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The Great Transformation - Challenge and Opportunity for Spatial Planning



The Dortmund Conference on Spatial Planning and Planning Research 2018 is a two-day event on current topics in spatial planning and spatial research. Since 2012, the conference takes place every two years in Dortmund and addresses an international and interdisciplinary audience. The bilingual conference (German / English) is jointly organized by the School of Spatial Planning of TU Dortmund University and the Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (ARL), Leibniz Forum for Spatial Science, in Hanover.

The School of Spatial Planning and the Academy for Spatial Research and Planning cordially invite you to contribute to the next Dortmund Conference on the 5th and 6th of February 2018. The overall theme of the conference is:

"The Great Transformation - Challenge and Opportunity for Spatial Planning"

The concept of sustainable development, propagated by the United Nations in 1987, has had a considerable influence on national and international policies since the 1990s. In 1994 it was integrated into the German constitution and in 1999 it became an overarching objective for all EU policies. Sustainable development has been a normative requirement for urban planning and regional planning policy in Germany since 1998. Nevertheless, the concept continues to be critically debated: In particular the lack of a commonly agreed definition and operationalization as well as the complex underlying causal relations are threatening to turn the concept of sustainable development into an empty formula.

Today the political goal of sustainable development is so widely accepted, that it is hardly perceived anymore as an engine of societal change. Furthermore, the international community seems unable to turn the concept into forceful collective action. Against this background the German Advisory Council on Global Change(WBGU) has revived the debate on sustainable development in 2011 and called for a social contract for a Great Transformation. Great Transformation is understood as a profound process of change, which includes changing the cultural identity of a society, i.e. transforming established values and behavioral patterns in politics, business and private consumption.

According to WBGU the future of mankind requires a profound transformation of all social spheres towards a new relationship between human and nature, as well as a renegotiation of the concepts of development and progress. In this context, urban and regional development are crucial but so far neglected fields of action. In 2016, WBGU underlined this postulation in their report "Humanity on the move: Unlocking the transformative power of cities". Accordingly, urban and spatial research is to play a central role, because urban transformation is understood as a social process of (re)search and learning. Research for sustainable societal development should generate new knowledge through basic research, review and assess existing theories and concepts, but also aim to support the transition to sustainable, viable cities and regions through applied research and implementation strategies ("transformative science").

In the context of this debate, the Dortmund Conference 2018 discusses the contribution that interdisciplinary spatial planning research and planning practice can make to the Great Transformation. The conference focuses not only on cities and urban areas, but also on regional and large-scale research and implementation options. The focus of the conference is therefore on the following questions:

  • How can urban neighbourhoods, cities and regions become engines of a socio-ecological transformation?
  • Which structures, actors and processes does the Great Transformation require? And which are hindering this transformation?
  • What is the role of spatial and planning research on the one hand and planning practice on the other?
  • How can spatial research and planning studies accelerate and accompany the required profound process of change? How can it be ensured that social transformation goes hand in hand with long-term sustainability and social justice?
  • How can spatial transformation be planned for? Which general principles, instruments and procedures does it require?
  • Why have planning approaches so far failed to bring about sustainable spatial development?
  • What could be entry points for initiating processes towards a more sustainable development?


The Dortmund Conference 2018 is structured into eight thematic tracks:

1.      Urban development

2.      Urban regions

3.      Spatial development and monitoring

4.      International and European perspectives of spatial planning

5.      Planning theory

6.      Mobility and transport

7.      Green and blue infrastructures

8.      Health and spatial planning




Concept and organization: Prof. Dr. Rainer Danielzyk, Prof. Dr. Susanne Frank, Christina Gollmann, Prof. Dr. Stefan Greiving, Hanna Schmitt, Dr. Barbara Warner, Prof. Dr. Thorsten Wiechmann