Improving life quality in cities
Not everybody is able or willing to move into a community project in the countryside, and there is still a drift to the big cities. For many it is even a question of survival, people move were the jobs are. The question is how are we able to secure a livable, affordable life in the city.
At the Tollwood Welt Salon (World Parlor) seven speakers from different areas of expertise (see the picture), took part in this brainstorming and discussion event, that looked into this question at the example of Munich.
Munich is the German city were citizens are caught up in traffic the longest amount of their precious life time. To find an affordable flat for rent you have to move further and further to the outskirts of the city.
Dr Mazda Ali, author of the book Stress and the City, stated in his stimulating presentation, that cities make us sick, especially if we grow up in a city in straining circumstances, or live there in relative isolation for long times. But that cities are also giving us freedom to choose our own individual life circumstances, so we can evolve to our best and find the inspirations, education and people we need at any given time. But we can benefit from and enjoy anonymity only if we have a social network and are able to participate in urban functions. (When I was 20, I moved from a small city in southern Germany to Berlin, so I know exactly what he was talking about. I was really happy to have escaped the narrow-mindedness and the feeling of control — but there were also times when I felt very lonely and depressed.)
For urban planners like Ms. Prof Merk the planning director of Munich, thinking in different time scales is one of the most important necessities. Long term planning for demographic increase in a livable city and short term decisions for the today’s needs, like child care places etc.
Urban density has to be designed in a way that takes the need for closeness and distance into account and leaves enough space for public open spaces without the constraint to consume and spend money, so that everybody can participate.
- Here are two really nice examples for taking opportunities on a temporary base (seen in Stockholm this summer): the city of Stockholm creates so-called pop-up-parks or libraries for public use on long term building sites and waste land.
Christian Stupka initiator of WOGENO (housing cooperative for social and ecological living), advocated new land rights that don’t leave the shrinking land reserves for building in and around Munich to speculation. In the following brainstorming (I took part in this sub group) participants mentioned that the Bavarian law already regulates, that the limited resource of land has to be used to the benefit of public wealth. So profit that is gained because of public investments, should be skimmed and flow back into public funds. This existing laws are currently obviously used in a disregardful way.
The other speakers talked about different examples of tolerance and good practice and how city districts have to be designed to stay intact with the right mixture of people. Some keywords connected to that were localizing, green urban living, urban gardening, living inter-generational and also thinking about flexible models of swapping apartments when life circumstances change.
So as we all realized this is a very complex theme and political deciders have to install institutions for regulations of the development of new city areas, so our cities stay and become high quality living circumstances. The regulation system of the market will only lead to gentrification and ghettoization
It is also good to look beyond one’s own nose – there are already very successful examples in other big cities. In October I visited the Experiment Days in Berlin and got to know about the strong housing cooperative movement in Switzerland that already exists for more than 100 years. A fifth of the residential market in Zürich is in cooperative ownership. One of the newest projects there, the ‘Mehr als Wohnen’ project was supported and given bank guarantees by established cooperatives and won the World Habitat Award 2016/17.
The diversity of the residential people there is regulated in relation to: proportions of different nationalities, income, age and family status etc. This is part of the concept and the rents are about 20% lower than the average in this part of Zurich. The residential area was also planned with a good mixture of small businesses, services, shops, and public rooms for different public uses at the ground floors. Everything you need is nearby.