We were there: Eurocities conference on demographic change

on November the 26th, 2012 at the Office of Berlin in Brussels.

The event was organised by the Office of Berlin and funded by the European Commission via EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities. It contained presentations of new strategies for Urban Mobility and Design for Public Spaces in London, Vienna and Berlin and a discussion on initiatives and challenges for the development of barrier-free cities.

London

Tim Rettler and Tobias Goevert (Greater London Authority) were introducing the London Plan as one of the main instruments of urban development in London. The London Plan is the strategic plan for London. It sets a fully integrated economic, environmental, transport and social framework for the city development to 2031. One focus of the London Plan is the improvement of the conditions of London’s High Streets especially in the outer London neighbourhoods. The High Street Project is financed by The Outer London Fund and it wants to improve public realm, to provide business and support and to strengthen the excising cultural offer of neighbourhoods.

Vienna

Martina Rießland (Vienna City Administration) and Theresa Schütz (Technical University of Vienna) presented Vienna’s Urban Development Plan, new models for public space and the project Fokus Erdgeschosszone. Both underlined that Vienna is a growing city due to migration from rural areas in Austria and abroad. Therefore, the main aim of the STEP-Plan (the urban development plan for Vienna) is to deal with the challenges and difficulties of the urban growth.

The STEP is an integrated and comprehensive plan for the whole city and it consists of several sectoral plans on topics like infrastructure and green spaces. Theresa Schütz established that Vienna is experiencing a lot of pressure on the use of public space. She argued that there is a tendency of commercialisation and festivalisation as part of neoliberal city policies and globalisation. Therefore she insisted that this “commercial abuse” of Vienna’s public space has to be controlled.

She presented the project Fokus Erdgeschosszone (Focus Ground Floor Zones) as a reaction on new demands of urban society. This strategic project offers a concept on the use of ground floors. The project wants to revitalise public space in Vienna by improving the conditions of ground floor zones as the flagship of neighbourhoods and activities in public spaces.

Berlin

Rainer Nagel and Elke Plate (Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment) were introducing Berlin’s Urban Development Concept 2030 and the Demography Concept. Like the STEP-Plan in Vienna, the Berlin STEP is dealing with a further growth of the city with focus on strategic centre areas of the city. The STEP tries to react on the uneven spatial development of Berlin, and with challenges of aging and the demographic change. Like the London Plan and the Vienna STEP-Plan, it is a comprehensive plan that integrates the economic, demographic, environmental and social development and trends of Berlin. Elke Plate presented the “Demographic Plan”, its spatial outcomes and task for city planning. She further showcased the project “Mittendrin Berlin”, which provides a walking strategy and aims to strengthen Berlin’s central areas.

In the following discussion Immaculada Placencia-Porrero (European Commission) and Gerd Grenner (EUROCITIES) argued that European standards for accessibility in cities are needed in addition to statutory requirements. Gerd Grenner presented the work of EUROCITIES as a network of Europe’s major cities. He came to the conclusion that the networking of cities, the exchange of knowledge and a European strategy in urban development will be much more needed in the future.

Conclusions

To conclude, the event demonstrated that demographic change is widely considered as one of the main challenges for European cities. The development of cities in Europe is very much affected by ethnic, cultural and lifestyle diversity as well as changing family and household structures. It seems that London, Vienna and Berlin have developed a range of strategies and projects that are trying to react on this change. The diversification of society also means that urban planning and design have to deal with numerous new requirement and expectations.

Unfortunately, the event lacked on a wide and sophisticated discussion of answers to these challenges. Due to the presentation of the strategies in London, Berlin and Vienna it is not very clear how these cities are dealing with an aging population, with the challenges of social polarisation, the urban poor, questions of integration and even the challenges of climate change. Therefore, the presented strategies and programs are just little drops in the ocean – answers to the problem areas of today’s urban society or even an European approach to deal with a more diverse and heterogeneous society are missing.

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