Not so long ago, Leipzig was one of the best known and most frequently studied cases of urban shrinkage in Europe. Its population had been declining for almost seven decades, a process that had already started before World War II. In 1933, Leipzig had 713,000 inhabitants; in 1998, there were only 437,000 left. This population decline mainly had economic and political reasons. After World War II, Leipzig became part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), anything but democratic despite of its name. The GDR had a socialist one-party regime and a state-led economy. The GDR regime determined that the Leipzig region was to specialize in heavy industries, mainly chemical industries and machine production, and lignite mining (brown coal). Before World War II Leipzig already had some of those industries, but combined this with service industries like finance, legal services and media. Most of these service industries were lost to West-German cities like Frankfurt and Munich (the commercial services) or to East Berlin, the GDR capital where all state-led services were concentrated. Leipzig became a decaying, polluted and unattractive city; many people decided to leave it if they had the chance.
Filming Cities is a monthly series on The Proto City, in which one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. This month we review “Pedal”, a documentary on earlier years of the bike messenger culture in New York.
“If you is fast, then you would go to the Tour de France, to earn some good money.”
While the bike messenger subculture has nowadays largely been taken into the main stream in cities of the West, their origins lie in New York City, where in the 1990s a small group of brave bike fanatics quickly took over the delivery market, as the bike proved to be the fastest in this permanently congested city. Continue reading
“Most of the younger ones are just interested in fighting […] It’s quite pathetic I think. It’s just an area, apart from that we’re just the same, so why fighting over an area?” Said Neil* (19), one of the ‘Possilpark’ respondents from my research in which I qualitatively investigated the relation between territoriality and social exclusion among youngsters in disadvantaged areas. A couple of months after the occurrence of our interview, Neil got randomly attacked by a number of young boys when he was walking down a street in an adjacent (rivalry) area on his own. Luckily, his stab wounds recovered reasonably fast so he was soon allowed to leave the hospital.
Saracen Street December 2012, Possilpark
Glasgow has been suffering from the image of being a violent city for many decades: sectarianism, gang formation and knife crime are issues the city has seriously had to deal with for over a 100 years. And although this latter issue seems to be improving to some extent, the city still has the highest rates of homicides and violent crime within the entire United Kingdom. In this article I will position the issue of territoriality within the current academic debate on ‘neighbourhood effects’ and social exclusion, while reporting the most interesting findings from my case study in Possilpark. Continue reading
The availability of locally produced craft beers next to the mainstream lagers in shops and bars nowadays seems to be self-evident. However, the opening up of the market for a variety of locally produced craft beers is a fairly new phenomenon in the Netherlands, where the beer market is dominated by eight large companies (i.e. Heineken as many of us probably know). Over the last few years a remarkable rise in the production and consumption of independent craft-made beers can nonetheless be witnessed. Dutch overall beer consumption is decreasing, but local brewed craft beer is getting more popular. According to the association of microbrewers the number of independent microbreweries has doubled over the last three years, from 104 listed independent microbreweries in 2011, to 220 in 2014.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ, popular microbrewery in Amsterdam (picture by Bastian)
Cape Town is known for its cosmopolitan yet laid-back lifestyle. The city centre is surrounded by magnificent mountains and stunning beaches. Walking through the vibrant city centre it seems that apartheid, the period of minority rule and institutionalised racism that shocked the world, is well and truly over.
Cape Town Taxi Rank (Photo: Wikipedia)
Yet, during my five-month stay in Cape Town in which I did research on the Indian community, I found that there is still something unsettling about the city. When I first arrived, I found it hard to deal with the uneasiness I felt when sitting in a crowded upper-class bar while only white faces stared back at me, or walking into someone’s house while the unacknowledged black maid cleaned quietly around me. This is the story about how I eventually learned to navigate and, to some extent, overcome the extreme segregation that still plagues South African society.
Lampposts covered in knitting, pop-up parks, and mid-20th Century housing painted with officially-sanctioned graffiti: from New York to Cologne, these are now ubiquitous features of the shift of cities across the world to an embrace of all things ‘creative’. It is now over ten years since Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Class’, which, as well as spurring policy replication on a global scale has led to a significant amount of critique and debate. With time, including the advent of, for example, the smart city agenda, it might be tempting to think of the notion of the creative city as being past its sell by date. Yet its ideals continue to hold sway and its discourse continues, even if almost impossible to untangle from the wider discussions about urban regeneration. The creative city is therefore something much bigger than Florida’s original prescription and has, when merged with ideals of policy-led gentrification and wider dynamics of the cultural economy, become a capture-all for reinventing what the city is and whom the city is for. This is a city-image that somehow brings together the tech industry, hip cuisine, and bike lanes into one cohesive entity. In its most caricatured form it is the city as portrayed through the likes of Monocle Magazine rankings as a picture-perfect world of beautiful people sporting fixed-gear bikes and lattes.
After the ‘Pop up park’: The Sphinx building and former Sphinxpark being readied for redevelopment, November 2013
In addressing the growing environmental issues and global population growth, the builders of tomorrow must understand and address city living as a viable solution to our modern day dilemmas. In learning from past cities that are unsustainable, unhealthy, unsafe, and a complete separate entity from the natural world, architects and designers alike have an opportunity to reform the future of city living for a healthier and happier urban standard. This optimistic urban reform seeks to ultimately return modern building culture to a healthier and more natural state, while maintaining equilibrium with the technological advances of the 21st century.
Maybe we were supposed to get this far in the human timeline of achievements, so that we may stop for a minute to examine the clouds of smog that have engulfed Beijing, or the bumper to bumper traffic of the carbon emitting streets of New York City. We live in an era in which we have the ability to harness natural energy and convert it into electricity, by means of photovoltaic panels, wind farms, and various water-related systems. We have the design capabilities to organize urban infrastructure that works with nature rather than against it; by means of storm water management, conservation of plant and tree life, and being mindful of the wildlife habitats that are typically destroyed in city development.
We also have the ability to go back and ‘revise’ our mistakes that have been left unattended in our urban mess through adaptive reuse design, in which we may readdress our grey cities with much needed green initiatives. In imposing a productive design upon a preexisting structure of little use or potential, we can create something spectacular out of nothing in a cost efficient and space-conserving manner. The New York High Line, for example, took what used to be an elevated railroad, and greened it into a park stretching 1.45 miles through the city. Simple, productive, cost efficient, and beautiful.
The Nature of Cities
Directed by Chuck Davis
Produced by Throughline Productions
“Part of our separation from nature is that we thought nature is something “over there” and where we live is not nature, and especially if we live in a cities.” (‘The Nature of Cities’)
This argument leads like a common threat throughout ‘The Nature of Cities’. The 50-minute documentary criticises the common notion of nature being something ‘over there’, instead of something we interact with; in cities, in our everyday lives – on a smaller or larger scale. Nature and cities are, can and should go together according to ‘The Nature of Cities’ – whether we talk about parks, living green walls, green buildings or car-free communities. The diversity of what nature in cities can be, is portrayed through various projects, as Timothy Beatly (sustainable city researcher and author) travels to many cities (mostly European ones), including Freiburg (Germany), Malmö (Sweden), Paris (France), Austin (Texas).
OMA’s proposal for the Axel Springer Media Campus (Image Courtesy of OMA)
“Today there is no reason that a need for such a building with workspaces exists, because you can easily work from your house and email it….” according to Mathias Döpfner (2013), CEO of media company Axel Springer. Springer is one of Europe’s largest publishing houses headquartered in Berlin and most well-known as publisher of German newspapers such as Bild-Zeitung and Die Welt. Despite this somewhat bold statement about the workplace, Döpfner’s firm has commissioned the Rotterdam-based architectural practice OMA founded by Rem Koolhaas to design its new headquarters in the form of a media campus in the centre of Berlin. Why commission a new headquarters if people can work from their homes using their mobile devices? A closer look at the demands of Axel Springer for their new headquarters in Berlin and the conceptualizations of OMA’s architects gives insight into how an office space is still conceived to be relevant in our digitalized and networked 21st century.
With the ever-increasing role of information technology, diffusing global networks and the flexibilization of labour, many changes in the patterns of work are occurring. As geographer Paul L. Knox (1987) has argued, the built environment is both an expression of economic, social and political relationships within society and simultaneously reproduces and modifies these relationships. The production of space is a practice that is intricately connected to social change. The way offices are designed today thus can tell us a lot about contemporary values and work practices.
The design for Axel Springer’s new media centre in Berlin presents a striking case. With on the one hand a company who “has mobilized architecture to help perform a radical change” (Rem Koolhaas, 2014) and on the other hand an architecture practice which aims to fundamentally innovate working environments and create “a workplace in all its dimensions”, the question has to be asked: which ideas are at the core of such a supposedly innovative modern workplace?
Dear Proto City reader, if you happen to be around Amsterdam this summer, there is this one place you really need to visit: De Ceuvel.
About a year ago, the Proto City team attended a presentation in which the plan for this creative space was presented. It seemed almost surreal: A heavily polluted piece of land in the north of Amsterdam, which would clean itself over the course of ten years. In the meantime, this land would be used as a creative incubator. Doesn’t that sound like the creative and sustainable dream of every modern city? It is therefore not surprising that the project won an area development challenge and was given the green light by the local authorities. The initiators of the project can use this piece of land for free for a period of ten years, clean the soil, and then leave the lot again.