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Project information

Project team

Thilo Lang, Franziska Görmar, Martin Graffenberger

Duration of project

11/2018 – 03/2020

Funded by

vhw – Bundesverband für Wohnen und Stadtentwicklung e.V.

Further information

Franziska Görmar

Local democracy in small and medium-sized cities under the conditions of peripheralization

The disparities between cities and regions in Germany are growing continuously despite a considerable number of funding programmes: few centres are prospering whereas the number of so called peripheralised spaces is increasing. The latter often face difficult economic challenges and are confronted with selective outmigration and ageing as well as reductions of infrastructures and public services. During the last years, this sociodemographic and economic drifting apart of regions and cities has increasingly attracted mediumistic and scientific attention. Against this background, the project investigated processes of local democracy in small and medium-sized towns. It analysed governance and participation arrangements which enable or hinder such processes. In doing this, the project had to take into consideration that, on one hand, peripheralisation processes can open up new „possibility spaces“, but that, on the other hand, civic participation has also certain limits.

The four case studies in Hessen and Thuringia (Rudolstadt, Sondershausen, Rotenburg a. d. Fulda, Bad Wildungen) focussed on the following questions:

  • Which actors are regularly involved in decision-making processes concerning the development of peripheralised towns and which interests do they represent?
  • Where and how take negotiation and participation processes take place?
  • Which understandings of participation processes do actors have?  
  • Which consequences do peripheralisation processes have on local democracy, participation potentials and structures?
  • Which development potentials of municipalities can be fostered against this background?

Taking into account different perspectives on local democracy the project team interviewed political and administrative representatives of different municipalities as well as further actors of local development (associations, initiatives, media, etc.).

The study was commissioned by the vhw – Bundesverband für Wohnen und Stadtentwicklung e.V. The project connected to previous and on-going IfL research on perspectives on endogenous potentials of regional development in peripheral regions and small towns.


The study found that urban development and local governance are dependent on both the structural conditions as well as the local actors. Relevant topics are traffic, the quality of public space, structural vacancy especially of commercial real estates like shops, the ways how the municipalities deal with public real estates, demographic change and locally specific fields of action. Despite the particular structural conditions with which the case study towns are confronted, local actors (from administration, local politics, civil society or economy) dispose about diverse possibilities to realise local democracy in close cooperation. They act in different fields of tension containing both specific challenges but also spaces of possibility. How actors deal with these conflicting priorities influences considerably how the claim of local democracy gains substance. Based on our case studies we could identify five fields of tension:

  • the relationship between local politics, municipal administration and civic society,
  • the need for more voluntary engagement vs. its parallel decrease,
  • the requirements for participation and local democracy vs. the available capacities,
  • the current competitive funding policies vs. the need for continuous financing, and
  • the need to cooperate vs. spatially distributed competencies on multiple scales.


Höcke, Christian / Görmar, Franziska (2021): Gleichwertige Lebensverhältnisse gemeinsam gestalten : Herausforderungen von Peripherisierung für die lokale Demokratie. In: RaumPlanung 212, S. 54–60

Görmar, Franziska / Höcke, Christian (2021): Lokale Demokratie in Klein- und Mittelstädten unter den Bedingungen von Peripherisierung – Ergebnisse einer explorativen Studie. In: eNewsletter Wegweiser Bürgergesellschaft 2/2021 vom 18.02.2021.

Görmar, Franziska / Graffenberger, Martin / Haunstein, Stephan / Lang, Thilo (2020): Lokale Demokratie in Klein- und Mittelstädten unter den Bedingungen von Peripherisierung. Abschlussbericht im Auftrag des vhw – Bundesverband für Wohnen und Stadtentwicklung e. V. Berlin: vhw-Schriftenreihe.

Franziska Görmar / Christian Höcke / Martin Graffenberger / Stefan Haunstein (2020): Zwischen Wunsch und Wirklichkeit lokaler Demokratie – Kooperation und Partizipation in Klein- und Mittelstädten im Kontext von Peripherisierung. In: Forum Wohnen und Stadtentwicklung 05/2020. S. 259–263.