Young urban landscapes

By Dr. Juliane Pegels and Friedhelm Terfrüchte, Davids &Terfrüchte Landschaftsarchitekten Partnerschaftsgesellschaft Essen, Germany

Young urban landscapes

Questions about education are discussed in many contexts. Debates about new forms of school and childcare are currently just as passionate as those causing an uproar regarding school closures. Rarely however, are the special needs of neighbourhood youngsters in their daily environment one of the topics of discussion. Renovation of school yards, new designs for playgrounds and construction of skate arenas, is not enough. Young adults have a claim to free space which is often not sufficiently recognised and, therefore, receives little attention - but this is exactly what is most important. If we do not create free room for this target group, where they can learn how to occupy themselves and interact with each other while experiencing the diversity of today's society, conflict is pre-programmed. It takes more, however, than mono-functional school yards and standardised sports fields. Planning and design of new urban landscapes demand that we take young people seriously, give them a greater say regarding urban space and include them as experts in decision-making processes.

Understanding schools to be a central location for city and society means, among other things, releasing them from their fenced-in existence, and increasingly making them a vital component of districts and neighbourhoods. In particular with the introduction of day schools and block lesson times, (as opposed to morning only or varying timetables), schools will become new focal points. Earlier, they were open only in the morning, and otherwise only formed impenetrable islands in the city landscape. More comprehensive lesson times will demand not only longer opening hours, but also a different understanding of the schools themselves. Free areas around the educational institutions will need to take on the conventional recreational functions of a school system, but will also need to become meeting places, attractive to young people where they will enjoy being at all times of the day. These considerations were decisive for the design of the SchoolWalk in Wuppertal, Germany. Within the framework of the Regionale 2006 (a mutual work programme by the three industrial cities of Remscheid, Solingen and Wuppertal begun in 1997 to promote regional structural change), the enclosed grounds of a technical college and high-school centre, used daily by several thousand school children and students, was turned into a multi-functional campus. The centre was formed by a wide, clearly organised, linear area which linked the different school buildings and the campus with both the city centre and the banks of the regenerated River Wupper. As a "catwalk" this area provides new opportunities for encounters, is attractive at all times of the day and night and is an important section of the local communication system.

Demographic change has an influence on many areas of urban and spatial planning and, naturally, also on reorganisation of schools, although this can involve not only closures, but also the contrary. An increasing demand for space can be seen, for example, at the Josefschule in the inner city of Krefeld, Germany. Here, a large school in the middle of an urban restructuring area was suffering under pressure from increased user demands. After a tough struggle with neighbours, an adjacent, little-used street was included and converted into a multi-coded area offering leisure quality for school children, local residents and visitors. The newly restructured area is equipped with games, benches and trees and is attractive at all times and for all activities. This new interaction of school and urban space shows that multiple and overlaying uses provide an increased benefit and that the structural relationship between school and neighbourhood can be strengthened through recreation. The redesigned Corneliusstrasse also shows that we need to move on from simple goal-oriented fulfilment of school and urban authority requirements towards a coherent viewpoint and integrated design of leisure space in a local area.

Other countries are much less complicated in this regard. In the Netherlands, for example, multifunctional use of parks can often be seen. In Bruges in Belgium, it is self-explanatory that urban greenery is used for school sport. This multi-coding is not only a solution to lack of space. In many areas of German cities, the population is shrinking and ageing so that some parks are hardly used anymore. Here as well, it is worth considering whether these locations can be used for organised sport activities. Nobody finds it surprising that in The Regent's Park in London, a 400 meter running track can be used for competition sport right next to daily recreation facilities - exactly the opposite. Here, different generations with different requirements come together and profit from an inspiring coexistence. With this less conventional understanding of education locations, sports facilities can also be seen in a different light. A number of such stadiums remain unused despite a visible change in leisure activity trends. There is no demand for them in the current configuration, even though people are tending to take up more sporting activities. Here as well, it is time to take a critical look at existing facilities and to adapt them to current requirements. A good example of what this means can be seen in a multi-functional playing field at Gelsenkirchen-Bismarck, a district of the city of Gelsenkirchen near Essen in Germany, where sport is possible 365 days a year at any time of the day and night on a synthetic surface and under floodlights. The need for round-the-clock sport facilities is also shown by floodlit running tracks like those in the Grugapark in Essen or the Romberg Park in Dortmund, which are very popular after daylight hours at all times of the year.

When free space for youngsters is no longer only understood as mono-functional facilities, consequences result for planning procedures. As an integral part of a neighbourhood, it can no longer simply be the product of one-man expert planning decisions, but must be the result of mutual discussions and target setting processes. This message is not new; the tools of integrated urban development concepts make exactly the same case for inclusion of all those people involved. This includes young people and that they have a different picture of urbanity can be clearly seen by the Project Rather Corso in Morsenbroich/Rath, a socially weak city district of Düsseldorf, where an innovative dialogue with youngsters examines where they prefer to be, what they want to do there and what attracts them to these places. This play and exercise concept was not about identifying locations for DIN-standardised playgrounds, but to protect and upgrade popular places, to link them with targeted "acupuncture" and to create new opportunities at selected locations. This pilot project was realised with support from the North Rhine Westphälia regional authorities. Outside of Düsseldorf, it helps other regions see urban recreational and exercise requirements of youngsters in a different light and to take them seriously as experts in this field of activity. Using this dialogue-oriented approach, places are created together with the young people with which they can identify, which are accepted by them and for which they assume responsibility. In this way, destructive forces and vandalism are rendered ineffective.


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