Forests for Shrinking Cities? The Project “Industrial Forests of the Ruhr”

Jorg Dettmar

Design and Landscape Architecture, TU Darmstadt


The central theme in urban planning in Germany currently is how to ad­dress the consequences of population decline. These consequences are al­ready being felt in many places, in other areas they are fearfully expected. Shrinking cities and perforated cities are terms to describe the break up of urban structure in which new open spaces arise through the demolition of residential buildings and infrastructure facilities. Urban planning works to provide direction for an orderly retreat. It has long been unclear whether this has been successful (e. g. Arbeitskreis Stadterneuerung 2002).

None of this is completely new. It was already clear in the 1980s that these demographic developments would arise. Also, the old industrial re­gions of Europe – the Ruhr, for example – have several decades of experi­ence with the shrinking process (Wachten 1996).

This marks a serious turning point for architects and urban planners, politicians and citizens who are accustomed to combining progress with growth and now must consider demolition and deconstruction. These as­pects of decline have triggered helplessness and depression in recent years. Landscape architecture has been brought more sharply into focus in the search for new approaches to solutions. For one, this is for purely prag­matic reasons. When a building is torn down and a new built use has been ruled out over the long term, a new “open space” is created to be designed, to be developed, to be dealt with. Also, within landscape architecture, work with vegetation is the central element. Inherent in this is the integra­tion of growth and decline. A dynamic and flexible work and design phi­losophy is far more necessary in landscape architecture than in architec­ture. This gives rise to the hopeful expectation that landscape architecture can also help in the development of process-oriented solutions which fea-

Kowarik I, Korner S (eds) Wild Urban Woodlands.

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005, pp 263-276

ture the necessary integration of growth and decline of urban structure (Dettmar and Weilacher 2003).

The rediscovery of open space, or of landscape architecture as the case may be, is thus explained. Communities, developers, and politicians are demanding, above all, new open spaces in the city – cost-effective, eco­logical, urban and attractive open spaces. This cannot be achieved with the traditional approaches and traditional building blocks of publicly financed green space. New strategies for the development of urban open space are being sought and tested in many places (see Rossler 2003). In this chapter, the experiment of the “Industriewald Ruhrgebiet” (Industrial Forests of the Ruhr) will be used to illustrate the solutions that were found in the largest former industrial, urban agglomeration in Europe.