The European City: Suggestions for further strategic positioning of the C.E.U.

Harald Keg­ler

Mean­while the C.E.U. has acqui­red a litt­le histo­ry: five years ago the initia­ti­ve emer­ged, get­ting trans­at­lan­tic sup­port and nee­ding enor­mous efforts during the first years. In this way, it didn’t take very long to com­po­se and to adopt a char­ter, which, in addi­ti­on, was exten­ded in spe­cial fiel­ds in the indi­vi­du­al natio­nal groups or chap­ters, as for instance in Ger­ma­ny. During several con­fe­ren­ces in Stock­holm or Lis­bon, the con­tent of the pro­fi­le was suc­cess­ful­ly impro­ved. A foun­da­ti­on for future pro­jects was set up, and fur­ther­mo­re, medi­al means of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on inclu­si­ve own inter­net web sites were arran­ged, whe­re the initia­ti­ve of the Bri­tish part­ners should be empha­si­zed, and con­tri­bu­ti­ons were publis­hed. Apart from this, par­ti­ci­pants in Nor­way mana­ged to estab­lish an EC edu­ca­tio­nal pro­ject, which has mean­while achie­ved a second sta­ge. Here the C.E.U. ser­ves as a “medi­um” of initia­ti­ve.

All the facts men­tio­ned abo­ve are all the more remar­kab­le, as they are cau­sed by the acti­vi­ties of a small non-pro­fit-initia­ti­ve, having no orga­ni­sa­ti­on appa­ra­tus and no finan­ces of its own. The “offices” in Oslo and Lon­don do their work very com­mend­a­b­ly; other­wi­se we wouldn’t have achie­ved so much. Unques­tion­ab­ly, the high­lights of the acti­vi­ties done up to now were the con­fe­ren­ces. After the pre­pa­ra­to­ry con­ven­ti­on held in Brussels/Brügge and the foun­da­ti­on con­gress held in Stock­holm, we suc­cee­ded in hol­ding the 1st Inter­na­tio­nal Con­gress in Ber­lin with well-known par­ti­ci­pants. A second con­gress was held in Leeds, and the third con­gress, which will be held in Oslo in 2008, will impro­ve the out­line of the C.E.U…

The C.E.U. has not yet beco­me a move­ment or a mass orga­ni­sa­ti­on, but nevertheless it is begin­ning to show, that the­re is a need for such a net­work insti­tu­ti­on dealing with the topic of the “Euro­pean City”. At the same time, over­seas (espe­cial­ly in the U.S.A., but also in Aus­tra­lia, Isra­el and Latin Ame­ri­ca) the New Urba­nism is actual­ly deve­lo­ping into a move­ment cha­rac­te­ri­zed by remar­kab­le con­tent and exten­si­on. Many peop­le do still smi­le at it and are sus­pi­cious of it, but it has mana­ged to be dis­cus­sed and to pre­sent ans­wers to urgent prac­ti­cal ques­ti­ons with regard to urban and regio­nal deve­lo­p­ment. The C.E.U. would not be con­ceiva­ble without this move­ment, which is orga­ni­sing its­elf for­mal­ly for 15 years. The C.E.U. sees its­elf abso­lute­ly as a part of this move­ment, alt­hough being enti­t­led to have an own pro­fi­le. The­re are good rea­sons for this.

We have over­co­me the initi­al sta­ge of the C.E.U. It is a suc­cess which was pos­si­ble only as a result of the per­sis­tent efforts of many peop­le, not at least the efforts of the first chair­man and the secreta­ry of the initia­ti­ve. But now a sta­ge of a new qua­li­ty seems to begin, even to beco­me necessa­ry. Des­pi­te of the Char­ter, the con­fe­ren­ces and publi­ca­ti­ons, the impor­t­ance and per­spec­ti­ve of the C.E.U. and its indi­vi­du­al chap­ters is still rela­tively indis­tinct out­ward­ly, alt­hough all the par­ti­ci­pants and a cer­tain num­ber of sym­pa­thisers appre­cia­te the for­ma­ti­on of such an initia­ti­ve which feels its­elf bound to the tra­di­ti­ons of urban deve­lo­p­ment and archi­tec­tu­re, and which seeks for taking them up into the plan­ning for the future (at least, that’s the way out­si­ders often see it). So now, after the begin­nings have been mana­ged, it is important to deter­mi­ne the exact posi­ti­on, to inten­si­fy the effec­ti­ve­ness and to clear the pro­fi­le of the C.E.U… But one thing shall not get lost: we must remain open for as much as pos­si­ble views and opi­ni­ons, pro­fes­si­ons and back­grounds wit­hin a pro­gram­ma­tic frame­work, as just this bears an essen­ti­al chan­ce for shaping the pro­fi­le of the C.E.U. as an open net­work (in con­trast to pro­fes­sio­nal or inte­rest orga­ni­sa­ti­ons). Nevertheless, this will not be enough to get noti­ced and to gain more influ­ence.

Apart from the con­tent and con­cre­te pro­jects that we can offer, we “own” an espe­cial­ly important thing: the “Euro­pean City”. As the name of the net­work shows alrea­dy – it is an initia­ti­ve FOR Euro­pean urba­nism.

The Euro­pean City stands for a model that was built lived in and plan­ned for a rela­tively suc­cess­ful way of urba­ni­sa­ti­on in the cour­se of the cen­tu­ries. The Euro­pean City has pro­ved to be a fle­xi­ble and at the same time long-las­ting social-spa­ti­al sys­tem, that has come through gre­at chan­ges and is embed­ded in the con­scious­ness of the peop­le not only in Euro­pe. It is not only an eco­no­mi­c­al and social, and defi­ni­te­ly not only an aca­de­mic pro­per­ty, but also an emo­tio­nal one that is the embo­di­ment of such things like home and Euro­pean iden­ti­ty. Fur­ther­mo­re, the Euro­pean City repres­ents a model, which was suc­cess­ful in com­pa­ri­son with other models, as for examp­le the so-cal­led Ame­ri­can City, espe­cial­ly with regard to coping with cri­ses, pha­ses of deve­lo­p­ment and reces­si­on, social sta­bi­li­ty, eco­no­mi­c­al pro­spe­ri­ty or eco­lo­gi­cal main­ten­an­ce. Well, THE Euro­pean City actual­ly does not exist. It rather con­cerns a spec­trum of built, lived and plan­ned city-regi­ons with a rela­ti­ve varie­ty of shaping, which, nevertheless, share several cha­rac­te­ris­tics, like com­pact­ness, limi­ted­ness, social varie­ty, dif­fe­ren­tia­ti­on of public spaces with mixed use, cul­tu­ral requi­re­ments, inte­gra­ti­on of his­to­ri­cal sec­tions or archi­tec­tu­ral varie­ty – a refe­rence to all this is embed­ded in the Char­ter of the C.E.U.

Mean­while this model is being copied and new­ly inven­ted world-wide, and it is regar­ded as espe­cial­ly attrac­ti­ve for eco­no­mi­c­al, cul­tu­ral and tou­rist pro­jects. The Euro­pean City as a type is par­ti­cu­lar­ly cha­rac­te­ri­zed by dif­fe­rent epochs, as the medi­eval town (and – the medi­eval vil­la­ge, which should not be for­got­ten), the uni­que baro­que town (a phe­no­me­na in the world), the city expan­si­on in the years of rapid indus­tri­al deve­lo­p­ment, the Gar­den City – a model, that has kept its attrac­ti­ve­ness until today, the social­ly and struc­tu­ral­ly ambi­tious housing and public buil­dings of dif­fe­rent archi­tec­tu­re bet­ween the wars in the 20th cen­tu­ry, the new cities that were built after the war refer­ring to tra­di­ti­ons of the Euro­pean City (from Le Hav­re to Eisen­hüt­ten­stadt), the recon­struc­ted towns (as for instance the old parts of Ypern and War­saw, nowa­days world cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge), but recent­ly also the city of cri­ti­cal recon­struc­tion and eco­lo­gi­cal reno­va­ti­on.

A spe­cial mark of the Euro­pean City is the decen­tra­li­sed city regi­on. This is gene­ral­ly an important key for future pro­spects of urban sys­tems. With regard to con­struc­tion, but also to plan­ning / con­cep­ti­on Euro­pe has made decisi­ve con­tri­bu­ti­ons in this field. Espe­cial­ly in the United Sta­tes just the­se con­tri­bu­ti­ons are adop­ted, thus try­ing to ban the urban and social scour­ge, the sprawl, and to head for a social-eco­no­mi­c­al future. Even among scep­tics, the Euro­pean City is regar­ded as bench­mark of the inter­na­tio­nal dis­pu­tes on urba­ni­sa­ti­on.

Natu­ral­ly, during the last 50 years the Euro­pean City could not escape the car domi­na­ted trans­for­ma­ti­on of inner-city districts, spraw­ling expan­si­on, expan­se demo­li­ti­on, over­de­ve­lo­p­ment of land­s­capes and chan­ge of city and vil­la­ge cen­tres into faca­des for tou­rists or ste­ri­le uni­form ensem­bles. The requi­re­ments of the cli­ma­tic chan­ge affect Euro­pe, too. The Euro­pean City is not a result of an auto­ma­tic pro­cess. Someo­ne thought that the Euro­pean City will lose the impor­t­ance in the future. The oppo­si­te is the rea­li­ty. The Euro­pean City has pro­ved to be a type of las­ting deve­lo­p­ment and can be repre­sen­ted world-wide as a suc­cess­ful deve­lo­p­ment model for an urban future under chan­ging con­di­ti­ons. The Euro­pean City will also be a suc­cess­ful model in the post-indus­tri­al age and in the peri­od after the che­a­pen ener­gy.

And the­re things have come full cir­cle: the C.E.U. can and must func­tion as a net­wor­ker as well as an advo­ca­te, as a spe­cia­list, valua­tor, advi­ser and media­tor, but also as a plan­ner of con­cre­te model pro­jects in the sen­se of the Euro­pean City.

Here it is necessa­ry to bring out the his­to­ri­cal­ly dura­ble struc­tures of the Euro­pean City (of various epochs) and to make it avail­ab­le as a chal­len­ge for actu­al plan­ning. At the same time it is important to inte­gra­te inter­na­tio­nal expe­ri­en­ces sup­por­ting the plan­ning and fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment of the Euro­pean City, as for instance the method of Char­ret­te, the LEED-stan­dards or the Tran­sect-con­cept deve­lo­ped in the U.S.A… Fur­ther­mo­re, the plan­ning and buil­ding prac­ti­ces in Euro­pe – par­ti­cu­lar­ly tho­se deve­lo­ped sin­ce 1975 -, the aim of which was to reco­ver the Euro­pean City, should be inte­gra­ted into the actu­al dis­cus­sion on the plan­ning of the Euro­pean City. Some of them are:

  • The sys­tem Shared Spaces by Mond­er­mann (Nether­lands);
  • The City-regio­nal ener­gy aut­ar­ky (Aus­tria, Ger­ma­ny, Ita­ly…);
  • The urban pro­tec­tion of his­to­ri­cal monuments/buildings and the
  • Care­ful reno­va­ti­on of cities / cri­ti­cal recon­struc­tion (Poland, Ger­ma­ny, Ita­ly…);
  • The Urban Renais­sance, that means stra­te­gies for revi­ving of city cen­tres,
  • Old indus­try are­as and city quar­ters (Eng­land, Ire­land, Poland, Ger­ma­ny, Spain…);
  • The rede­signing of the public space (Scan­di­na­via, Fran­ce, Ger­ma­ny, Spain, Ita­ly…);
  • The stra­te­gies of inte­rim use and of the dealing with shrin­kage (Ger­ma­ny, Fran­ce…);

The 3rd Inter­na­tio­nal Con­gress of the C.E.U. in Oslo is an important oppor­tu­ni­ty to streng­t­hen the pro­fi­le of the C.E.U. and, in addi­ti­on, to con­vey the mes­sa­ge, that the Euro­pean City is a model that can effec­tively be regar­ded as a means of pre­ven­ti­on and after-care in con­nec­tion with the cli­ma­te chan­ge. That does not mean that this goes auto­ma­ti­cal­ly. We must rather find out care­ful­ly, which ele­ments of the built and plan­ned Euro­pean City can be con­si­de­red to be future-ori­en­ta­ted under the point of view of the cli­ma­tic chan­ge. In this con­nec­tion the con­gress has an important task: to work out spe­ci­fic solu­ti­ons with regard to the chal­len­ges of the cli­ma­tic chan­ge with refe­rence to Euro­pean urban deve­lo­p­ment – from the his­to­ri­cal as well as from the actu­al point of view.

Natu­ral­ly, the­se aspects have to be com­ple­ted by non-Euro­pean expe­ri­en­ces and know­ledge. This is demons­tra­ted by the arti­cles for the Oslo Con­gress announ­ced from all over the world.

The C.E.U. would beco­me the pro­mo­ter or the Euro­pean City – as a plat­form for dis­cus­sions and for inter­na­tio­nal exchan­ge of expe­ri­en­ces, offe­ring qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on and con­cre­te model pro­jects. The future of the city, of city quar­ters and rural are­as asks more and more for fea­si­ble solu­ti­ons bey­ond the under­stan­ding of moder­ni­ty, which igno­res the iden­ti­ty of the Euro­pean City. Inso­far, the C.E.U. can put its objec­ti­ves and aims in more con­cre­te terms, and it can more often take the offen­si­ve. Fur­ther­mo­re, this should be used as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk to the Ame­ri­can, Aus­tra­li­an, Israe­li and other part­ners, in order to shar­pen the pro­fi­le of the C.E.U. in the ensem­ble of the New Urba­nism Move­ment and to streng­t­hen the move­ment as a who­le.

Under this point of view the effec­ti­ve­ness of the inter­nal orga­ni­sa­tio­nal and coope­ra­ti­on struc­tures of the C.E.U. should be impro­ved. This should be dis­cus­sed in con­nec­tion with the pre­pa­ra­ti­on of the Oslo Con­gress. At the same time it is necessa­ry to for­ce up selec­tively the expan­si­on of the Euro­pean part­ners­hips. A very important part­ner is Roma­nia, but also Poland, the Bal­tic coun­tries, Rus­sia and of cour­se South Euro­pe. The ques­ti­on of a (repre­sen­ta­ti­ve) head­quar­ters of the C.E.U. must be sett­led as well as ques­ti­ons of the forms of coope­ra­ti­on, inter­nal demo­cra­tic pro­ce­du­res and public rela­ti­ons work. The basis has been crea­ted, on which we can build up our fur­ther work.

With regard to the pro­spects of the C.E.U., the con­gres­ses should be the anchors of coope­ra­ti­on, exten­si­on and con­tent of the work. The pla­ces and sub­jects of the next con­gres­ses should be fixed in Oslo, wher­eby the midd­le of Eas­tern Euro­pe and the South should be con­si­de­red pri­ma­ri­ly. A two year inter­val could be hel­pful, so that the­re is enough time for making pre­pa­ra­ti­ons. Bet­ween the con­gres­ses events of the natio­nal Chap­ters could be orga­ni­zed. The C.E.U. should be visi­b­ly repre­sen­ted at the annu­al CNU con­gres­ses in the U.S.A. as well as at the events in Isra­el or Aus­tra­lia and make the­re own con­tri­bu­ti­ons. Joint pro­jects and events, as alrea­dy prac­ti­ced in initi­al sta­ges in Brussels or Stock­holm would sup­port the trans­at­lan­tic exchan­ge. Nevertheless, in this con­nec­tion the C.E.U. has to make up a lot with regard to sys­te­ma­tic intro­duc­tion of own con­tri­bu­ti­ons.

An important means for impro­ving the com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on are model pro­jects, which can clear up the opi­ni­ons and con­cep­ti­ons of the C.E.U… Under this point of view the natio­nal Chap­ters should con­si­der, which pro­jects can be regar­ded as repre­sen­ta­ti­ve for the Euro­pean City and its future.

The Con­gress in Oslo is the right time for the C.E.U. to bring befo­re the public a clear decla­ra­ti­on of belief in the Euro­pean City at a new sta­ge as a sui­ta­ble model for the future.

Des­sau, 2008-02-21

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