Debt-free municipality – Bigger budget for playgrounds and sports grounds

“Debt-free for 5 years” said the red digital display in the foyer of Düsseldorf City Hall on 12 September 2012.

Debt-free municipality – Bigger budget for playgrounds and sports grounds

“Over the coming years too, under my leadership Düsseldorf will remain debt-free, because we will also continue to manage the city soundly”, stated Lord Mayor Dirk Elbers (CDU), who succeeded the late Lord Mayor Joachim Erwin (CDU) in 2008, as he took up office. And that meant a larger budget than in the times of indebtedness for public investments in sport and play too.

“For years, Düsseldorf budgets have been citizens’ budgets. Because the citizens profit from sensible financial policy”, said Lord Mayor Erwin in 2008. The Lord Mayor argued that coming generations would thus leave behind them an attractive, flourishing city that was really worth living in, because people felt good there. Today they are relieved from the burden, which inhibits development in other cities for decades. “Our children and grandchildren will be able to live in Düsseldorf at a standard that will be unique in Germany. The burdens of the last century are a thing of the past. The prospects are brilliant”. Looking back on the years of debt that the city has experienced, Erwin observed that the interest payments since 1999 of € 465 million were wasted money. This money was kept from the people and not available to be spent on schools, sports facilities, parks, playgrounds and cultural institutions. “Düsseldorf must never again be fettered in this way”, said Lord Mayor Erwin.

In the meantime, the City Council of Düsseldorf has approved a balanced budget for the 14th time in a row. “The freedom from debt we have enjoyed for over five years will thus be maintained. This is important. It gives us the power to further develop our city”, stated Lord Mayor Dirk Elbers. The 2013 Düsseldorf budget has a total volume of about € 2.8 billion.
A key focus will continue to be the city’s commitment to families. The exemption from contribution for day care centres will be retained, the offers for under three-year-olds will be further expanded. The aim is to achieve a care rate of 60 percent over the medium term. Moreover, support both for the Stadtsportbund umbrella organisation and for the welfare associations, whose framework agreements have been extended earlier than planned to 2015, is also secured. There will be no cuts to the social sector. Over € 428 million is available for social services, more than ever before. The children, young people and family aid sector current costs amount to € 370 million.

The city of Düsseldorf is thus also sticking to its master plans for playgrounds and sport, and continuing to invest.

Playgrounds master plan

More money in the till. More investment in play areas: Playgrounds master plan – A successful model from Düsseldorf.

In a growing metropolis, play offers for children are of particular importance. That was the reason for establishing the playgrounds master plan. In May 2004, the City Council of Düsseldorf decided on the playgrounds master plan. However, the existing facilities will not only be improved through the refurbishment of equipment. The focus will rather be on creating versatile and robust facilities. Within the framework of the programme, a total of 80 facilities have been renovated and 15 new playgrounds constructed since 2004. The City Council provided a total budget of about € 14 million for this.

In all districts of the federal capital, the playgrounds master plan ensures a range of play opportunities for children and young people and has successfully aimed at creating a targeted offer for Düsseldorf families, which is why it is being continued.
In this way, the City Council is sending out a strong signal that it is family-friendly. By the end of 2013, work will begin on redesigning 13 more children’s’ playgrounds and constructing three brand new playgrounds.

Düsseldorf offers a wide variety of playground types: forest and water playgrounds, three large leisure complexes and very beautiful themed playgrounds are available. The master plan will add to the existing offer and make it even more attractive. The funds available for ongoing maintenance and service are sufficient to replace a piece of equipment or finance a repair, but not to completely renovate facilities.
However, complete renovation pays off. Many older facilities were hardly used anymore. Through being redesigned, these sleeping beauties can be awoken from their slumber. New conceptions make them popular meeting points again. This requires an analysis of them first.

It is necessary, for example, to distinguish between the requirements for individual age groups, the quality of stay for the people supervising the children is important, and the equipment has to be designed in way that integrates it into the surroundings.

In Düsseldorf there are currently 340 children’s playgrounds, 20 forest playgrounds, 70 playing fields, 8 water playgrounds, 3 leisure complexes and 4 adventure playgrounds, which are looked after by the city’s Youth Welfare Office.

The example of the Kolpingplatz

A large play oasis is located at the Kolpingplatz in Düsseldorf-Pempelfort, a historical city square dating from the late nineteenth century.

The Kolpingplatz, formerly called the Clever Platz, was originally designed as an ornamental garden. Only in the early 20th century were certain parts integrated as play areas for children as part of a new design for the square. However, the smart green areas continued to dominate. Thus it remained, only intended for being looked at, and fenced in and guarded by park keepers, until after World War II, when the lawns could be walked on and the park and square facilities used by visitors.
Today, without exception parts all green city squares are also designed to be children's playgrounds. Many of them have been already redesigned two or three times since World War II. What the squares with their mostly over 100 years of history often have in common is their “frame” consisting of one or two now old rows of trees, which form a link between the neighbouring buildings and the city square. In their new designs, all planners have recognised this frame to be harmonious and respected it.

Thus the rows of trees enclosing the Kolpingplatz and consisting of northern red oaks (“Quercusrubra”) are predominantly well-established. The now completed redesign involved two construction stages. The goal was to make the historic square one that could be experienced and able to meet today’s requirements and standards. Small children in particular enjoy the mud play area, slide, swings for smaller children, seesaws and playhouses. Moreover, there is a playing field and a large play combination with different opportunities for climbing, intended for use by children of 8 years and above. The area for small children is enclosed by a wooden walkway, which can at the same time also be used as seating.

The area to the north and east is used more by adults. Here sitting and relaxation areas were created, enabling the locals to meet for a relaxed chat. A boules pitch was also created, where it will soon be possible for small contests to be held.

Surrounded by mighty trees, the square itself is already very beautiful and offers those out for a walk or seeking to relax the perfect place to while away the time. Benches are arranged on the paths that run around the square, from which parents can watch their little ones at play.

Sport master plan

Since the beginning of the new millennium, the federal capital Düsseldorf has placed the planning, construction and operation of public sports facilities on a new footing. In 2000, the sports facilities master plan was launched for the renovation, modernisation and construction of such facilities. Following intensive planning, the City of Düsseldorf’s sports department submitted a comprehensive package of measures for consultation and resolution to the sports committee as the competent political decision-making body. A total of more than 100 sports construction projects with a volume of more than € 140 million in funds was to be implemented. Particular attention was paid to achieving a balanced spatial distribution of the measures among the ten city districts. Moreover, the offers within the framework of the urban bathing areas have not been reduced, which has been the trend in the surrounding cities, but expanded with three new swimming baths.

The sports master plan, which will be in place until 2014, has a total volume of about € 140 million. About € 112 million has already been allocated. € 55 million was invested in civil engineering, and € 57 million in structural engineering. The city of Düsseldorf currently has 56 artificial turf pitches and tracks. The construction of 50 of these was funded via the master plan. In total, there are 41 full-size football pitches, 13 small pitches and 2 hockey pitches with synthetic grass. Furthermore, there are 41 natural pitches in the federal capital, twelve of which were constructed or improved using master plan funds. There are also 22 circuit tracks including the track in the light athletics hall, the creation of 13 of which was funded via the master plan – eight as synthetic tracks, five as clay tracks.

The following sports halls are examples of the structures in the city area:
- 3-purpose halls at the Brinkmannstraße, Hansaallee, Ottweiler Straße, Koetschaustraße and Gerresheimer Landstraße
- 4-purpose hall at the Gräulinger Straße
- 2nd ice rink in the Brehmstraße ice stadium
- Conversion of the multi-purpose Brehmstraße ice stadium
- Light athletics hall in the Arena sport park
- German Grafenberg table tennis centre
- Skater hockey hall in the Niederheid sports park
- Rather Waldstadion stadium, construction of 3-purpose hall and outdoor facilities.


With the master plans for playgrounds and sport, Düsseldorf has significantly improved the quality of life of its citizens. The federal capital has thus become more attractive. The strengthening of its so-called soft location factors is simultaneously an investment in the future. New movement offers help to make Düsseldorf more lovable and more worth living in. This is also confirmed by the Mercer study, a comparative global study of the quality of life in 221 major cities: For years now, Düsseldorf has already figured among the best and in 2012 the federal capital ranked 6th place in the world.


Most German municipalities have piled up debt and, in view of the financial and economic crisis and its consequences, are in danger of even increasing those debts for the foreseeable future. It almost seems as if the march into debt and therefore into limited municipal services is unstoppable. The noble cause of generational justice gets left behind. Marc Gnädinger investigates the ways in which the brakes can be put on the municipalities' debt. One solution can be found right in front of their noses, they only need to look properly: in Germany there are some municipalities, which clearly have no more debt problems. They are free of debt and some have even set money aside. Thus by themselves they have managed to achieve what local politicians of all parties in other municipalities can thus far only dream of.
Gnädinger, Marc: Schuldenfreie Kommunen 2010 : Ein Überblick über die schuldenfreien Gemeinden und Gemeindeverbände der dreizehn deutschen Flächenländer (ISBN 978-3-86866-124-8)

The fact that there is a way of dealing with taxpayers’ money responsibly is shown by the example of the town of Langenfeld. Because from 3 October 2008, the town of 60,000 inhabitants between Cologne and Düsseldorf is debt-free. The mayor and administrative head Magnus Staehler describes the path that led to the debt-free municipality. The involvement and successful participation of citizens and companies as partners in the town management enterprise has been a key factor in its success. Thus from 1.1.2009, Langenfeld will have the lowest tax rate in North Rhine-Westphalia, with taxes at the level of 1997.

Stähler, Magnus: 1, 2, 3 Schuldenfrei: Wie die Stadt Langenfeld aus Amtsschimmeln Rennpferde machte - die Erfolgsformel zur Sanierung städtischer Finanzen
(ISBN 978-3-7093-0226-2)

Photography: City of Düsseldorf

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