Green City # 4: The transformation of the city is extremely complex. It requires many actors in the most diverse places to network in order to develop, implement and continuously think through intelligent concepts. And it needs a new understanding of landscape as a (super)vital component of our cities that literally interweaves with architecture. “How do we want to live in the city in the future?” will be the central question.
What happens if nothing happens?
Despite all the challenges, more and more people want to live in cities. Almost 80 percent of the population in Germany will probably be living in cities by 2030, according to the online portal Statista. And it takes it one step further: Around one fifth of all German citizens will probably live in the 14 cities with more than half a million inhabitants, such as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. It is clear that they all need a home. But paving over areas on the outskirts of cities with new buildings without restraint is no longer a reasonable option. It is much more a matter of transforming the city, of efficient urban use that develops cities from the inside out and thus makes them more compact in terms of construction and space. However, inner-city densification also reaches its limits, because it reduces the space available for open spaces. And the few spaces, in turn, want to be used more intensively and in a variety of ways by more and more people.
In this context, the urban greening is enormously important, because climatic changes, highly sealed surfaces and denser building masses reinforce each other – unfortunately in a negative way. Concrete and asphalt keep the heat in in the summer. Often, the necessary fresh air corridors are missing due to the dense building development, so that even at night there is hardly any cooling to be expected. And increasingly heavy rainfall pushes sewage systems to their limits. What happens when nothing happens?
Green City – the ndion series
We have to rethink the city: housing shortage, expansion of e-mobility, desolation of inner cities – cities are facing great challenges, cities should become greener.
What can urban concepts look like in the future? And where can we already find innovative ideas for rethinking cities? That is what the ndion series “Green City” asks. We take a look back at the past, at tomorrow’s mobility concepts and at the design of inner cities.
Diverse open spaces for a colourful society
The Corona pandemic has shown us how important the home and the immediate surroundings are for our quality of life. Being outdoors has taken on a whole new quality. Milder average temperatures and extended periods of warmth in summer are increasingly attracting people to the outdoors – provided they can find what they need there. During prolonged hot spells like this year, these are above all shade and cooling.
The more colourful our society becomes, the more colourful the urban open spaces should be to suit individual needs. This includes different types of sports as well as strolling, playing, celebrating, relaxing and gardening. In many places, one can already observe people digging, planting, tending and harvesting in self-made (raised) beds. And they do so without being bound to traditional association structures or institutions – simply for the joy of cultivating what they want to put on their plates. Many an urban gardener relieves stress, exchanges ideas with like-minded people and connects directly with nature. In this way, the green oases contribute to a socially stable city district.
What characterises smart urban open spaces?
Above all, it is resilience and multifunctionality. Green spaces offer recreation, store rainwater, cool and enable biodiversity. They serve as fresh air corridors and cold air production areas, dampen noise, support the maintenance of clean air and regulation of temperature. Urban green spaces have a proven positive impact on the urban climate and people’s health. It is clear that green spaces must be made available to all city residents in their local area – regardless of the location and social structure of the neighbourhoods. Especially since the quality of residential areas increases with more green infrastructure and even previously less favoured neighbourhoods become more attractive. If flexibly usable open space is offered, we also accept more built density.
Transformation of the city means redensifying and creating urban green spaces
If new buildings are constructed, extended, added on to or existing flats are restructured with the aim of increasing density, this offers the opportunity to thoroughly question common living spaces and floor plans. And to answer the profound question of how much living space we will need in the future. How much we really need and want to occupy. In 2021, the average per capita living space per inhabitant in dwellings in Germany was 47.7 m². At the beginning of the 1990s, it was just under 35 m². Can’t we live with less living space if the floor plan is well thought out, the rooms can be used in a variety of ways, we can outsource individual functions to common areas and spend more time outdoors anyway? What is designed as a light-flooded living, cooking and dining area on a generous surface area turned out to be a real test of endurance for the family during the pandemic with sometimes both parents in the home office. Redensification can be very effective with smaller flats with flexible floor plans and individual rooms that are complemented by common areas.
In order to link building density and urban greenery into an intelligent urban concept, green spaces can be thought of much further than in the form of parks, playgrounds and traffic islands. It is the surfaces of the city, its streets and car parks, roofs and façades, which – used in multiple ways – offer considerable potential for transformation of the city. The aim is to interweave architecture and green spaces as self-evident components of a healthy city. Creative ideas are giving rise to new architectural typologies that respond to the needs of the residents. The French architecture firm SOA, for example, has taken urban gardening a step further with their project study “La Tour Vivante”. Here, living, leisure and working are combined with urban agriculture in a high-rise building that functions as a self-sufficient supply and energy system.
Understanding cities better – Conclusion
A city is a multi-layered overall structure: One action influences many aspects. Individual measures considered in isolation will therefore not last. An active city implies completely new elements and strategies of urban design. Only through the skilful addition and networking of different measures can a city also become a liveable city. In this context, new forms of urban landscapes with diverse leisure facilities, different green spaces and mixed-use urban districts are just as important as technical innovations and holistic building solutions. The complex overall structure requires a transformation of the city in which the components complement and strengthen each other.
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