There are various possible ways of regarding the development of the Emscher region. It can be viewed as a unique case of rise, fall and subsequent slow revival of an old industrial area, and thus labelled as ‘restructuring’. Restructuring of this type illustrates the success of a planning method focused on industrial growth, with a view on the one hand to offsetting the negative effects of industrialization, and on the other to creating an infrastructure that guarantees further growth.
However, the Emscher region can also be regarded as an early example of urban sprawl. For preindustrial urban design was unable to evolve in this thinly populated area. The result is a development structure which greatly resembles structures which have been emerging in recent decades in the peripheries of the ancient towns of Central Europe. The structures are described, depending on one’s point of view, as suburban, chaotic development or even cancerous growth. I simply call that kind of structure a ‘between town’ (Zwischenstadt). It amounts to urbanized countryside or countrified town – the town between old, preindustrial residential nuclei and open countryside, between the place of physical presence and the non-places of digital space, between the small local economic orbits and the dependence on world-wide division of labour.
In these respects, it is the Emscher region’s age that makes it interesting. The region is over 100 years old, and consequently in distinct need of renewal. Initially it was thought that in Germany such conditions existed only in the Ruhr and in the old industrial regions of Eastern Germany. However, comparable needs for regeneration are emerging, far sooner than expected, in the so-called ‘modern’ urban regions like Stuttgart (the restructuring of the car industry), the Rhine-Main region (restructuring of the chemical and engineering industries) and in the Nuremberg-Erlangen-Fürth triangle (restructuring of the electronics industry).
Many of the characteristics originally attributed to the ‘old’ industrial areas, such as population decrease, ageing population, unemployment and environmental pollution, are generally interpreted these days as typical signs of a ‘second modernity’, the conditions in which the future city will evolve.
From that point of view, the Emscher region is exceptionally interesting as an early example of a non-centralized network of towns and settlements, and elicits questions about the form contemporary spatial planning might take, if it had to be invented all over again.
IBA Emscher Park is organized by an innovation office, set up for a period of ten years (1989-1999); the office has neither constitutional powers nor a budget for its own investments, but contributes to the reorganization process with new ideas, competitions, guidelines for quality, and publicity: ‘planning by incentives!’
Karl Ganser, the project manager, driving force and inspiration of IBA Emscher Park, uses the expression ‘the event as enticement’ to describe the IBA’s working practice. In that respect the IBA measures up to the ‘festivalizing’ of politics. The attendant dangers – that attention be distracted from the essentials, and politicians’ and financiers’ interest be biased towards the holding of festivals – are amply compensated by the Emscher region’s largeness of scale and the ten-year time span.
Ganser summarizes IBA Emscher Park’s basic principles with the following watchwords: ‘regionalize rather that sectoralize’, ‘strategy rather than design’, ‘flexible regionalizing’, ‘integrated projects’, ‘extra resources for innovation’, ‘the competence of incompetence’, ‘the power of powerlessness’, ‘crossing city and national boundaries’, ‘consensus-seeking without avoiding the necessary conflicts’, ‘aesthetics as enticement’, ‘innovation through competition’, and so on.
These concepts infer that neither the familiar official catch phrases used for planning purposes, nor the new management methods used for the economy are satisfactory means of characterizing the IBA’s work. IBA Emscher Park has developed its own method, in a process of trial and error and a mix of pragmatic and theoretical considerations. It is a subsidiary of the German state of North Rhine Westphalia and as such, though penniless and powerless, it has considerable influence. It is an organization that experiments with new ideas that can be put into practice.
Before I examine IBA Emscher Park’s experiences, for which I shall take Ganser’s proposals as my starting point, I have a few comments to make on the term ‘second modernity’. I incline towards the view expressed by the sociologists Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens. I too believe that the modern era is not past and that we are not on the brink of the postmodern age, but that a radical ‘second modernity’ is underway, one that is not toned or slowed down, as the first was, by lingering historical trends.
This movement is evolving without the trammels of history, and is thus acquiring its own stature. Beck attributes the following characteristics to the second modernity: globalization, individualization, restructuring of jobs and specification of the environmental impact limits. To my mind, the second modernity is also characterized by a difference in perception and thus by a shift in the relationship between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic. These features will probably affect planning in the following ways:
Globalization leads to reduced power for the authorities – be they state or municipal – and for the nationally organized interest groups. This entails a structural withdrawal of state intervention. In future, clients for spatial plans will not only be public bodies, but also private financiers. Consequently, spatial planning will end up in an area dominated by economically motivated arguments.
Local democracy, based as it is on confinement to a certain place, will be undermined by the mobility which globalization entails, as people move frequently from one city to another, and domicile and work place are separated. It is bound to have consequences for urban planning. For instance, town councils might have to be enlarged to include regional representatives, or representatives without a fixed physical base. That in turn will change the legal foundations for spatial planning. The poverty resulting from globalization will have repercussions for urban planning, which will have to occupy itself in large sections of the city with social planning and socially orientated management.
Individualization leads, as we know, to the breakdown of social relations. In Germany the traditional family has long been a minority phenomenon. Spatial planning is intended to make other spaces available that guide rather than impede this social change.
The restructuring of work – automation, rationalization, globalization – results in more leisure time and the need for relaxation, amusement, self-motivation, study and active social solidarity. Higher life expectancy also makes greater demands on such solidarity. It is urban planning’s job to develop residential areas into veritable ‘habitats’ with scope for a multitude of social activities.
Society as a whole has evolved greatly in a few generations, and people are far more articulate and better organized. Spatial planning must accommodate this development with qualified opportunities for participation, because reforms cannot be achieved without active, involved participation from all parties. Authoritatively prescribed measures usually fail to work.
The limits to environmental impact – until recently only a theoretical assumption – are becoming ever clearer. People have to shoulder responsibility for nature, which makes the traditional division between town and country planning ridiculous – the two should be united.
The outlined conditions for the second modernity, along with electronic media which, by degrees, are completely taking over everyday life, will also lead to a change in our perception of town and countryside. This perception is largely preprogrammed by advertising, television and film images. These days nature is almost always perceived as a mixture of what we know – air pollution, salination – and what we see.
The aesthetics of technically produced images and the emotions they arouse are in contrast with the absence of aesthetics in parts of our surroundings, for example the motorways. Spatial planning will have to take this exceptionally important aesthetic and cultural dimension more seriously than it has so far, at a regional level too.
In the old industrial countries, the conditions for the second modernity come up against a spatial structure which is the product of industrialization and compensatory planning. This structure is as good as ‘complete’, and is not suited to planning geared to short-term growth. Structural changes can be achieved by reforming and transforming the ‘granular’ texture of what we have now, and can no longer be steered with the traditional urbanist instruments of expansion and renewal.
It means that one of spatial planning’s important jobs is to shape open areas, which will be the stabilizing framework of the ‘between town’ of the future. The necessity to reorganize farming will open up large tracts of land in which a new cultivated landscape can be created, one in which food production, leisure and ecological recycling will align in a new equilibrium.
If we were to reinvent urban planning, we might make the following demands:
#urban planning should not only be capable of guiding expansions, shifts in function and major projects, but also of identifying and influencing the important, more intricate changes. That way it will be able to steer the evolution of the entire cycle, from construction, via change of use, to demolition. This demand is problematical for many reasons – it is contrary to the tendency of deregulation, it may interfere in the private domain – but should nevertheless be taken seriously. If not, it will be almost impossible to influence the development of the town effectively.
#urban planning should not only apply to developed surfaces – ‘city’ – but also to rural areas – ‘country’. The borderland between built-up and country areas is particularly important for ecological exchange, as recreation zones and as a ‘phenotype’. These borderlands can only be fashioned if urban and rural planning are integrated.
#urban planning should not flinch from defining its focal points and fields of action, and address them with ‘tailor-made’ instruments and methods. Instead of generalized rules, more time-specific methods should be found so that special problems can be tackled with appropriately up-to-date tools.
#urban planning should bear in mind the ‘hardware’ of building and landscape, the combination of ‘hardware and software’ of functional change, as well as the ‘software’ of the changes in perception and orientation, in order to understand the concomitant change in meaning. Urban planning should get closer to the politics of culture, in order to involve non-visual aspects in planning too.
#urban planning should not only be responsible for plans, but also share responsibility for their implementation, since the feedback between planning, execution, experiences with use and reuse are essential features of a self-critical society.
#urban planning should try, in general, to combine official rules and legislation with forms of market self-regulation and a harmonizing of interests, as the old, distinct division of duties between the public and private sectors no longer works. Now that the ‘strong-arm state’ is coming to an end, the authorities should limit themselves to playing a referee role between the many different players in the field.
Many of these ideas have already been included in recent planning practice, which has resulted in the ousting of the outdated planning arsenal in many places. For example, development plans have made way for structural plans, and detailed stipulations in land-use plans have ceded to relatively general outline plans, in which only the incontestably stable elements are specified. All this to the accompaniment of an ongoing discussion on recommendations to build. Major public projects are being planned and effectuated by alliances between the private and public sectors. Negotiations on spatial planning agreements are, to an increasing extent, replacing the old, legally standardized plans. Even the highly controversial land-use policy of the sixties (in which unwarranted profits from speculation in land were levelled down) is now being put into effect by many urban and municipal authorities along new economic lines, in that they allow investment in infrastructure to be paid for by entrepreneurs in exchange for the right to property development.
However, an empty exchequer has meant that getting all these innovations realized has been somewhat one-sided, under the influence of the economy. Innovation is by no means systematic yet, has yet to allow for public interest or democratic control. As things now stand, issues relating to the maintenance and creation of non-commercial public amenities, like design quality, aesthetics and ecology, are categorically neglected. Ignore these aspects and a new concept of spatial planning will be right off target. Put another way, its authority is dependent for a hundred per cent on whether non-commercial facilities are effectively carried through!
Temperaments and instruments
The thrust of urban planning within the requirements of the second modernity should not, however, only be classified according to tasks, but to the planner’s attitude and commitment as well. After all, urban planning success depends on the planner’s involvement and identification with the task. For instance, dealing with historic buildings requires more of a conservative, circumspect temperament, and staying power. Whereas planners who are after radical change and will be looking for fresh challenges when one task has been completed, are more likely to be attracted to transformation and innovation as the drivers for economic development. The transport of people, goods and information requires planners for whom motiont means more than mere technical priority, and so are able to take social and cultural aspects into account. Planners need culture and sports as outlets and expressions of emotions in order to forge links with kulturpolitik; a new generation of cultural planners may even come about.
In contrast with the ‘temperaments’, or factual themes of the tasks, there are the instruments and methods which will move traditional long-term planning into a back seat: the ‘rules of play’ should be a central element for a thinking urban community.
Yet it is not enough to lay down the rules of the game. A specialized project organization will have to be set up which also brings in the time factor. It is still customary to build a specific building for a specific purpose these days, which means that, on the whole, our buildings remain empty for ever longer periods. Many buildings could be given a temporary function, enabling them to be used meaningfully throughout their useful lives. To that end, urban planning should also address guidance of the usage cycle; if not, it would be inappropriate to apply the term ‘recycling economy’ to the ‘management’ of sites and spaces in the city.
In times of continual change, an intermediary should be called in for almost all urban planning tasks. After all, these nearly always involve changes in the existing set-up and thus are about the ‘living urban fabric’, with differing interests playing a part. But an intermediary is also needed to combine the planning laws and legislation with the effectuating of individual plans – an intermediary embodying tenacity and empathy. Almost every task affects a great many players and interests which must mesh, and that requires a mastery of communication techniques and methods.
The changes in the city, which are spectacularly evident and encourage reform of the urban structure, will proceed in the future mainly by way of large, complex projects of limited time and space. To that end, temporary, mostly individual organizational forms will need creating with a fitting financial and procedural mandate. Such projects should be run by a focused and tenacious management.
Diametrically opposed to the strategy of the big projects is that of conservation and circumspect restoration, and the development of historic urban areas or ecologically sensitive green zones. This strategy requires specific professional expertise, a tough attitude and, by no means least of all, sensitivity to the limits to nature and historic building conservancy, and to the need to continue writing history by facilitating new developments.
Not only is the city held together by the framework of green and farming areas, but also by networks and nodes of roads, streets and squares, by local public transport with its transfer locations, as well as the nodes of parking lots and garages in which movement is ‘transformed’. The planning, and, even more, the running of the networks and nodes requires not only professional expertise, but also aesthetic and social discernment. The ever-increasing leisure traffic in particular requires a new approach to movement.
These tasks, methods and instruments should be seen against the backcloth of the fact that that in the future our urban regions will probably collapse under the pressures of maintenance, reform and modernization of an infrastructure that was inflated in affluent times. However, in many areas no or insufficient reserves have been accumulated, making it extremely difficult to adjust to changing circumstances. Aesthetic and cultural aspects will play a decisive part in that adjustment – at least if they are accepted.
Adjustment to changing circumstances means that in the future, our urban regions will have to be less susceptible to big economic and social crises, and so we should seek to achieve a lasting development of cycles, which would preferably be organized regionally.
IBA Emscher Park is scheduled to close in 1999, and is to serve as a model for trying out new planning processes of this type. The project manager Karl Ganser has proposed bundling experiences and impacts in new ‘regional offices’. For example:
#Responsibility for the Emscher Landschaftspark should be entrusted to an office which would keep development and operation of the park under one roof. It might, for instance, be entrusted to the Kommunalverband Ruhrgebiet, which has had many years of experience.
#’New wildernesses’ are a characteristic element of this park. Created on large empty industrial sites, they are the responsibility of a special forestry commission division with a new type of warden that combines cattle breeder, game-keeper and youth worker.
#Development of the landscape park might also be taken on by the Emscher Genossenschaft, which is responsible for the running water; the course of the water and the park are in fact almost identical. The landscape park might conceivably be financed in a similar way to the Emscher Genossenschaft’s drainage system – i.e. by means of regional taxes.
#The Stiftung Industriekultur is expected to protect industrial monuments of regional importance, the demands of which are too high for individual municipalities, and to provide them with lasting new uses. The foundation has already been set up and has started its work.
#The range of duties of the existing, successful Rhein-Ruhr-Verkehrsverbund should be extended to cover the building, maintenance and running of regionally important road networks for non-motorized, slow vehicles: the Verkehrsverbund should see itself as a body that cultivates public transport!
#Interregional tourism might be entrusted to a regional body simultaneously responsible for developing and proliferating road signage and planning theme routes through the region.
#Regionally important locations for scientific, research and economic development should be allocated and developed in the interests if the region by a specific body largely independent of city and municipality.
#A regional innovation office should be set up in connection with the foregoing but organized independently. It would have discretionary access to funds and be in a position to stimulate innovative activities in an non-bureaucratic way. Its attitude should be one of the ‘competence of incompetence’, as Ganser termed it, and it should be able to intervene if it senses hidden innovative potential.
These are a few of the essential tasks which must be taken in hand at the urban-regional level. The ponderous, strictly hierarchical traditional administrative bodies should make way for made-to-measure, democratically supervised through in part privately organized agencies. They would be organized in a kind of regional development holding, responsible for central regional reporting, for organizing a regional conference and for the ‘Ruhr Development Programme’. Most other tasks could continue to be carried out by the proven autonomous set-up of cities and municipalities.
A new arrangement of responsibilities such as this for joint urban tasks may well get bogged down in the unwieldiness of the political system, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the approaching decade of experience with the IBA Emscher Park innovation office must be put to good use for the future; regional planning must once again become a creative task!
Thomas Sieverts is a town planner and architect linked to the Darmstadt University of Technology.
1. See Jef Vanreusel, ‘Regeneration of the Ruhr, IBA Emscher Park: an interim presentation’, Archis no. 5, 1995, pp. 58-65.