Transition towards urban sustainability through socially integrative cities in the EU and in China


1. Purpose(s)

Integrated urban development planning (IUPD) is a planning process (Box 1) with the purpose to ensure equal opportunities towards economic, social and environmental development in a city, a district, or a more localized area. It is often applied to initiate urban regeneration projects and define well-balanced planned urban extension measures oriented towards urban sustainability and social integration (Countinue reading on Adaptive Reuse). IUDP replaces “technocratic” planning approaches, focusing on joint “learning systems” and experiences (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ), 2020).

IUPD constitutes a shift from traditional sectoral urban planning towards integrated urban development. It aims to embed sectoral objectives in a comprehensive development strategy, and it defines priority action areas and projects to be implemented there. It provides flexibility regarding the dynamics of change and encourages the participation of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, such as government, civil society and the private sector, exploring their potentials and leading to concrete measures and results (Deutscher Städtetag, 2011).

A crucial component of IUDP is its vertical and horizontal integration (Countinue reading on People-centered urban regeneration in historic district). Vertical integration is expressed by the interlinkage of programmes and  actions, as well as the cooperation between governmental and non-governmental stakeholders across all levels, from national to local (Ball et al., 2011, Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ), 2020). Horizontal integration aims at coordinating sectoral policies and actions of all public and private sectors on the same level for the improvement of a city, district or designated areas (Ball et al., 2011).

IUDP is not limited to “making plans” but also oriented towards implementation. This requires strategic and cooperative urban development management. IUDP develops future visions for development in a collaborative and comprehensive way, and it systematically links respective strategies and guidelines through thematic action programmes reflected in an integrated urban development concepts (IUDC), which allow implementation even under conditions of scarce resources, such as limited time, money, personnel, and land. It provides orientation for medium-term investment and budget planning, as well as specific assistance programmes, i.e. related to social integration in areas with specific needs. Agreements between relevant stakeholders guarantee implementation. Establishing a cross-cutting medium and long-term management system for land, infrastructure and planning ensures timely creation of the required planning regulations and infrastructural pre-conditions for the implementation of projects (Deutscher Städtetag, 2011).

Key Words: integrated urban development concept; urban development management; urban expansion; urban renewal; strategic planning; cooperation; feed-back loops; flexibility; vertical integration; horizontal integration; budget planning

2. Relevance and Impact

IUPD is a planning process looking to ensure equal opportunities towards economic, social and environmental development in a city, a district, or a more localized area. It is often applied to initiate urban regeneration projects and define well-balanced planned urban extension measures oriented towards urban sustainability and social integration. Thus, it can be vital for the promotion of socially integrative cities.

This tool was selected through the analysis of good practices in Europe. It was discussed in international working groups where it was concluded that until now it is used mainly in European countries. To date, there is no similar tool in China. According to the stakeholders involved in the project discussion, its use and application would be highly beneficial in terms of fostering vertical and horizontal cooperation in urban planning in China.

IUDP has a long tradition in Europe. Some Chinese cities have introduced recently a similar instrument advocated by the national government to coordinate different plans. The regional (urban) spatial plan is a proactive commitment in this regard.

In Europe, the  importance of IUDP in has been emphasized by the "Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities"(Council of Ministers Responsible for Spatial Planning and Urban Development, 2007). The document supports that IUDP is a prerequisite for sustainable development in European cities, and it highlights the special role of social integration in urban development (Box 2). Developing IUDP responds to the following needs (Integr-ABLE Project, 2013):

  • Economic development together with social balance, cultural diversity maintenance and high quality of build and natural environment,
  • Spatial concentration of resources on a territorial approach,
  • Long term development vision enhanced by the community and correlated with land an public investments and resources,
  • Involvement of the private sector as to coordinate its investments and entrepreneurial capacity.

The underlying idea of IUDP is to reduce friction and conflicts between the different stakeholders, and to coordinate sectoral policies, objectives and actions towards a common goal and to make use of synergy effects (Ball et al., 2011). There are many cases all over Europe where IUDP has been the basis for successful social integration in areas of special needs and for creating socially vibrant neighbourhoods.

3. Strenghts

IUDP addresses manifold and complex challenges of urban development like climate adaptation, neighbourhood decline, social inclusiveness and economic development. As it does not follow any legal regulation, the process allows reacting to specific urban needs. Finally, by means of consensual solutions or accepted compromises, IUDP can ensure a fair balance of conflicting interests in the face of growing social and spatial inequalities, and thereby help to preserve social harmony (Box 3).

4. Weaknesses

Whether IUDP is effective or not depends essentially on the stakeholders involved (Figure 1). For instance, sectoral departments or authorities may be reluctant to cooperate in cases where their own interests are threatened. Thus, IUDP requires a collaborative culture within the local administration which needs time to grow and flourish. Moreover, successful IUDP requires the voluntary cooperation of relevant actors from the private sector and the civil society, which is not easy to get, especially when certain actors, i.e. the housing industry or disadvantaged groups of the society, perceive themselves as potential losers in negotiations and compromises. Thus, IUDP requires professional moderation and mediation skills, as well as well-functioning monitoring capacities. The effectiveness of IUDP can be assessed only in the medium term when progress and actions are subjected to evaluation (Sander, 2006). IUDC’s as main planning documents representing the process of IUDP regularly are only informal documents without a legal basis. Thus, they might not be considered in planning decisions. Therefore, a minimum standard of “formally binding” should be envisaged, for example by council resolution.

5. Good practice examples

Rieselfeld, Freiburg, Germany

The city of Freiburg in Germany (map) is internationally recognized for having implemented an integrated planning approach over the last 30 years (Schuetze, 2019).  This approach has been implemented by two model sustainable urban districts: Rieselfeld, oriented towards the creation of a new urban expansion area at the urban fringe, and Vauban, the redevelopment of a former military site. Both districts implemented IUDP throughout the whole planning and implementation process. Integrated urban development has helped to create a vibrant and liveable city, with a balanced social mix, good connectivity, high quality design and a green infrastructure network (Daseking, 2015), all of them features of a socially integrative city (Müller et al., 2019). For example, multi-modal transportation linkages were implemented together with ecological storm water management, low-energy passive solar houses, combined heating and power system. Mixed land use provides advantageous living and working conditions in a city of short distances. Housing schemes ensure that a wide variety of income and age groups, including low-income groups and elderly persons, has access to living in the areas. The provision of local schools and green areas attracts young families. A variety of shops allows to meet every day needs of the population. Social and cultural infrastructure encourages social interaction (City of Freiburg, 2012, Hoppe et al., 2008, Fastenrath and Preller, 2018, Broaddus, 2010).

Regarding Rieselfeld, the Freiburg City Council agreed in 1991 to develop part of the Rieselfeld area on the west side of Freiburg as a reaction to the increasing housing demand. One year later, the City Council created a public private partnership (PPP) between  city administration for planning and the developers for project implementation. It was established in the form of a development agency (the Rieselfeld Project Group), which helped to integrate economic knowledge and financial resources of the private developers with those of the city. Development was split into four distinct property segments with each development starting two years after the previous section. This allowed flexible planning that could learn from mistakes and adapt to the needs of households’ interests (Hagen et al., 2017). The specific combination of sectoral objectives includes low-energy construction, district heating networks fed by a shared heat and power plant, integration of solar energy, a concept for rain water use, and the primacy of the streetcar line. Planning and early implementation of inclusive social infrastructure was crucial in the success of the project (Figure 2). The Rieselfeld district was finalized in 2010. It is the largest district project in the south-western German state of Baden-Württemberg, covering an area of 70 hectares, and providing 3,700 homes for around 11,000 people.

Dresden-Löbtau, Germany

The historical neighbourhood (mainly developed 1870-1930) Dresden-Löbtau (map) has been undergoing a regeneration process starting in 1993, which is still ongoing (Figure 2). The district of a size of around 127 ha was characterized by manifold challenges regarding the economic, social, physical and environmental conditions (LUDA, 2006, LHD, 2016). The regeneration process of the district was embedded in a process of integrated urban development planning, mainly represented by the “Integrated Urban Development Concept” (IUDC) of the city of Dresden, published in 2002. The concept aims at addressing the crucial challenges of urban development by defining priorities regarding the focus areas and the sectoral tasks. Additionally, based on the identified demands, the concept forms the background for the application for several funding programmes from Europe, the national government and the federal state (LHD, 2002).

The IUDC addresses three levels: (1) Sectoral concepts each addressing the whole city are defining overall objectives and embedding focus areas (topics: living/residential issues, business and commerce; transport; urban scape; environmental and ecological issues; central retail and service areas; public services/technical infrastructure; culture, education, sports and social amenities). (2) The overall objectives are integrated in plans for certain parts/districts/neighbourhoods of the city, including the definition of key projects. (3) To realise the key projects, concrete measures for implementation are defined. To ensure the integrated approach and to coordinate the sectoral concepts with the concepts for the focus areas, a continuous communication process was implemented within the city administration (e. g. steering group within the city administration) (LHD, 2002).

A crucial part of the concept is addressing focus areas, including the neighbourhoods of urban regeneration. For the district Löbtau the following challenges are described: high ratio of building stock needs to be refurbished, decreasing population, social disparities, high vacancy rate in residential buildings, lack of green spaces, underused commercial plots. The following objectives are defined: strengthening of attractive residential areas, increasing the intensity of functions and fostering a built identity. In order to implement these objectives, the following measures have been defined: Continuation of renewal activities in terms of funding and public activities, strengthening of the district centres (retail), restructuring of formerly industrial and commercial areas for innovative businesses and technology (Figure 3), re-structuring of the street network, implementation of a green belt along a river (LHD, 2002). Thus, the IUDC is integrated both in terms of incorporating different sectoral perspectives of urban development and in terms of integrating different spatial levels/scales.

Addressing the continuous task of IUDP, and based on regularly created reports about the state of urban development, the city of Dresden launched the new IUDC in 2016. This IUDC addresses (1) future topics, general and cross-cutting issues, and priorities; and (2) focus areas with key projects. It was based on a broad process of participating the inhabitants of Dresden (LHD, 2016).

6. Further helpful study material

7. References

BALL, E., HABERSTOCK, H., LYNAR, U. & SKRZIPCZYK, A. 2011. Integrated Urban Development Approach Targeting at Energy Efficient Residential Areas. In: MICHAEL FÄRBER, C. H. (ed.) WP 3 Transnational Manual. Germany: Baltic Sea Region. Programme 2007-2013.

BUNDESMINISTERIUM FÜR WIRTSCHAFTLICHE ZUSAMMENARBEIT UND ENTWICKLUNG (BMZ). 2020. Integrated Urban Development [Online]. Available: [Accessed 17.03.2020 2020].


DEUTSCHER STÄDTETAG 2011. Integrated Urban Development Planning and Urban Development Management – Strategies and instruments for sustainable urban development Board of the German Association of Cities Hannover: The German Association of Cities.

INTEGR-ABLE PROJECT 2013. A Guide for integrated urban development planning. Capacity for Integrated Urban Development: Integr-ABLE. Romania: urban foundationm for Sustainable Development, Armenia; Local Development Group, Romania; Kutaisi Information Centre, Georgia; Association of Majors and Local Communities, Moldova.

LHD 2002. Teil II. Integriertes Stadtentwicklungskonzept (INSEK) – Kurzfassung.: Landeshauptstadt Dresden.

LHD 2016. Zukunft Dresden 2025+, Integriertes Stadtentwicklungskonzept Dresden (INSEK). Landeshauptstadt Dresden.

LUDA 2006. Report Case Study Area Dresden – Weißeritz. Deliverable 13 of LUDA Project – Improving the quality of life in large urban distressed areas. . LUDA is a research project of Key Action 4 "City of Tomorrow & Cultural Heritage" from the programme "Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development" within the Fifth Framework Programme of the European Union.

SANDER, R. 2006. Urban Development and Planning in the Built City: Cities under Pressure for Change - An Introduction [Online]. Available: [Accessed 17.04.2020].

URBACT ACTION PLANNING NETWORKS 2019. Study on integrated action plans (IAP Study). URBACT.

8. Author(s) of the article

Paulina Schippacasse, Stefanie Rößler, Bernhard Müller