Governing complex regions: the formation of intermunicipal structures in various city-regional types in Germany



governance structure, city-regions, instruments, actor constellation , comparative methods




In recent decades, the diverse functional interdependencies between cities and their surrounding areas have led to the development of urban regions. Beyond the administrative boundaries of cities, there is therefore a need to manage political and planning coordination processes in the urban-rural continuum. In doing so, the interests of the large core cities must be harmonised with the interests of smaller cities in the surrounding areas and rural areas in the surrounding countryside (Zimmermann, Feiertag 2022). Inter-municipal contentious issues between the city-regional sub-areas require a constant struggle for balance. The development of city-regional governance structures offers an opportunity to bring the city region together and move it forward (Growe, Yan 2022).

Since the 1990s, the networking and institutionalisation of German city regions has been promoted. A variety of informal instruments such as discursive tools and market instruments are used to bring city regions together (Wiechmann 2004). Today, twelve European metropolitan regions and four metropolitan border regions, which are recognised in nationwide spatial development models, bear witness to the success of this work. In the last decade, regiopolitan regions have experienced an upswing. They point to a lively interest in urban-regional co-operation, even outside the metropolitan regions (BBSR 2023). However, the development and innovation of city-regional governance structures is a conflict-laden field of experimentation. As a result, highly context-dependent, unique forms of public-private interaction and co-operation emerge (Zimmermann, Gallard, Harrison 2020).

The aim of this presentation is to analyse the role of different instruments and groups of actors in the formation of governance structures in different types of urban regions (metropolitan regions, metropolitan border regions and regiopolitan regions). The focus is on the question of which forms of public-private co-operation emerge and to what extent institutional innovation and policy changes occur in different types of city-regions. On this basis, we discuss which factors promote the re-invention of inter-municipal governance structures.

Based on a Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), the influence of different instruments and groups of actors is systematically compared in a total of 12 case studies. The QCA includes information from partially standardised expert interviews as well as from a document analysis.

This data will be used to

  1. show results on the development process of inter-municipal cooperation in different types of urban regions and
  2. explain conclusions for the methodological-systematic analysis of complex regions in a comparative city-regionalism.


BBSR (2023): Regiopolen und Regiopolregionen in Deutschland. Empirische Befunde und raumordnungspolitische Empfehlungen. Bonn. Available online at, checked on 11/2/2023.

Wiechmann, Thorsten (2004): Ansätze nachhaltiger Regionalentwicklung. In Hans-Dieter Haas, Alois Mayr (Eds.): Nationalatlas Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Unternehmen und Märkte. 1. Aufl. Heidelberg: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag GmbH (Nationalatlas Bundesrepublik Deutschland / Institut für Länderkunde, Leipzig (Hrsg.). /Projektleitung, Band 8), pp. 158–159.

Yan, Simin; Growe, Anna (2022): Regional Planning, Land-Use Management, and Governance in German Metropolitan Regions—The Case of Rhine–Neckar Metropolitan Region. In Land 11 (11), p. 2088. DOI: 10.3390/land11112088.

Zimmermann, Karsten; Feiertag, Patricia (2022): Governance and city regions. Policy and planning in Europe. London: Routledge (Regions and cities). Available online at

Zimmermann, Karsten; Galland, Daniel; Harrison, John (Eds.) (2020): Metropolitan regions, planning and governance. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.