Housing Distress Compresses the cities!
Germany is a land of poets and thinkers. Allegedly. The sentence, however, comes from the romance, but in the future, a different image blooms us: From Germany is a country of density and narrowness. Urbanization is a worldwide phenomenon. Since 2008, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. According to United Nations forecasts, by 2050, seven out of ten people will live in cities. Where in Germany the concept of the city is somewhat bureaucratic depending on the number of inhabitants. From 100,000 citizens one speaks of large cities, from 20,000 inhabitants of middle-class cities – under it are small towns and rural communities. In Germany, the degree of urbanization is far above the global average. Germans are or will be urbanites.
The consequences of the rural exodus, whose causes could finally be tackled, are well known. Rural areas age faster than cities. They not only lose the youth, but also professionals and jobs. The infrastructure is shrinking – as well as educational and cultural offers. What is new, however, is that the cities are also affected by the imbalance, because they are now lacking living space in a dramatic way. For the first time since the postwar period, when Germany was in ruins, the experts are again talking about a housing shortage. Living has become the most important social issue of the present. Responsible for this would be – in theory, because apart from asylum bickering is hardly substantive to hear from there – the Ministry of the Interior, which also carries the terms “construction” and “home” in the name.
Who owns the city? To those who live in it – or to those who want to enter? What causes a second conflict: Where and how should one “re-compact” cities? An example of this debate is the dispute over a housing project in Munich. On posters advertising a political discussion at the end of July, the possible future of an area in the east of the city is being outlined. Munich would therefore turn into a concrete termite mound at this point. On display is an ugly, even hostile-looking skyscraper, densely populated with anonymous-looking living space under a lead-gray sky. Above it is the word “future”. In addition, however, the term “today” is an idyll under a white-blue sky to see, which consists of a lot of open field and crouched family house. And all in all reminds of the village of the Smurfs.
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To the strikingly carried out on the Isar controversy over the future of the cities, which should be neither Termitenhügel nor Schlumpfdörfer, also fits the recently resolved by the Diet in Dusseldorf new building regulations. In addition, it is said that “through the changed distance area law” a “denser building” is made possible, in order to exhaust “Nachverdichtungspotenziale”. The dispute over such potential is programmed.
Cities are not villages, but also no overpopulated cairns
There are two clichés in this conflict that are of little help in resolving the problems of the future. Cities are not villages. They do not want to and can not be that. Cities are not overpopulated cairns, as they are known from apocalyptic Hollywood movies. Or from regions of the world whose megacities actually have completely different dimensions than the comparatively small cities of Germany. On the other hand, increasingly dense cities are also problematic in this country. They may create not only living space, but also the space to become ill. The medicine knows well the connection of spatial narrowness and stress following illnesses. In fact, one has to be worried: Stress is one of the World Health Organization’s biggest challenges in the 21st century. It seems fatal: those who want to answer the social question of the 21st century, living in the cities, are simultaneously fueling a source of illness in the 21st century.
There is a way out of this dilemma. In fact, a city whose land is a limited good can be densified – without having to feel cramped. Architecture, urban planning and open space planning: this is a trio of hope. Because you can plan apartments incorrectly or correctly, you can create parks or let it stay, you can design cities user-friendly or misanthropic. You can create more, much more living space in cities – and at the same time make attractive living environments.
Paris, Copenhagen, Rome, Vienna, Barcelona: these are all cities that are much more densely populated than, for example, Munich, which along its highways is almost holey provincial, sometimes appears more depressive than urban and vital. A good, high-quality density is not the problem in Germany, but the solution.