Six Basic Principles of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010

The International Building Exhibition (IBA) Urban Redevelopment Saxony-Anhalt 2010 differs from its predecessors. It dispenses with large-scale prestige projects and engages with the small and medium-sized cities (rather than a large city) in the federal state. Its focus lies on the phenomenon of shrinking cities, which, although particularly virulent in Saxony-Anhalt, has a significance that extends far beyond the federal boundaries. With innovative and exemplary tools and the boldness to experiment outside the conventional limits, the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 ventures a form of urban redevelopment that opens up sustainable perspectives for the people of Saxony-Anhalt despite high migration and declining economic activity. The route taken by the IBA in doing so may be summarised according to the following six basic principles.

1) The IBA and shrinkage

For a time, the cessation of growth was a taboo subject. The economic future, indeed the existence of an entire social system, appeared to depend too deeply on growth and the maximisation of existing resources. With the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010, the state government of Saxony-Anhalt showed exceptional courage: two years after the end of the IBA Emscher Park, which also engaged in “transformation without growth”, the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 ventures to break into the public discourse on shrinkage.

By 2020, in Germany over half of the districts and towns directly subordinate to a region (rather than a district) will be affected by population decline. Saxony-Anhalt is one of the federal states most affected by this nationwide trend. However, similar developments are also incipient or have already begun outside the national borders as most European countries must adjust to population decline.

Structuring the shrinkage process has altered the understanding of urban development in fundamental ways. The themes and projects of the IBA propose the concept of a city with less structural density, but with new qualities in respect of areas of freedom, building culture, citizens’ engagement, civic society and the generation of cultural, social and economic power in the predominantly small and medium-sized IBA cities. Here, the cities must prove their flexibility in order to maintain and stabilise their urban quarters regardless of the population decline. Diverse projects ranging from demolition and dedensification to directed new building and densification in urban cores as well as projects under the agency of citizens’ action groups generate options for action, which are exploited by the cities as a scope for design. The IBA experiment shows that cities fit for the future are above all places that have much to offer and are in a continuous state of transformation, where “less” makes room for new qualities.

2) The IBA and small and medium-sized cities

In global terms, a clear majority of people live in small and medium-sized cities, rather than in metropolises. This is particularly true in Germany: Although Germany has a dense network of large cities with functions as regional centres, its small and medium-sized municipalities form the backbone of the settlement structure. The IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 has made a conscious decision to engage with these municipalities. In doing so, it opposes the prevailing urban discourse, which in the past has generally focused on large cities. The approach of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 thereby signifies an important broadening of perspective in relation to building exhibitions in general.

On average, the IBA cities have 25,000 to 30,000 inhabitants, ranging from Halle (30,000) to Wanzleben (5,000). These smaller cities are confronted with very specific problems, which differ from those found in large cities. Many municipal policy issues, such as demographic change and the erosion of the commercial basis, present a particular challenge for smaller cities. An instrument such as the IBA can help them mobilise energies and competencies that they, unlike large cities, find difficult to generate independently. In its project cities, the IBA proposes planning processes that may be applied to other cities and urban quarters, which are faced with similar problems.

Urban development policy in small towns is not provincial per se. With committed citizens and pragmatic management, these towns are particularly open to the development of innovative concepts. In the 19 participating cities, the IBA acts as a catalyst for urban development: it pools their strengths and offers a platform for the transfer of knowledge with scientific and other bodies. In doing so, the support of work on the individual profiles of each city takes precedence. For the small town of the 21st century, the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 offers future-orientated models for planning and empowerment.

3) The IBA and concentration on urban cores

The construction of industrialised housing in the GDR and the subsequent phenomena of suburbanisation in the 1990s meant that building activity in eastern Germany shifted largely to the peripheries of the cities. In the face of massive population decline, attention drifted away from the urban sprawl and the rampant growth of suburban areas. It was widely hoped that, under the conditions of shrinkage, the cities would almost automatically focus on their core areas and that their density would subsequently increase. Regrettably, this expectation was not fulfilled, and the suburbanisation process continued.

The IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 therefore signifies an incisive shift in focus. It devotes more attention to the centres and attempts to support these in their many functions. With its historic, structural and functional density, the centre of a town essentially defines its image; it facilitates orientation and gives the inhabitants a sense of identity. City centres are what makes urban environments unique; they lend cities character and authenticity. A city with a functioning centre can maintain the specific qualities that define it, even under the influence of demographic change.

However, because the state of city centres in eastern Germany’s shrinking cities has become so precarious, the IBA endeavours to conserve and strengthen their vitality by diverse means. Although the approach of the IBA differs from town to town, it remains faithful to the same fundamental ambitions.

4) The IBA and updating historic city centres

In Saxony-Anhalt, the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 focuses on small and medium-sized cities with a rich history and often uniquely historic city centres. These centres harbour the core substance of the cities, which must be conserved in the wake of radical shrinkage processes. The IBA therefore sees the historic city centres as an important resource, which must be cultivated and developed. The process is by no means one of simple reconstruction; the historic substance must be improved upon during the actual shrinkage process. The pre-modern cores of many IBA cities not only need new ideas, programmes and contents, but also new functions. If they are to last, then they must be made more attractive as places to live and work, and better exploited.

The IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 unites monument protection authorities and urban planners who work hand in hand rather than against each other to conserve the existing substance and to bring together contemporary architecture and historic building culture. By these means, new functions and spheres of activity are generated in cities which have an established tradition.

5) The IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 has no landmark projects

Unlike its predecessors, the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 dispenses with prestigious projects. It has not yielded any landmark projects in terms of spectacular buildings, but has worked instead on the profiles of cities and brought new protagonists into the field. This is only partly due to tight public budgets, the decisive factor being the conviction that financially weak parties can develop sufficient power to act when they cooperate and find alliance partners. These kinds of strategies result in neither investment yields nor tax revenues, yet both culture and the urban community can reap the benefits over the long term.

As such, the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 challenges the way in which the building exhibition has traditionally conceived of itself, and questions its established methods and approaches. It develops its conviction and intensity by other means and invests in temporary and pragmatic strategies in its approach to the existing structures without forsaking the entitlement to an enduring quality of life in the small towns of the 21st century.

6) The IBA of individual themes: 19 cities 19 themes

The IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 is moving forward on precarious terrain. It accepts shrinkage as a social problem and guides the participating cities on the paths they have taken to shape this transformation. In this respect, the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010 is proactive as an “IBA of themes”. Rather than invest in images ripe for commercial exploitation, it focuses on sustainable perspectives that will continue to have an impact beyond 2010. These can only be developed in a dialogue pitched to the needs and interests of the participating cities and in constant exchange with the protagonists involved.

The 19 eminently heterogeneous themes were not predefined, but have been developed and negotiated over time. In dialogue with the representatives of the municipal authorities and other parties, the IBA extrapolated the specific potentials, the urgent tasks and the possible strategies, which could affect the development of these cities over the five to ten years to come. In this way, the cities found their themes, and were able to take an incisive step on the path to an independent, workable profile.

The IBA therefore deliberately dispenses with a collective mission statement in favour of a role as a moderator: it helps the cities to exploit their own resources and local contexts in order to develop their own approach to shrinkage.