The idea of nurtured development, of maintenance and cultivation, quickly brought the historic image of the forester into the minds of the parties involved in the IBA Emscher Park. The employment of foresters in the abandoned areas is a logical step for the process of succession towards the forest, a process which happens relatively quickly on most sites. Federal and state forest regulations allow for even early stages of growth without a dominant woody layer to be defined as forest development areas. The formal transformation of a former industrial site into a forest at the level of land use planning will secure this status. The forest classification has significant advantages for the owners, at least when the change in the property valuation does not present economic problems. As long as the site is identified as a normal production forest and not explicitly as a recreation forest, there are lower standards for liability than would be the case for a park. This is, at least, the estimation of lawyers of the Forestry Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
In 1996, the experiment was begun under the title “Restflacheprojekt” (Remnant Land Project) in collaboration with the State Forestry Administration NWR. Work was initially begun on three core sites in the central Ruhr on old abandoned industrial sites, areas for which, for the most part, no new built use was expected. The Grundstuckfonds NRW (a public fund of NRW for purchasing property) acquired the sites for the State of North Rhine-Westphalia with the objective of developing new commercial space in certain areas; the remainder of the land was to be transformed into green space.
The remainder included parts of the former Rheinelbe coal mine in Gelsenkirchen (ca. 40 ha that had been decommissioned in the 1920s; parts were to be developed as the Rheinelbe Industrial Park/Science Park), parts of the former Alma coal mine in Gelsenkirchen (ca. 30 ha, decommissioned in the 1960s, with significant areas of brownfields), and parts of the former Zollverein Shaft XII coal mine and Zollverein coking plant in Essen (ca. 40 ha, decommissioned in the 1980s, of significant industrial historic preservation value). An extensive description of the sites is available in Rebele and Dettmar (1996).
The core sites were integrated into the project on the basis of a Befor – sterungsvertrag (forest maintenance contract) with the Forestry Office of Recklinghausen according to the state forestry regulations of North Rhine – Westphalia. The Beforsterungsvertrag provides for private forests to be overseen by state forestry offices. In this way, taxes of only a few euros per hectare on the land are due.
In total, three employees of the State Forestry Office NRW were made available for the project. On the site of the Rheinelbe in Gelsenkirchen, a forestry station was created through renovation of an old switch house of the coal mine.
During the test phase from 1996 to 1999, a total of approximately 500,000 Euros were available for the project as start-up money from the EU in combination with funds from the Emscher Lippe Ecology Program of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia; about 70% were used for the renovation of the forestry station. The remaining money was available for provisions for the site. The labor costs of the foresters are paid by the forestry administration.
At the same time, a expert advisory board was assembled, with representatives of almost all of the institutions that are relevant to the project (ministries, communities, property owners) as well as scientists. The board determines the basic concepts for the development of the project and the integrated areas. Decisions regarding the use of funds fall to this group as well. Furthermore, the board is intended to assist the foresters with problems that arise with the institutions or with the forestry administration.
For the core areas, development concepts were worked out by the author that were then adopted by the advisory board. These served as guidelines for the maintenance of the areas for the foresters during the first years of the project. In this way, the employees of the forest administration could be informed and made aware through their work with the succession forests and with the abandoned areas and their particular ecology.
In addition, ideas were developed about necessary measures for development and providing access to the sites (path design), safeguarding against dangers (brownfields, accident-prone locations), species and biotope conservation (promotion of individual species), and special public uses (keeping some sites open). Just as important was defining the areas in which no interventions would be made.
After a period of learning, the foresters continued to develop their own ideas for managing the sites, coming closer to the ideal of nurtured development. A prerequisite for this, however, is a stable workforce.
The offer of regular guided tours through the “industrial nature” became a very important part of the work of the foresters. The demand has steadily increased. To this end, the forest station has been outfitted with educational, seminar, and class rooms for school children, preschoolers and other groups.
Table 1. Overview of the number of participants on guided tours through the Industrial Forest Project from 1998-2003 (Source: Statement of the Rheinelbe Forest Station in June 2004)
Within the framework of the IBA Emscher Park, sculptural works of artists were integrated into the two core areas of the Rheinelbe in Gelsenkirchen (nine sculptural works of Herman Prigann) and the Zollverein in Essen (five sculptures of Ulrich Ruckriem) (see Dettmar 1999; Prigann 2004). In particular, Herman Prigann with his work in Rheinelbe, attempted an artistic interpretation of the transformation of the abandoned areas through natural succession and of the appropriation of the sites by humans. At the same time, the artistic installations help to change the visitor’s perception of the site (for a detailed description, see Strelow 2004). Those involved in the project anticipated that the art would bring value to the abandoned areas and therefore lead to a greater public acceptance.
Certain areas were intentionally incorporated into the project for limited time periods. This was true, for example, for part of the site of the Rheinelbe coal mine in Gelsenkirchen. There, as planned from the beginning, a part of the Rheinelbe Industrial Park/Science Park was to be developed. This was intended to show that intermittent management of the abandoned areas was also possible through the project. This is of interest for owners who still anticipate built development on their property in the medium to long term.
It was expected from the start that private land would be integrated into the project. The largest part of the abandoned industrial areas in the Ruhr remain in private hands, especially large firms like Thyssen-Krupp or Deutsche Steinkohle. It would not be possible to acquire all of these sites through public funding. When no other interested parties are to be found, the project can be an interesting partner for firms. In the meantime, a number of appropriate sites have been incorporated; in addition to the Befor- stungsvertrag, conventional lease agreements have also been used.
Table 2. Overview of the sites of the Industrial Forest Project of the Ruhr. (Source: Statement of the Industrial Forest of the Ruhr, Recklinghausen Forest Office, June 2004)
Further areas totaling a few hundred hectares are currently in the process of being incorporated.
The “Restflachenprojekt” successfully closed out its five-year test phase in 2000 and was established as a permanent project of the State Forestry Administration NRW in 2001. Thereafter the project was operated and further developed by the Forestry Administration through the Recklinghausen Forest Office and through the Rheinelbe Forest Station in Gelsenkirchen.
This has all worked out well when measured by the number of regular visitors and the number of tours. Through public works, the Forestry Administration was able to build an important foundation directly in the cities of Gelsenkirchen and Essen. The attractiveness of the sites to children and youth is especially important; they find a much greater degree of freedom there than in most urban open spaces. On these sites, truly direct contact with nature takes place (see also Keil 2000).