• Duration: 01.01.2021 – 31.12.2023
  • : Land use
  • Research status:  Closed

The social aspects of vacant lots

The project examined the social aspects that stand in the way of inner-city development in rural areas. The combating vacancies and the redensification of towns and cities focus in particular the focus on existing building gaps, i.e. the plots of land plots of land where development has not taken place in contrast to the surrounding areas. has not taken place.

Why have some plots not developed?

Especially against the backdrop of the need to reduce the need to reduce land take, the question arose as to whether the owners of of attractive building plots are still acting in the public interest. With regard to the social There is a research gap in the social aspects of vacant lots that could provide important the land-saving offensive and general village development. The research project investigated these social and cultural factors and and asked the question of the reasons why the owners of building plots have not have not developed or do not want to develop their plots.

Meadow areas, left and in the background single-family housing estate
Classic gaps between buildings in the local area © Marina Beck
Meadow area in front of a hedge, single-family house estate behind it
Building gap in Wolframs-Eschenbach © Marina Beck

Results and recommendations for action

The key findings of the study and the resulting recommendations for practical action are summarised in the study report "The social aspects of vacant lots". Further publications will follow in 2024.

Executive Summary


As the European Union and the German Federal Government strive towards a circular landuse management (zero land consumption) by, at the latest, 2050, state and municipal governments in Germany are working to reduce land consumption in multiple ways. Infill development (in German Innenentwicklung) is the most sustainable way to add housing or commercial units; this involves building on brownfield, vacant or underutilized properties within existing urban areas. Infill development brings attention to vacant/ buildable lots (Baulücken) and their owners. Why won’t they build or sell? What are they planning?

Aim and methodology of the study

This 3-year study at the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences explored the perspectives of local officials and property owners in three small rural towns in Franconia, Bavaria. Rural areas are where land consumption and sprawling new housing development are especially widespread. As such, it is critical to understand more about the motivations and perspectives of local property owners regarding the potential for infill development. In late 2021 and early 2022, a written survey was mailed to 1,417 property owners in the towns of Wolframs-Eschenbach (pop. 3,135), Neusitz (pop. 2,106) and Uehlfeld (pop. 3,137) with a series of open and closed questions exploring their anonymous perspectives on private property and the local town’s development. Additionally, 45 town council members and mayors received an online survey. In follow-up, 35 interviews were conducted with regional planning officials as well as willing property owners.

Two women and a man standing on a gravelly surface, man in the centre pointing with his arm to the left
Site inspection in Wolframs-Eschenbach, from left: Prof Dr Jennifer Gerend, HSWT, Mayor Michael Dörr and Carolin Jank from the building administration) © Marina Beck
Green meadow next to the road in the middle of a housing estate, 3 people and parked cars in front of it
Site inspection with a tour of the vacant lots in Wolframs-Eschenbach, from left: Marina Beck, HSWT, Mayor Michael Dörr and Carolin Jank, building administration © Jennifer Gerend

Differentiation of the results by settlement type

The results were spatially attributed to four coded neighborhood types: historic town centers, post World War II neighborhoods, 1980-90s neighborhoods, and newer developments from 2000 to present. There were substantial differences on many of the responses according to these codes: property owners in the newer neighborhoods generally tended to answer more individualistically than their town center counterparts. Property owners were asked about different types of developments and whether they had a positive impact on their town. The strongest agreement in all codes was for the historic preservation and renovation of older buildings. Town council members and mayors generally favored a mix of designated new development areas and infill development. The owners of buildable lots answered questions about their plans: many lots were being held for the grandchildren, many served greenspace functions, and very few owners were currently interested in selling, although one fifth of the responses indicated indecision about the lot’s future use.

Based on the results, the authors recommend tailoring individual assistance and incentives to buildable lot owners based on the social aspects of their situation (including long-term lease options, land swaps or swaps for units in a new building on the land). As many property owners perceived buildable lots in their neighborhood as desirable and welcomed greenspace, more focus should be given to the planning of greenspace within small rural towns and evaluating existing lots for public greenspace.

Three people walk between houses and fences towards the church tower
Mayor Werner Stöcker shows the HSWT research team around the municipality of Uehlfeld © Jennifer Gerend
Woman (left) and man (right) with their backs to the camera looking at the historic door of a city entrance
View of the entrance to the town center of the municipality of Uehlfeld - Prof. Dr. Jennifer Gerend and urban planner Frieder Müller-Maatsch © Marina Beck

Further results of the study

Moreover, centrally located multi-family housing units for the general population (and especially for seniors) could help provide smaller housing units for those who either do not need, cannot afford, or desire something other than a single-family house. Local mayors and town councils were open to additional technical assistance, training, consultations by government experts, and site visits to best practices. Regional self-binding agreements among municipa- lities could encourage infill development over land consumption. Instead of investing in new developments, the municipalities could set up their own funding programs for owners who create additional residential units on their properties and thus contribute to quality densifica- tion. At state level, it would be advisable to introduce a property tax.

Refurbishment and restoration projects

As the approval rate for restoration and renovation projects was extremely high, town officials can be encouraged to drive renovation measures forward. Ideally, a combination of funding, information, and beginner courses about restoring/ renovating older homes would help new generations fearlessly choose older homes.

In Neusitz, Mayor Manuel Döhler shows Prof. Dr. Jennifer Gerend gaps between buildings in the municipality © HSWT
Participants listen to the lecture
At the final conference of the research project on 27.11.2023, the key results were presented and a lively exchange took place between the municipal representatives © Katharina Mairle

Additional information on the project

Research advisory board

A transdisciplinary research advisory board accompanied the project. This was made up of the following practice partners:

  • Dr Rainer Fugmann, regional representative for the West Middle Franconia region (8) at the government of Middle Franconia
  • Dr Verena Walter, Rural and Village Development Department, "Inside instead of outside" funding initiative, Office for Rural Development of Middle Franconia
  • Franziska Wurzinger, Land Conservation Manager for Middle Franconia, Government of Middle Franconia
  • Stefanie Bojko, Land Saving Manager for Middle Franconia, Government of Middle Franconia

Study locations

Three rural municipalities in West Middle Franconia agreed to take part in the surveys as partner municipalities. The town of Wolframs-Eschenbach and the municipality of Neusitz in the district of Ansbach as well as the municipality of Uehlfeld in the district of Neustadt-Aisch, each with around 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants, took part in the project as survey locations.


The written surveys of property and land owners in Wolframs-Eschenbach were sent out by post at the end of November 2021. In the market town of Uehlfeld, the written surveys were sent out in December 2021, and in the municipality of Neusitz at the end of January 2022. 585 of the 1,417 property owners contacted in the three towns took part in the survey. In addition, the municipal councillors and mayors received a separate online survey by email. In spring/summer 2022, a total of 35 interviews were conducted with property owners and local councillors from the three towns, the three local mayors and representatives from regional authorities and municipal building administrations. The data was then analysed and the results classified.

Final conference

On 27 November 2023, the research team invited the partner municipalities and stakeholders involved to the final conference at the Triesdorf campus of the HSWT, where the results were presented and the resulting recommendations for action were discussed.

Project lead (HSWT)



Adressierte SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals)