Meet the Member (May 2024)

Andreas Hengstermann:

Andreas Hengstermann

Andreas is a veteran PLPR member. In march 2024 he was elected as PLPR’s vice president. We caught up with him for a short interview just before an exciting move to Norway.


What’s your academic background?

It’s complicated – both geographically and in terms of academic disciplines. I have two undergraduate degrees: A Diplom-Ingenieur in spatial planning from TU Dortmund University (Germany) and a Master Universitario in rural development from Universidad de Huelva (Spain). After a short, but interesting internship with the International Federation for Housing and Planning in The Hague (The Netherlands), I moved to the University of Bern (Switzerland), where I stayed for a total of 10 years. First, I did my PhD and Postdoc at the Institute of Geography. I also worked for two years at the Centre for University Didactics, training lecturers on how to do good teaching. At the same time, I studied public law in a postgraduate programme. After my time in Bern, I went to Ulster University in Belfast (UK) for a research fellowship funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). Since 1 August 2023, I am an Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) in Ås (Norway).

What are you passionate about?

I am fascinated by that moment when you can see in the students’ faces that they are just grasping how planning really works. Most students like to discuss what the world of tomorrow should look like and how planners should be planning that. To me, the question of how spatial development actually works is much more fascinating than the question of what should be done. When I want to provoke students, I like to exaggerate and say that planning is failing. As academics, we should not try to be better planners than planning practitioners, but we should explore why planning fails. So, I am passionate about investigating what factors influence what outcomes planning actually achieves – or fails to achieve.

What are you working on these days?

At the moment, I am occupied with the relocation from Belfast (UK) to Ås (Norway). It is an exciting time. I can get to know a new country and its culture and nature ­- and take on a new role. But it also keeps you very busy – also because, of course, everything is in a language I’ve just started to learn: Snart skal jeg snakke norsk.

In addition, my class on planning theory will start in a few days. So far, I have always had theoretical approaches implicitly covered in my lectures – now I can create an entire semester explicitly on theories of and theories in planning. That’s a bit of work.

In doing so, I am also a challenge to myself. I have very high expectations when it comes to teaching. For me, teaching is more than giving a PowerPoint monologue and marking an exam. I want to inspire the students for my research and accompany them in a learning process – usually through a series of many small tasks. This may be more exhausting for both sides, but I am convinced that learning success is much deeper and longer-lasting. Applying these pedagogical approaches to a lecture on planning theory is challenging. Anyone who has ever taught planners the law knows what I mean.

What brings you to PLPR?

I’ll have to search my memory. I have been with PLPR my whole academic career. PLPR Munich (https://plpr2024.bole.ed.tum.de) will be my 15th consecutive PLPR conference – if you count the online conference in 2021 – even if the beginning was more of a coincidence: when the 4th PLPR was hosted in Dortmund in 2010, I happened to be a student there. It was thanks to Ben Davy that I heard about the conference and attended – he gave out in-house scholarships, which I received. I was thrilled by the debates I witnessed. While 90% of the lecturers in Dortmund (at least at the time I studied there) saw “participation” as the magic word for solving all planning problems and conflicts, the PLPR community discussed things that were obvious, but still never mentioned in my studies: Legal aspects in planning, property rights to land, and the landowners as the central actors. That was very inspiring. I remember Rachelle Alterman presenting her book Takings International back then. The international comparison was much more enlightening than most seminar papers. PLPR’s conference in Dortmund  was also very special in another sense: the organising team was quite tired one evening and spontaneously promoted me as the-local-guy-that-lead-people-to-a-pub. So, I ended up having a beer and discussing issues with names I had only known from my bookshelves

After Dortmund came the conference in Edmonton, Canada. What seems to be a completely unrealistic idea to fly across the Atlantic to present the half-baked results of my Master’s thesis, was still what Thomas Hartmann persuaded me to do. And although the talk probably won’t be awarded a Nobel Prize, it was very important for my future path: In Canada, I met my future boss and PhD supervisor Jean-David Gerber. PLPR is networking in the best sense.

Well, and after that, there have been a dozen more PLPR conferences and a total of 7 years that I served as a member of PLPR`s ExCo in various roles. I could tell great stories about all of it. How long do you want the newsletter to be?

Anecdote: things we don’t know about you?

I collect first editions of books that I find at jumble sales or in online antiquarian bookshops. I now have a respectable collection of many classics of planning, land policy and planning law. Even though I regret this hobby again with every move abroad…