sexy, or even perhaps remotely interesting. Still, I make no apologies for that. You see planning is in a pretty parlous state in England. Successive governments have identified governmental control of the use and development of land as a regulatory burden and a significant barrier to economic growth. At times the construction of planning as a key economic problem has reached heights of absurdity that a fine comic writer would be proud of.

I remember watching the BBCs ‘Newsnight’ not long after the 2010 election when Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Harriet Harman’s favourite ginger rodent was on. Asked how the Coalition was going to sort out the broken British economy following the worst economic crisis in living memory Alexander cited planning reform as one of the two or three key ways in which the Government was going to unlock growth. That’s right. Planning Reform. It was as if he had stumbled across Michael Heseltine’s infamous speech from the early ‘80s and taken literally his reference to planners having ‘jobs locked in filing cabinets’. All they had to do was find the keys the idiot planners had lost.

Some time after that the government announced the first relaxation of permitted development rights. This somewhat arcane change to what homeowners are allowed to build without the need for planning permission was widely trailed in the media as another key plank of the government’s recovery package. As if the hassle of securing planning permission was the only thing preventing people from unleashing the wave of conservatories that was needed to bring back sustained prosperity. Bugger endogenous growth theory. We just need everyone in Hampshire to build a bigger sunroom.

Since then there has been initiative after initiative. According to Steve Quartermain, the lucky man who until recently went by the title ‘Chief Planner’ at the Department for Communities and Local Government, there wasn’t a single pre-budget statement in which George Osborne didn’t announce further deregulatory planning changes during the last parliament. It’s a trend that seems to be continuing.

This is hardly surprising. The ‘Treasury view’ of planning has long been informed by the basic Hayekian assumption that any attempt to plan economy or society is just another step along the road to serfdom. The fact that the right to develop land remains nationalized in England must seem like a painful anachronism from this perspective.

Depressingly the only thing that seems to be holding back the neoliberal attack are the thousands of Conservative voters sitting in their already amply proportioned sunrooms in Hampshire, tutting over the Daily Telegraph and relying on the planning system to preserve their green and pleasant views.

As Malcolm Tait and I argue in a forthcoming paper on the Coalition governments’ approach to planning reform, the Conservative political tradition has an uneasy and somewhat contradictory relationship to the idea of planning control. Different forms of conservative thought suggest very different attitudes towards planning, from the one nation ‘conservationism’ of the National Trust and CPRE through to neoliberal advocates of the raw efficiency of the market. These attitudes also draw on very different ‘spatial imaginaries’, the former generating deeply felt attachments to primarily rural landscapes, the latter viewing place as little more than a ‘competitive asset’. We argue in the paper that the balance of forces between these traditions defined the coalition government’s politically troubled oscillation between discourses of ‘growth’ and ‘localism’.

Since we shaped that argument, however, the steady onslaught of deregulatory pressure has built further. I now wonder whether we need to consider a slightly different interpretation, one with even bleaker political implications.

Speaking in 2010, Nick Boles, who was soon to become planning minister, suggested a seemingly more Schumpeterian view of planning. A view premised on the value of ‘creative destruction’:

Do you believe planning works? That clever people sitting in a room can plan how people’s communities should develop, or do you believe it can’t work? I believe it can’t work, David Cameron believes it can’t, Nick Clegg believes it can’t. Chaotic therefore in our vocabulary is a good thing.

What if we read the steady feed of deregulatory measures that have been passed since as a fairly successful programme for chaos; a strategic attempt to manage and overcome the tensions between different Conservative traditions whilst steadily pushing back against the idea of planning control?

Hugh Ellis from the Town and Country Planning Association is one of the few voices to highlight the significant negative effects that key, detailed changes to the policy regime are having. This includes, in no particular order:

  • The strengthening of a presumption in favour of (sustainable) development, coupled with the need for local authorities to have an up-to-date five year supply of land for new housing has made it much harder for local authorities to defend against unwanted speculative development.
  • The heightened emphasis on the financial ‘viability’ of development that has led to the loss of significant public benefits including large amounts of affordable housing that is typically negotiated from developer profit.
  • The changed definition of affordable housing that means developers only have to produce housing at 80% of market rates
  • The loss of space and sustainable building standards
  • Further changes to permitted development rights which mean that authorities now have no control over the conversion of existing offices, warehouses etc. into new housing. This is leading to the ongoing loss of large amounts of office space in high demand areas, particularly London; converted into homes without any means of checking whether the construction or space standards are adequate, or whether there is adequate provision of schools or open space.

It can be hard to get excited about these details of planning law and policy. But taken together these changes are substantial and represent the further hollowing out of planners’ capacity to regulate in the public interest.

Some of the changes, like the loss of control over new housebuilding, are bothering the retirees in their sunrooms and so may generate further political trouble for the Conservative party. Others, however, like the new permitted development rules, are not likely to affect them very much at all. As Ellis argues, however, these changes risk creating the slums of tomorrow; poor quality places that will have significant impacts on people’s lives, particularly those who have no other choice.

Planning control was created as a response to the effects of ‘chaos’ in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prompting the society to react against the all too visible hand of the market. The legacy and reputation of planning is now so tarnished that we seem to have forgotten those lessons. Perhaps it will take the slums of tomorrow to remind people. In the meantime advocates of planning as a politically progressive force are left with few allies – when an uprising of the property owning classes in Hampshire* is your best hope for the future you know you’re in trouble.


*with all due apologies to the good people of Hampshire.


Andy Inch (University of Sheffield)


PLEASE NOTE: This post was originally received in January 2015 and therefore was written before the May 2015 general election.  Andy has kindly made a few tweaks in recent weeks to update the post.




The Privileging of Growth in Planning Policy By Sarah Longlands (University of Glasgow)

‘I think its very hard on people who aren’t’ already part of the party if you like, and who aren’t’ going to get a slice of the pie and there’s an increasing number of people who aren’t part of that, even in Cambridge’

(Interview 1103, Cambridge)


The dominance of market led approaches in planning is a concern that has been shared for some time amongst academics and practitioners. Molotch (1976) famously coined the term ‘growth machine’ in the 1970s to describe what he saw as the dominance of growth interests, particularly land, in US cities. In the 1980s, Brindley et al. (1989) were describing what they saw as a ‘crisis in planning’ created as a result of what they identified as “another underlying weakness of the planning system, its dependence on economic growth” (Brindley et al., 1989,5).   Most recently, Rydin (2014) has again expressed her frustration at the dependence of planning upon economic growth.

The privileging of growth in planning policy, whilst by no means new, has been further amplified as a following the 2008 economic crisis and the coming to power of the Coalition Government in 2010. The Coalition Government’s 2012 National Planning Policy Framework, argued that the purpose of planning was about helping to achieve ‘sustainable development’ (DCLG, 2012) defined as ‘positive growth’ and reinstated, a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’. Despite the couching of planning reform within the softer, post-political language of sustainable development (Swyngedouw, 2007) the emphasis upon the ‘economic’ progress is unmistakable, particularly when read alongside the HM Treasury ‘Plan for Growth’. This 2011 publication argued that as part of the UK’s plans to attract business, planning needed to be ‘radically’ reformed with the expectation that local authorities should ‘prioritise growth and jobs’ (HM Treasury and BIS, 2011, 23).

My PhD, examining the privileging of economic growth in planning policy, developed from my own experience working for both the public and private sector in the North of England. No matter the context, the pursuit of growth was a dominant objective in regeneration and planning policy. Despite the fact that growth was often difficult and unequal, there was an absence of critical debate about the concept of economic growth and particularly the mechanisms through which policy makers hoped that ‘growth’ would solve place-based challenges.   The pursuit of economic growth was simply the axiomatic good that policy makers sought. Using case studies of Middlesborough and Cambridge, my work asks whether this has any particular influence on how local planning policy is developed and implemented in different contexts.

My findings to date have comprised three main themes. Firstly, the disaggregated nature of the ‘growth’ as a concept. Whilst conventional economic wisdom would have us believe that economic growth is devoid of normative attribution, what becomes quickly apparent when discussing the concept with the planning community in different parts of the country, is the constructed and value laden nature of the growth concept. People’s views on what economic growth means and what ends it will serve, vary significantly. There is a spectrum of views which ranges from a basic association with jobs and business development through to the pursuit of human progress and social enlightenment. What was particularly striking was the different weighting of these priorities according to economic fortunes, for example, the understanding of economic growth as ‘more personal wealth’ was particularly prevalent in Middlesbrough, whereas, the physical development of housing and communities was dominant in Cambridge.

What has also become apparent is the increasingly difficult position of local government planners given the Coalition’s continued enthusiasm for austerity. Planning, particularly in areas which have experienced the wholescale removal of place based regeneration initiatives, has had to reconstruct its purpose to become a means of generating income for local authorities in order to support local services. This has included support for new homes on greenfield sites to both secure New Homes Bonus as well as the potential council tax revenue of future citizens. Planning has investigate how it can use the value of development to support local infrastructure and regeneration because in the current climate of public sector austerity, ‘the state can only do so much’(public sector planner).

Whether you’re a planner in Middlesbrough, Cornwall or Cambridge, the ‘plan for growth’ is the same. The effect of this seems to be encouraging planning to reconsider and ‘rethink’ the challenges that it needs to address (Allmendinger and Haughton, 2013). Max Lock, a planner, and Ruth Glass, a sociologist, working together in the 1940s were vocal about the role of planning as a means to support human development, particularly inequality and poverty. Max Lock argued that the purpose of planning was to plan for and prioritise the needs of the people who live in an area, what he called ‘the raw materials of a plan….the planners’ clients’ (Lock 1948).  But in 2014, the challenges being identified in local plans tend to be focused on growth-orientated development with the main aim of generating economic benefits. Not only does the evidence suggest that this may be exacerbating issues such as inequality but planning is increasingly valuing people according to their ability to generate economic growth, to be ‘self-sufficient’ as one interviewee put it.   In time, there is a vague hope that the benefits may ‘trickle down’ but the channels through which this may happen are poorly defined. So the impact of planning on the lives of people becomes increasingly oblique and dependent upon the actions of developers rather than the state.

Sarah Longlands, University of Glasgow (@sarahlonglands)


ALLMENDINGER, P. & HAUGHTON, G. 2013. The Evolution and Trajectories of English Spatial Governance: Neoliberal Episodes in Planning. Planning, Practice and Research, 28, 6-26.

BRINDLEY, I., RYDIN, Y. & STOKER, G. 1989. Remaking Planning. The Politics of Urban Change in the Thatcher Years, London, Unwin Stanley.

DCLG 2012. National Planning Policy Framework. In: GOVERNMENT, D. O. C. A. L. (ed.). London HMSO.

HM TREASURY & BIS 2011. The Plan for Growth. In: HM TREASURY & SKILLS, B. I. A. (eds.). London: HMSO.

LOCK, M. (1948) Preface, in Glass, R. The Social Background of a Plan. A study of Middlesbrough. Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited.

MOLOTCH, H. 1976. The City as a Growth Machine: Toward a Political Economy of Place. American Journal of Sociology, 82, 309-332.

SWYNGEDOUW, E. 2007. Impossible sustainability and the post political condition In: GIBBS, D. & KRUEGER, R. (eds.) The sustainable development paradox. New York: Guildford Press.