Urban renaissance The restored Appeal of Inner Cities

After a period of out-migration inner cities are becoming more and more popular as a place to live and work. This trend is set to change urban structures.

Townhouses Berlin, Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umwelt Berlin Townhouses Berlin, Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umwelt Berlin | Photo: Inge Johanna Bergner The impacts of this development are manifold and the reasons for it are to be found in various changes in society. A general transformation is taking place in urban development, in the dynamics of urban-rural migration and of inner cities. Suburbanisation played a major role in urban development projects of recent decades. It was the industrial development that initiated an enormous growth of cities. This led to social ills and sanitation problems that were considered difficult to combat in a compact and mixed-use city. Modern-day urban models were then inclined to separate work environments from residential areas in a green environment. The city centre was a place for consumer culture and events. Increasing prosperity and mobility finally meant that families could out-migrate to own homes in suburban areas. The dense urban core was considered a poor residential area with a bad image. Now suburbanisation dynamics appear to be dwindling. Originally caused by the industrial development, the situation has now changed. Dense metropolitan areas are creating attention as an attractive place to live and work.

New urbanism

In their book “Neue Urbanität” (new urbanism) published in 1987 the urban sociologists Hartmut Häußermann and Walter Siebel referred to “urban renaissance” for the first time. The out-migration of higher-income families was leaving a vacant space that was readily being taken up by the younger, unattached generation in particular. The first signs of a trend towards re-urbanisation can now be confirmed. The way in which this is taking place and the effect it is having, however, very much depend on the respective location. It is first and foremost the large cities, led by Munich, then followed by Dresden and Leipzig, whose populations are expanding in contrast to the overall population development. The highest net in-migration over the past ten years was in Munich and Hamburg, and this development is currently also taking place in Berlin. The 18-30 year-olds make up a substantial proportion of those who decide to move to the cities. It is here that they can benefit from the higher education programmes provided. In the course of the change to a knowledge society internationally renowned institutions of higher education are drawing people into the cities.

Urban density

Big cities are also attracting population groups that have already completed their studies and training. One reason for this is a general shift from traditional family structures. The increase in single person households and particularly the change in employment behaviour and role conception in young families make dense metropolitan areas an interesting place to live. In order to realise both vocational and private interests people are looking for closeness to individually tailored services and a broad cultural and entertainment programme. Urban diversity and functional density of imposing areas therefore contribute decisively towards the attractiveness of cities.

The shift from industrial manufacturing towards a service economy also makes it easier for people to live closer to their workplace. The noise and grime of industrial works have mostly disappeared from inside the cities. New forms of communication have turned the situation around and former concerns forecasting the end of compact cities no longer exist. Jobs are now taking highly qualified workers with them into the cities. In the age of global networking company sites in the centre of an attractive city are also associated with the company’s success.

Cities that can relay their special atmosphere through pictures benefit from this development in particular. In their role as image carriers historic or historicising city centres are attracting a new kind of attention. Old cities are being restored and re-designed, and in this process they often suffer from what one could call museum staging or museumification. The presented history and seeming authenticity of certain places is primarily attracting the high-income segment. The people belonging to this sector are rediscovering dense inner cities as a residential area and as a place to share experiences.

Urban living

Munich, Lenbachgärten Munich, Lenbachgärten | Photo: Simon Schels To re-establish traditional diversity of use urban core planning concepts are awarding top priority to a residential development. The centre of Munich has been experiencing a construction and investment boom for many years. The list of ongoing building projects, including the projects “Fünf Höfe”, “Angerhof”, “Hofstatt”, “Lenbach Gärten”, “The Seven”, demonstrates that the residential share of the new buildings erected in prosperous areas is mainly in the premium-priced property segment. This sector also includes the highly esteemed townhouses in central areas of Berlin.

Despite the varying architectural quality, type and style the projects speak a common language in terms of urban living expectations. The new city dwellers are looking for a cosmopolitan lifestyle, in a downtown location and nevertheless quiet setting with individually designed apartments that feature spacious private outdoor areas. City life is experienced as a stylish ambience, marginalising other undesirable uses. Whether this new lifestyle can promote the “renaissance” of a vibrant and lively city is, however, doubtful.

It cannot be disputed that the rediscovery of urban living is leading to major displacement and segregation processes. In-migration of affluent sections of the population to the city is often lined up against a forced out-migration of those who once themselves coined “urban renaissance“. There is also a substantial differentiation of uses. Major municipal institutions such as publishing houses, hospitals and universities are giving way to the inner-city boom and moving to the outskirts. And even if this “urban renaissance” trend continues, for a sustainable urban development it is essential that projects are carried out in all regions of the city. It would be fatal to concentrate on the historic city centres alone. It is therefore important to look into how their social and spatial qualities can be further developed in new urban areas. This is a requirement based on the growing public interest in inner-city districts.