Stuttgart Region: Multifunctional Green Infrastructure for an Attractive Urban Region

Stuttgart Region

A network of attractive open spaces as a counterpoint to the region's grey infrastructure.

The vision is to create a network of attractive, accessible, welcoming and diverse open spaces that functions as a counterpoint to the region’s grey infrastructure.

The “Landschaftspark Region Stuttgart” understands multifunctional green infrastructure as a locational factor, a basis for biodiversity enhancement and a tool for climate change adaptation.

What are we dealing with?

Congestion of networks and the risk of reaching ecological limits

A strong regional economy attracts people and companies, increasing the pressure on scarce resources. The development exacerbates the congestion of transport networks and risks reaching different ecological limits.

The Stuttgart Region comprises 179 municipalities and is marked by a polycentric structure around the urban centres of Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg, Esslingen and Böblingen. The regional economy is very strong and provides numerous high-skilled jobs, especially in the production of the region’s emblematic cars and sophisticated machines. As a consequence, people from other areas of Baden-Württemberg, the rest of Germany, Europe and the entire world are attracted by the prospect of finding a well-paid job in the regional economy. But the economic success of the urban centres in the Stuttgart region creates high pressures on scarce resources. Both the expanding industry and the housing needs of a rising population require space. Available plots for development a rare, as vacant or underused assets like former military sites have already been developed. 

The region’s average density of around 720 inhabitants/km² is already high and bound to increase. While planners have prioritized the densification through the inner development of the urban centres, we also observe a continuing process of urbanisation at the fringes of the municipalities. The spatial and socio-economic system of the Stuttgart region is therefore approaching several limits. The transportation networks are already saturated and commuting is a challenge for many people, especially because high real estate prices drive them out of the urban centres towards peripheral locations. Rent prices in the city of Stuttgart are among the highest in Germany. If appropriate action is not taken, this risks jeopardizing the future economic development and the quality of life of the population. There are also important ecological risks related to further densification and urbanisation. For instance, the topography of the Stuttgart basin does not allow for much more densification through taller buildings as this would block the flow of cool air into the agglomeration. Moreover, there is a risk for biodiversity if biotopes are affected by housing development or increased traffic. 

The system analysis can be summarised by the balance between the grey and green infrastructure of the region. Both types of infrastructure are necessary for a prosperous and attractive region. Developing grey infrastructure like production facilities, housing or motorised transportation network to the expense of green infrastructure like parks, meadows, fields or other open spaces can eventually be unsustainable. There are no easy solutions to strike a balance between green and grey infrastructure. An example of a difficult trade-offs that not only the city of Stuttgart faces is the inherent conflict between densification and climate change adaptation. If the bigger cities become more compact in order to accommodate the high demand from the housing market and companies, this is likely to increase heat island effects that scientists predict to become more acute in the future. However, opting for a less compact city could attenuate heat island effects but increases commuting distances, traffic congestion and the urbanisation of land at the fringe of urban centres. In this context, one way to transition the social-ecological system of the Stuttgart region onto a more sustainable path is to employ multi-functionality as a guiding principle for future development. This would allow to use the rare open spaces in the most efficient way by using them for multiple purposes, including ecological and socio-economic functions.

How did we find out about system problems? "The high pressure on scarce resources, especially the soil, made us aware that we need new solutions that don’t put the different uses into competition. It helped to approach this systemic problem through the idea of multifunctionality." Thomas Kiwitt - Managing Director and Head of Planning, Verband Region Stuttgart

What is the vision for the region?

Over a time horizon of at least 20 years and at the scale of the entire region, the existing open spaces will become a connected “landscape park”. The landscape will be marked by a fine-grained pattern of diverse spaces, ranging from parks, fields, vineyards, orchards, meadows, ravines and river banks to forests and valleys. Panoramic viewpoints, leisure areas and sights invite to dwell and enjoy. 

The attractiveness of the park will not only lie in its spatial quality of its individual elements, but also in the fact that these elements are connected in a network that facilitates movement, short trips and exploration. Most importantly, the park will be easily accessible for the population through a network of entry points, paths and bicycle routes. 
Enhancing and interweaving the open spaces will increase the quality of life of the population. This is essential for the region to stay attractive for all groups of inhabitants. The concept of a “landscape park” integrates the green infrastructure into the overall development of the region and underlines its potential as locational factor that is worth preserving and improving. Through its high ecological and recreational value, the park forms a counterpoint to the region’s grey infrastructure.

How did the visioning process work?
"Creating a convincing vision required us to think over a longer time horizon – we understand the transition towards a fully developed landscape park as the task of a generation" -  Silvia Weidenbacher, Verband Region Stuttgart

"Innovative ideas like the green living room will find more acceptance by decision makers if they are multifunctional. A combination of recreational, aesthetic and environmental guarantees an effective use of open space in the cities as well as of financial resources." - Hans Müller, Helix Pflanzen GmbH

What is the strategy for the region?

Collaborate with motivated municipalities on masterplans and implementation

The transition strategy consists in working closely with motivated municipalities in the joint production of intercommunal masterplans. These plans create the conditions for connecting and improving landscape features through high-quality interventions.

Central to the transition strategy is to create collaborations with and among the municipal authorities that are most motivated in shaping the landscape park. The cooperation among groups of municipalities that share landscape features such as a valley is notably essential to connect and network biotopes and mobility infrastructures. As a matter of fact, continuity is a key success factor for both transport infrastructures and ecological corridors. 

The strategy for bringing about the necessary intercommunal collaborations relies on resources that groups of municipalities can use to create spatial masterplans at the subregional level. Contrary to other forms of top-down spatial planning tools, these masterplans are non-binding and informal. The burden to participate in their creation is therefore low, whereas the potential gains in terms of improving the quality of life and local attractiveness are high. A cooperative and participatory process allows for integrating the viewpoints and knowledge of municipal actors. This being said, the strategy also involves an element of competition in order to increase the quality of the planning and the implementation. 

In order to reach the overarching vision of a regional landscape park, each masterplan is conceived as a subregional development strategy. The latter notably define a “Leitbild”, i.e. a guiding image that reflects elements of the local context and the particular direction in which the municipal authorities and related actors want to steer the development of their area. 

The use of the “Landschaftspark” concept is in itself a strategic choice. Understanding the open spaces as asset for the long-term economic dynamism ensures political buy-in. The open spaces are not only conserved of environmental concerns, but they also provide recreational services, leisure and quality of life. This allows to build a large consensus and justify financial investments. 

Finally, the decision to incorporate multifunctionality as guiding principle of the spatial concept is also highly strategic. It overcomes the opposition between competing functions that could be served by given places, rendering the transition less conflictual and opening up possibilities and opportunities for creativity. One does not have to choose between a picnic area, an ecosystem that harbours biodiversity and a flooding zone – the same place can be provide all of these functions.

How did we get to a strategic plan?
"You can only expect that the actor will implement the change that you want to see, if they are closely involved in the elaboration of plans. Integrating them in the whole process of creating masterplans at subregional level turned out to be so much more effective than planning in the ivory tower." - Dr. Christine Baumgärtner - PhD, Urban planner and Landscape Park Manager, Verband Region Stuttgart

How do we implement the transition?

Six masterplans and 120 spatial interventions all over the region

Since 2006, the implementation of the transition plan involved co-developing six masterplans. Around 15 million euros were invested into more than 120 spatial interventions. This has connected and enhanced the green infrastructure all over the region.

he masterplans are co-produced by groups of 8-28 municipalities. The process is typically facilitated by a private planning bureau that can also provide knowledge in specific fields such as tourism, landscape planning or urban planning. The entire process is coordinated by a project officer of the Verband Region Stuttgart. 

The process begins with the identification of a potential area for a masterplan. A group of municipalities then present the idea to the Verband and applies for funding. When the Verband approves the proposal, it provides process support and financial resources to develop the masterplan. The first bottom-up plan was developed in 2006-2007 for the valley of the Rems. Five additional plans have been created since, and one plan is currently under elaboration. 

In general, the process of developing the masterplans does not involve individual citizens. However, it includes workshops in which a large variety of actors can join, including political decision makers and planning experts from municipalities, other agencies and authorities with planning competence, NGOs and civil society. 

Importantly, the transition process does not end with the production of subregional masterplans. Also the implementation of specific spatial interventions is financially supported by the Verband Region Stuttgart. In fact, an important feature of the masterplans is to work towards specific investments on the ground and serves to prepare and coordinate actual interventions. Since the beginning of the Landschaftspark programme, around 15 million euros have been invested into more than 120 implementation projects, and the goal is to have a total amount of 50 million euros invested in the entire programme. The main part of this amount stems from the contributions of the 179 municipalities into the Verband, but some of it stems from co-funding through different EU programmes (Interreg, LIFE+).

What are the key factors for a successful implementation of green infrastructure?
"By means of Urban Green Infrastructure you will find divers and sustainable ways of designing your City more attractive, more livable and more resilient to climate change. Based on concepts for the development of green space and adaption to climate change as part of an integrated urban development strategy existing and new urban green spaces should be strengthened and enhanced in a continuous dialogue between policy, administration, external experts and citizens." - City of Ludwigsburg - Department for Sustainable Urban Development, External collaborator

What was one of the key lessons?
"Implementation of green projects requires close collaboration between the different actors like SMEs, planners, local authorities and city councils. It also takes time to convince decision makers to agree to new and innovative solutions like for example the green living room." - Hans Müller, Helix Pflanzen GmbH

Key lesson learned - Stuttgart Region Landscape Park:
Co-finding competition to support municipalities in the design, implementation, and funding of green infrastructure projects. 

Key lesson learned - Green Living Room - Ludwigsburg:
Innovative multifunctional green urban space on heavily sealed surfaces of an inner city location.