Spatial Planning

We analyze spatial planning as a political process that regulates how land is used by different actors. This analysis is based on the understanding of land as a resource that provides goods and services to groups of users and that therefore is subjected to use conflicts. We see spatial development as the result of the interaction and negotiation between the public sector and private actors (such as investors and landowners). Planning policies (public law) play an important role safeguarding the public interest. However, crucial are also the property rights (private law) which protect the rights of landowners. Actors navigate within these frameworks of the law to negotiate their access to the resource land. The distribution of power among actors explains fundamental differences between planning policy goals on the one hand, and actual spatial development on the other.

Debrunner, G., Hengstermann, A., & Gerber, J.-D. (2020). The business of densification: Distribution of power, wealth and inequality in swiss policy making. Town Planning Review, 91(3), 259–281.

Gerber, J.-D. (2020). Active land policy for the provision of affordable housing. In K. Hofstetter, M. Miessgang, K. Pluch, R. Scheuvens, & C. Wolfgring (Eds.), Neues soziales Wohnen - Positionen zur IBA_Wien 2022 (pp. 58–62). Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Debrunner, G., Hengstermann, A., & Gerber, J. (2020). Die Wohnungsfrage ist eine Bodenfrage - Bodenpolitische Instrumente zur Sicherstellung des preisgünstigen Wohnraums im Bestand in Schweizer Städten. In B. Schönig & L. Vollmer (Eds.), Wohnungsfragen ohne Ende?! Ressourcen für eine soziale Wohnraumversorgung. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.


Governing densification – The impact of performance-based planning on qualitative urban densification (GoverDENSE)

Duration January 2020 - December 2024
Funding SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation)
Description The densification of the built environment – known in Switzerland as “inward settlement development” – is an important step towards more sustainable land uses. However, like all land use processes, densification produces winners but also losers. Within the context of already-existing settlements, the planning of densification takes place in a tight network of existing rights and duties, including property rights. The project analyses the complex institutional background against which densification is implemented, asking how the planning of densification can retain urban quality for all, including more vulnerable groups. The research is based on a comparative design between the functional region of Bern in Switzerland, and Utrecht in the Netherlands. It includes both qualitative research focusing on reconstructing eight 'stories of densification' and a quantitative part performing a GIS-based analysis of densification processes and patterns.
Involved Persons Jean-David Gerber, Deniz Ay, Josje Bouwmeester, Vera Götze, Jessica Verheij
Outputs project book, eight stories of densification, GIS analysis of densification patterns (work in progress)


Public Value Capture of Increasing Property Values

Duration 2018 - 2023 
Funding European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020
Description The aim of this COST Action is the development of a common Europe-wide framework and the provision of innovative tools for value capturing, based on comparative analysis to optimize the allocation of development costs and benefits. While a considerable database exists, it nonetheless shows big data gaps and conflicting data. Given the complexity of value capture as planning instrument and different classifications among European countries, this study is based on a network of country representatives in order to find a common terminology and classification. The project will result in a Europe-wide network of experts for knowledge exchange and dissemination of public value capture as policy tool to policy-makers and the general public.
Involved Persons Andreas Hengstermann



Instruments of Land Policy - Dealing with Scarcity of Land (publication project). The role of land policy strategies in the implementation of spatial planning


February 2016 to February 2018

Funding Financed by research unit
Description Description: The edited book "Instruments of Land Policy - Dealing with Scarcity of Land" discusses different land policy instruments that are used in different countries. The main contribution of the book is that in each chapter an instrument is discussed and additionally commented on from the perspective of two other countries. This way, the book makes an effort to contribute to internationally comparative planning studies.
Involved Persons

Jean-David Gerber, University of Bern, Thomas Hartmann, University of Dortmund, Andreas Hengstermann, University of Bern


Gerber, J.-D., Hengstermann, A., & Hartmann, T. (2018). Instruments of land policy. In Routledge.


The role of land policy strategies in the implementation of spatial planning


December 2012 - April 2018

Description This research project addresses the influence of land policy strategies on the implementation practices of spatial planning. This is examined on the basis of planning law instruments (e.g. SNP, building obligation) which have a far-reaching influence on private property rights and are therefore of particular importance for land policy. In order to gain insights into the strategies of public actors in a variety of contexts and, if necessary, to draw up recommendations for action, the research project has been designed comparatively and examines standardised planning projects in various cantons and municipalities.
Funding Financed by research unit
Involved Persons

Andreas Hengstermann (PhD Thesis)


Hengstermann, Andreas. (2019). Von der passiven Bodennutzungsplanung zur aktiven Bodenpolitik - Die Wirksamkeit von bodenpolitischen Instrumenten anhand von Lebensmittel-Discountern. 10.1007/978-3-658-27614-0.


The land use strategies of local authorities in the aftermath of new public management. Impacts on spatial development and sustainability

Duration 2011 - 2013
Funding SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation)
Description This project focused on strategies followed by local authorities to shape their spatial development in a context where the public sector is under pressure to increase its cost-efficiency. It addressed a research gap in the study of spatial development in Switzerland by analyzing how local authorities use different instruments stemming from both private and public law to complement planning instruments (binding general plans, non-binding master plans, zoning, private plans). The research positioned itself within critical literature on New Public Management and drew upon emerging trends in political ecology to revive debates on the importance of property rights.
Involved Persons

Jean-David Gerber, University of Bern, Hanna Jäggi, University of Bern


Second home policy - A DACH comparison (workshop)

Duration January - September 2019

Projektpool of the intermediate staff association of the University of Bern (MVUB)


Second homes can be problematic in many ways. From the perspective of planning and geography, it is important that scarce building land is not misspent for buildings that are only used very sparsely. In order to meet the demand for building land (e.g. residential area for locals), however, the building zone would be expanded unnecessarily, which is associated with financial (infrastructure) and ecological (loss of cultivated land, landscape disfigurement) consequences. According to federal spatial planning act, this is also unlawful in many cases (oversized building zones, urban sprawl), so that second homes can also lead to massive increases in building land and property prices. Therefore in Switzerland it is consensus that second homes must be regulated by public policy. At the local level, therefore, there have been a variety of approaches to solving this issue. Since 2012, there has also been a cap on the proportion of second homes to a maximum of 20% on a constitutional level.

From an academic perspective, however, there is a lack of a) an overview of these diverse approaches on local level and b) an assessment of their actual effectiveness. The second home problem also occurs in other geographical areas, such as the Austrian Alps or the German North Sea coasts - and political and legal solutions are also being pursued there. Therefore, c) an international comparison is also obvious (within DACH-countries, Germany, Austria and Switzerland).

Involved Persons
  • Andreas Hengstermann, University of Bern, Switzerland (project management)
  • Astrid Maurer, TU Dortmund, Germany
  • Arthur Schindelegger, TU Wien, Austria

International academic workshop in Bern in September


Land policy impulses for effective land management

Duration January - August 2019

Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ARL)


Exploratory workshop for an International ARL Working Group on "Land Policy Impulses for Effective Land Management"

Involved Persons
  • Thomas Hartmann, Wageningen University, Netherlands
  • Andreas Hengstermann, University of Bern, Switzerland

International workshop in August in Mannheim


Planing systems in OECD countries – fact sheet Switzerland

Duration January 2016 - August 2016

Organisation for EconomicCo-operation and Development (OECD)


Jean-David Gerber worked together with the OECD for their report on Land-use Planning Systems in the OECD, his contribution led to a Country Fact Sheet about the planning system in Switzerland. The report as a whole aims to give a systematic overview of spatial and land-use planning systems across the OECD. Each of the 32 fact sheets presents an overview of the responsibilities of different levels of government with respect to land-use policies and describes the different types of spatial and land-use plans in the country, including key characteristics of the planning system. Additionally the OECD published the report The Governance of Land Use in OECD Countries: Policy Analysis and Recommendations, which provides policy analysis and a synthesis of the main recommendations from OECD work on land use.

Involved Persons
  • Jean-David Gerber (responsible), University of Bern
  • Andreas Hengstermann (consultant), University of Bern

Contribution to the OECD series Governance of Land Use 


10th Annual Conference of the International Academic Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights (PLPR) in Bern


Organization: December 2014 to May 2016

Conference schedule: 15 - 19 February 2016


Center for Regional Economic Development (CRED) 

Swiss Academy for Science (SCNAT) 

SNF Scopes

Supported by funds of the research unit


The International Academic Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights (PLPR) has held its 10th Annual Conference in 2016 in Bern.