How to create and preserve a city‘s identity
Nicole Srock.Stanley, CEO & Founder of dan pearlman Group, Berlin, outlines the need to renegotiate urban corporate social responsibilities with developers and investors in order to keep the notion of a resilient urban mix of life/work/production alive – and to strengthen it.
As architects and experts for destination development, we are regularly entrusted with inner city zone project development in Germany, as well as internationally. We advocate for the responsible planning and use of urban and public spaces: this is especially the case when investors, project developers or corporations are involved.
VALUE-ORIENTED PROCESSES OF GIVE-AND-TAKE
Every form of investment needs a balanced, value-oriented process of give-and-take. The perfect mix is by definition not monocultural but diverse, both in architectural form and conceptual use. Those who leave a footprint in the city should ensure that public spaces arise through a diverse range of concepts for urban life and space and open urban cultures. An urban quarter, a neighbourhood, a whole city – these are complex systems comprised of competing needs and demands: industry and trade, co-working and co-living, manufacturing and maker labs, urban gardening and urban farming: the right balance is required in order to attract local diversity.
Developers who come to us are highly future-oriented. They seek to innovate by devising lively neighbourhoods – the perfect balance between culture, retail, housing, life and work. Integration and social aspects play an increasingly central role. Space is consciously structured in order to promote culture, but also in order to create better places for children, integrating them into the urban fabric. Increasingly, it has become imperative to plan diverse neighborhoods together with retail concepts. This is because the old methods – the homogeneous shopping strip, for example – are no longer effective. Alongside classical developers who want to extract the maximum from every square centimeter, a new Zeitgeist is taking hold. The next generation is all about thinking responsibly. Increasingly, it is about creating high quality – with quarters that have a long lifetime, that age well, that are thought through from the outset and well integrated into their wider surroundings and the city itself.
ALL THAT IS LOCAL CREATES IDENTITY
Trade has always been an essential part of urban society. Cities arose from trade centres and around marketplaces. If we are to reach an optimal mix within a city or a quarter, the criticism of the retail trade will dissolve. Often, this criticism is above all directed at the homogeneous international chains, which result in every high street becoming generic. Here, urban planners and retail developers have the challenging task of strengthening the local in particular – meaning local traders, local gastronomy and local inner-city structures. Everything that is local creates quality, uniqueness and identity.
Two defining future-oriented projects have already been realised in Barcelona and Vienna. Over a number of years, the city of Barcelona listened to its people, avoided selling out to corporations and investors, developed its neighborhoods for the people who live there and introduced a legal instrument to slow rental increases. For the developers, it was clear that a healthy city improves the overall quality of life while deflecting stress, vandalism and criminality. A city’s main task is to bring people together to live in the same space, without dealing with constant conflict. Another example is Seestadt Aspern on the outskirts of Vienna. The wonderful- and above all thoughtful – aspect of this project is the fact that the developers were able to develop a large green area, and were able to take the time to do so. To begin with, a first construction site is realised, then analysed, so that lessons can be learned. The knowledge and experience that is gained then flows into the development of the next construction site. Plans for retail are developing slowly, as this activity is dependent on the population’s size and needs. At Seestadt, through cooperation between developers, the city and retail experts SES Spar Euro- pean Shopping Centres, the first managed shopping strip will be developed. First, the foundation will be set up: a grocery, a chemist. Then perhaps a small bookshop pops up that is run as a local cultural co-op. Once the fundamental needs are met, new themes rise beyond the horizon, such as small shops or boutiques. The planners feel responsible for retail tenants. In Aspern, the overall concept remains central to planning decisions, in order to avoid a constant turnover in renters and to establish a feeling of stability and security.
MIXING UP THE WORLD WITH EXCITING FORMATS
If the city and municipality itself carry out urban development, this can create a fantastic foundation that is extremely contemporary. A municipality should not only plan projects for the next five years, but it should plan for the long term; for example, in Aspern, the masterplan is set to a course of 30 years. This builds a healthy foundation that encourages planners to avoid short- term, profit-oriented solutions when they are addressing architectural and planning concerns. I am convinced that this is a development to be welcomed and encouraged.
We need a stronger, integrative approach that involves all stakeholders. We should invite all citizens to participate: both adults and children. With ownership comes responsibility – property brings with it not only economic responsibilities but also the inclusion of social and cultural compatibility within urban development. A city must be able to unfold in line with sustainable development and a heterogeneous mix in order to remain liveable. We need to define the rules of the game, and we can do this through politics. Our task is to introduce strategic change for project developers and companies, and to mix up their world with new, enticing, alternative formats.
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