Quiet, abandoned lots become construction sites: a sign of bustling new neighbourhoods to come. In this year of industrial culture celebration, this miniseries will explore how former Leipzig industrial sites will be made over to become lively, sustainable urban districts. How do these mega-developments tackle the challenge of a rapidly growing population? How do they expound on the existing city and how will they bring more sustainability? View Part I here.
As I arrive at the Bayerischer Bahnhof portico after a long walk, I wonder what will remain of this slow-paced environment I am observing, knowing that the city is facing a time of rapid development.
Around 100,000 people have moved to Leipzig over the last 10 years, increasing the population at a rate of almost 2% a year. The pace has slowed to just over 1% over the last two years, though it still represents the annual creation of an entire city district.
To meet the increasing demand for housing and promote sustainability, the municipality has encouraged the densification of the city centre rather than the suburbs. In the 2000s, the municipality relied heavily on the existing supply of vacant dwellings – which were deserted in previous decades in favour of the suburbs – to address the housing shortage. As it became clear that the population would keep growing, the city considered its substantial industrial legacy, abandoned buildings and lands, and initiated large brownfield reconversions.
The Stadtraum Bayerische Bahnhof project is one of the three major brownfield developments planned in the city centre, which are set to take over these quiet areas as soon as this year. With 1300 apartments, over 36 hectares of land, the project aims to attract 2700 new inhabitants. But creating new housing is not enough to build a community, especially when the goal is to build a sustainable one.
A sustainable development doesn’t echo one rigid definition, and every developer and decision-maker has a different approach.
In the municipal discourse that’s taking place in Leipzig, ‘sustainability’ is the key principle to city development, but it is hard to see exactly what it means and what the city envisions. One way of exploring this is to review the proposed projects. The developers behind Stadtraum Bayerischer Bahnhof argue that the 6 hectare central park guarantees sustainability.
It’s no accident that the park overlaps the existing green space. In integrating it, the project both respects how that space is currently utilised by locals and also allows the grass and trees some breathing room. Unfortunately, this logic of building on existing strengths is not carried through: the Distillery club couldn’t find a place in the new project and is being forced to move out for demolition.
The planned park is crucial to environmental sustainability. It will compensate for the adverse environmental impacts generated by new construction, which, even if they are tagged as buildings “with modern energy standards”, will increase heat and emit more Co2. The large green space will cool down the heat generated by the buildings, reduce air pollution, and foster biodiversity. Bike and pedestrian routes will also be prioritised over cars and will expand from the park to the adjacent neighbourhoods. It will also serve the municipal ambition to foster a green belt around the city that connects better to the surrounding lands.
As Leipzig asserts its status as an attractive city with a growing population, thinking about how we can coexist with our differences is crucial.
When it comes time to choose a place to live, I always ask myself: do I see myself there in 1, 3 or 10 years? Do I see opportunities to meet other people? Do I feel welcome? Planning for diversity does not only contribute to making the city more sustainable, it also creates fulfilling living conditions for its residents.
Since the 50s, few planned neighbourhoods have encountered success. Most modern cities were designed according to a reorganisation of human activities into distinct silos, separating people and things to avoid conflict. They failed in many aspects.
Take Toronto, Canada. The city has grown outwards for decades, creating more and more distance between residential areas and places of employment. In 2019, an average commute to-and-from work took 84 minutes of a Torontonian’s day. The pollution emitted by our over-dependence on cars and what it takes away from other aspects of our lives make the system socially and environmentally unsustainable.
The Stadtraum Bayerische Bahnhof project is organised around a large variety of activities: residential, recreational, commercial, employment-related, educational, and cultural. The goal is to support sustainable lifestyles, defined as offering opportunities to a diversity of people, ages, and cultures. The ability of the project to become a lively and inclusive neighbourhood will rely naturally on the park but also on the planned Lößnigerstraße area. Its delicate engineering, the art of putting every space in relation, will be crucial for creating lively spaces.
“Neighbourhood is a state of being in a relationship,” states David Sim, Danish architect and author of Soft City.
Sim argues that when cities densify, they also naturally diversify. They increase the potential for encounters. Planning and designing for encounters, to evolve beyond differences, is a chance to create opportunities for life to happen. Densifying should not be about opening a space for fear of others and conflict. It is a chance to create a lively neighbourhood with sustainability. But to do so, the project should also tackle the challenge of social diversity. A lively community thrives when it plays host to lots of different types of people: young, old, rich, poor, families, singles. Will it have something to offer all of us? On this matter, the developers remain discrete.
In the next article, I will dig into an international urban development portfolio to get some insight into what a sustainable community could be and how it can provide new ideas for Leipzig.
Maéva is a globe-trotting urban designer who recently anchored in Leipzig after a few stopovers in France, Senegal, Brazil and Canada. Keen on understanding city mechanisms and being part of their making, she conducts research projects, arts-based interventions and urban design projects. She is currently teaching at the Institut für Stadtentwicklung und Bauwirtschaft (ISB) at Leipzig University.