Virtual Conference on Planning, Law and Property

Conference Report

PLPR online sessions in February 2021 in retrospect

In the academic calendar of many ARL members, February is the month of the year that is traditionally reserved for international debates on the relations between planning, law and property. This year the discussions of the International Academic Association on Planning, Law and Property Rights (PLPR) took place in the form of 11 online sessions and a virtual workshop. Both in terms of content and personnel, the online sessions were closely related to the activities of the ARL International Working Group ‘German Land Policy Revisited – Reflections and Lessons from Abroad’ which is co-led by the PLPR president Thomas Hartmann and the PLPR secretary general Andreas Hengstermann. 


The International Academic Association on Planning, Law and Property Rights (PLPR) emerged in 2008 from a thematic group of the same name with origins in the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP). It has since developed into an independent association that aims to actively promote global scientific discussion on planning, law and property.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the planned physical meeting in Ann Arbor (Michigan, USA) had to be cancelled and a virtual alternative was organised. With the support of the ARL International Working Group, it was possible to arrange several online sessions with a total of 65 presentations and a workshop for PhD students, held throughout the month of February. More than 300 academics from all over the world made use of the sessions. In addition to the traditionally large number of participants from Europe (214) and North America (46), there was also a gratifying number of participants from Asia (46) and several from Africa (12), South America (11) and Oceania (10). Twelve young researchers from nine different countries took part in the workshop for PhD students.


The sessions were organised by topic and addressed a great variety of currently discussed and innovative themes. The broad range of topics included the provision of affordable housing, climate change, land policy, informal spatial development, managing agricultural land, land value levying, national spatial planning and the use of blockchain technologies.

Although the sessions were formally planned for 90 minutes with between four and six input presentations, the intensive discussions in the chat and the Q&A phase often continued beyond the official end time. Interest was so great that many participants remained in the virtual meeting rooms for up to another hour to continue exchanges of legal and planning experience in an international context. Discussion even included the constitutional aspects of property, and ethical questions concerning regulatory control, such as value added taxes, were considered in terms of the legitimacy of such a strategy – inspired by experiences in Europe and South America. 

The individual sessions were attended by an average of between 50 and 80 academics. The session that attracted most attention was that on informal planning with over 90 participants. Here the commonly drawn contrast between the Global South and North was intensively questioned and the subject of controversial discussion. This led into a general debate about perception and global approaches to informality in planning. 

The online events were scheduled so that participation was possible across different time zones, an approach that proved most successful. Thus the sessions were deliberately not only held during the European daytime but also in the evening or morning, enabling inspiring presentations and regional perspectives from Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and South and North America to be brought together and jointly discussed. As the conference was completely virtual and free-of-charge, it was possible for scientists to participate who are otherwise seldom able to travel to international conferences due to budgetary or political constraints. Use of the chat function was thoroughly integrated in the sessions and the active participation of those who are generally more reluctant to use English as a working language was encouraged. The event was therefore a great success overall – also with regards to including a wide range of different people, contexts and perspectives. The advantages of a virtual conference became very clear and could at least partially compensate for the cancellation of the physical meeting.

Workshop for PhD students

The workshop organised for young researchers by Sofija Nikolić Popadić (University of Belgrade), PhD coordinator on the PLPR board, was also a great success. The format was truly collaborative with the various research projects being discussed individually and then constructively developed in guided small groups. Linda McElduff (Ulster University) worked with participants who were at the start of their research activities on the topic of what makes a good research question. Thomas Hartmann (Wageningen University) provided support to PhD students in the development of an individual publication strategy. Especially in these times of the pandemic, the PhD students were most grateful for this intensive exchange. 

Gent 2022

At the end of the event the traditional Flag Ceremony was held and the PLPR flag was passed on to Hans Leinfelder (KU Leuven – University) as the organiser of the next conference. The next PLPR conference will be held from 7 to 11 February 2022 in Gent (Belgium) (see www.plpr-association.org). 

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thomas Hartmann
University of Wageningen
Tel. +31 317 48-5095

Dr. Andreas Hengstermann
University of Bern
Tel. +41 31 631-8555