City of the Future - Making Heimat
The European city
The best claim the European city can make to a characteristic feature (in comparison with American or Eastern Asian urban space) is that there is any distinction at all between public and private space there, that the transition between one and the other frequently happens little by little via a gradual sequence, and that the population certainly has an awareness from personal experience of the importance of public spaces, their qualities, proportions and materials – and that any shortage thereof is clearly recognised. From this sense of functional public spaces, which seems to go without saying, arises an acceptance or rejection of newer spatial situations, which can sometimes involve a gradual appropriation process.
Central Eastern Europe
There is no shortage of existing good examples in the Central Eastern Europe region, at least in the historical towns and their centres. However, on the outskirts and in the spaces between, in new city districts or transitional areas, things often appear different. Further problems were frequently created as a result of developing the traffic infrastructure systems and the formation of industrial wasteland areas or changes in land use. There is a shortage of quality public spaces near residential areas and on the outskirts of city centres in particular.
Architecture, city and future visions
At the same time the analysis of the city situation in the region shows that when it comes to questions about “Architecture, city and future visions”, architects and planners in post-socialist countries remain under a strange kind of shadow. Actually this is grounds for astonishment: wasn’t that a generation who saw themselves as being in a state of revolutionary revolt? Haven’t their national economies managed the epochal leap into the market situation or become integrated with international investment activities? Generally speaking the new EU members have experienced a fantastic building boom, and the architects there have had endless opportunities to put their creative skills to the test. Even in remote provincial towns state-of-the-art construction technology is taking over – nowhere is spared from glass, metal facades and adventurous buildings.
However the international debates about planning and building have not given top priority to beauty and style for a long time. As this year’s jury vote at the Architecture Biennale in Venice for Bahrain’s national participation underlined again, it is perception of conflicts and proposals to overcome crisis that are sought after. Climate change, depletion of resources and the social polarisations that occur as a consequence make a rethink absolutely essential. If the Earth is to carry on being a habitable place for humans, it is absolutely essential to change the current way of managing the economy. If nothing else, the category of wealth needs a new definition – one that encompasses a clean environment, involvement of citizens in political decisions and personal wellbeing.
Sustainability of modernisation
In many cities in Central Eastern Europe, disparate yet concurrent development is an emerging trend: whilst the historical city centre – an attractive zone of urban diversity – is exposed to high pressure levels with regard to usage and inward migration, the loss of function in the outskirts often goes hand-in-hand with a drop in provision of amenities and leisure activities available locally, and in general with a loss of social interaction opportunities. These opposing developments in such a small space form a contrast with the image that has been predominant until now – one of ongoing growth in the cities. This situation can be interpreted as a deadlock in the progressive capacity of European cities. But given a positive slant it can also form the starting point for a utopian social and ecological criticism of the modern city. Interpreted in this way then, the future of European cities lies not in the usual urban expansion, but in regeneration of the city and in sustainability of modernisation with regard to urban structures. The tangible ecological, economical and social pressures of these changes are very high. Yet at the same time financial constraints, increasing competition between cities, high consumption of resources, discrepancies between population groups and socio-spatial inequality make the general conditions extremely complex.
The reaction to these challenges in an entrepreneurial sense is frequently “flagship” urban development projects, which are intended to improve the city’s ranking as perceived inter-regionally in the context of a competition between cities. As right as these strategies might be in certain cases, they cannot influence the problems of social and economic segregation in individual urban districts to begin with. Withdrawal of the public sector in comparison with private investors frequently complicates planning options; in some cases the public purse is nothing short of empty. This manifests itself as proliferation in the post-socialist countries of Central Eastern Europe in terms of urban development, which can be seen in widespread locations.
The great challenge of ecological redevelopment in the cities can in turn be understood in two directions. On the one hand with regard to an energetic improvement and renovation of existing structures – however this challenge is associated with the appropriate legal context and requires close cooperation with the key players in political roles, housing and energy suppliers.
On the other hand, ecological redevelopment of cities in the peripheral areas can be interpreted in the sense of a new understanding of urban landscape beyond the classic city/landscape dichotomy. In this sense, broad-based initiatives for renaturisation and conversion of existing traffic-related, industrial and military wasteland sites (industrial forest) can not only contribute towards sustainable urban development in the sense of an ecological differentiation of the city, but also as a local relaxation area for residents, a place for learning and a social meeting place. A further point to be noted is the prefab housing estates mentioned earlier that are found everywhere – which have the potential for conversion (providing it is possible to inject sufficient funding), as shown by successful examples in Germany’s new Bundesländer.
Isolated interventions in the context of situative urbanism as well as resident initiatives could be induced or combined within the city districts in turn, to create public places that serve as meeting places, playgrounds, concert stages or gardens by individually appropriating brownfield sites and oddments of land. This functioning public space represents dynamic “Heimat” for its inhabitants.
Hopefully this project will help residents and citizens to create more public spaces in their own cities that will feel like a “Heimat”.