The 1960s and early 1970s were characterized by planning optimism and major reforms associated with notions of efficiency on the one hand, and a change in political culture on the other. When government bodies in the Federal Republic of Germany initiated in a top-down way a comprehensive territorial reform and intervened into the everyday life of many people this provoked resistance from citizens. Using the example of the municipal territorial reform as carried out in the Federal Republic, the article addresses tensions as well as a governance processes between the representatives of the state, the municipalities and citizens alongside with a fundamental change in political culture during the 1960s and 1970s. The article shows how the local municipalities reacted to territorial and functional reforms elaborated by the federal and state governments and the ministerial bureaucracy of West Germany with a special focus on North Rhine-Westphalia. It sheds light not only on new players in the political arena, municipalities and local citizens’ initiatives that were increasingly trying to take an active role in decision-making, but also a general change in political culture. Claims for political and social participation and political transparency, a “vital civic spirit” which opposed state planning optimist approaches ‒ demands that those responsible for the reform had to react on. The article examines the redefinitions of the relationship between state and municipality, and citizens in the course of reform processes and related political debates, and analyses how far decisions-making processes changed.