What does a lively city center need?
This question concerns not only residents in a city, but also urban planners and project developers. In keeping with the zeitgeist, the answer always looked differently. City centers were and are epicentres of power, participation and identification. Places of trade, the “goods of the world”, where the economic heart of the city beats. Places of culture and leisure. At some point they became arenas for the industrial revolution or production facilities, and they often saw themselves primarily as practical places to live at.
However, history has shown that every time any of these points came too much into focus, the city stopped working. A typical example of this is the car-friendly city in which everything is designed for traffic and the city center is understood as a gateway and transit area. Another example would be a city center understood as a shopping mile where the primary focus is retail.
What is the picture today? Roads are being dismantled – in almost every citizen participation process, the demand for more cycle paths and less car traffic is getting louder, not to mention the climate crisis – and city centers dominated by retail are increasingly dying out, leaving a bleak picture of vacancy and dreariness in their shop areas. Digitization has overtaken them. Our city centers are in a permanent process of change.
Our time is looking for solutions that can balance these demands. New challenges are always looking for flexible options to harmonize all needs. Concepts for hybrid living and working, community and so-called “third places” are on the agenda and can be an answer. The mobility transition is used as an impetus to establish new forms of mobility and recapture public space. The covid-19 pandemic has also given the opportunity to break old thinking patterns and create bike paths and pedestrian zones in many places.
Co-creative operating systems are intended to create a balance for the ecosystem of the actors: A political support structure forms the strong framework, a kind of agency that curates rather than manages with strategy and citizens’ initiative. With this in mind, the Federal Government’s Cultural and Creative Industries Competence Center and the Federal Government’s Culture and Creative Industries Initiative hosted the three-day “Umpflastern” Ideation Camp from September 16-18, 2021. Our B-Part Urban Ideation Lab collaborated here on the topic of public space. In addition to interesting lectures, concepts and prototypes were developed for the three cities of Halle (Saale), Oberhausen and Seelze in cooperation with representatives of their respective city administration in order to improve their public spaces.
Oberhausen suffers from an empty city center, Seelze lacks an attractive center that, in addition to a busy main shopping street, does not offer any points of attraction, and Halle suffers from the one-sided, politically motivated appropriation of its central market square. Our B-Part Urban Ideation Lab has worked with other creative people and representatives of the Halle city administration on solutions to make the city’s central marketplace a popular place for everyone again. For this purpose, the concept for flexible, urban furniture was designed, which should remain permanently on the square, be used in a variety of ways and be combined and arranged by people on their own initiative. Despite strict monument protection requirements, the free space on the market area can be structured flexibly and several appropriations of the market place can take place at the same time. In addition, the separation of political participation and the interest of the residents in the social use of the area should be guaranteed and participation should be offered.
We felt very much reminded of the “Agora” from our Summer School 2019 on the B-Part site. Here we designed a similarly flexible urban furniture, which at the same time represented exhibition space, seating and dining, stage and grandstand for versatile use on the B-Part area and provided us with the infrastructure for a small festival.
The city administration of Halle gave the commitment to deal further with the development and design of this furniture. We are curious and will keep you informed.
The Urban Ideation Lab is invited to the next ideation workshop on November 10, 2021 at the Berlin Innovation Agency in cooperation with its associated Smart City Hub. We look forward to the cooperation and look forward to the joint creation of ideas. Stay tuned …