The need for an experiment

In the mid-1980s, due to the increasing decline in mining and heavy indus­try, the Ruhr had reached a point at which ecological and cultural problems were becoming known, in addition to the area’s substantial economic and social problems. The many conventional economic development policies that had been attempted had not shown any of the hoped-for success. The Ruhr featured the highest unemployment rates in North Rhine – Westphalia and in the former West Germany at over 15%. It was becoming increas­ingly clear that the negative image of the region, burdened by its industrial past, was becoming a decisive disadvantage. The image was that of face­less cities, insufficient visual landscape qualities, the legacies of industry in the form of ruins, abandoned areas, etc. During the years 1989 to 1999, the state government attempted, with the International Building Exhibition (IBA) Emscher Park, to provide a catalyst for a fundamental renewal of the areas of the Ruhr that had most been affected by industrialization—the central zone along the Emscher river. At the fore were those aspects that related to the creation of an attractive post-industrial cultural landscape. One aspect was the development of the Emscher Landscape Park, a new regional park with regional greenways, whose main features had already been considered in the 1920s (Schwarze-Rodrian 1999).

With the actual condition of the urban-industrial landscape as the start­ing point, remaining open spaces were to be connected as much as possible and some parts were to be further designed. The numerous abandoned in­dustrial areas played a decisive strategic role in this. Due to the closure of coal mines, steel works, and numerous infrastructure facilities, e. g. factory railways, more than 1,000 ha of land lay abandoned at the end of the 1980s. A new built or otherwise profitable use for these areas appeared to be ruled out. The transformation into open space and the integration into the Emscher Landscape Park was a logical result that was made possible through the solid commitment of public funds within the framework of the IBA Emscher Park. In this way, a number of large new parklands of differ­ent types were developed during this period (Dettmar and Ganser 1999).

In principle, the creation of green spaces from former industrial land was not entirely new; at the end of the 1960s, for example, the Municipal Union of the Ruhr had already recultivated and revegetated a number of coal slag heaps on behalf of the communities and made them available as nearby recreational areas for the public. What was new was the consistent incorporation within the Emscher Landschaftspark (Emscher Landscape Park) and an intense engagement with the question of what design form was suitable for the post-industrial era. Numerous planning competitions and workshops were held. Significant projects included the Land – schaftspark Duisburg Nord (Duisberg North Landscape Park), the Nord – sternpark (North Star Park) in Gelsenkirchen or the Seepark (Lake Park) in Lunen (Schmid 1999).

It was also clear to the participants, however, that it would not be possi­ble to actively redesign the greater part of the abandoned areas solely with the frugal financial conditions of the IBA phase. Furthermore, it was obvi­ous that the future would bring large financial problems for almost all of the communities, above all the difficulties which come with the long-term maintenance of green space.

In addition, a number of those responsible within IBA Emscher Park, Ltd. were somewhat dissatisfied with the results of the new park planning. Despite all efforts, too few truly regionally specific designs had been de­veloped. The system of planning competitions, landscape architectural de­sign, implementation plans, and recreation concepts allowed too much of the industrial-historic, aesthetic and ecological substance of the abandoned areas to be lost. In the best cases, an attractive new park was envisioned that was no longer site-specific, but could have been built anywhere. Too many people in the system were responsible only for aspects of the whole, no one was there from the beginning to the end. At the end of the planning and construction process, the community open-space department would remain and have to find a solution for the upkeep with scarce financial re­sources. This alone would lead inevitably to a loss of quality.

The other alternative, to leave the spaces to themselves and do abso­lutely nothing, also offered no sensible prospect for a solution. On many sites that had been abandoned for longer periods of time, one could ob­serve how the ecological and aesthetic qualities had clearly been affected, for example, by trash disposal or illegal motorbike use. In addition, a few owners used the sites for the temporary storage of soil und other sub­stances or rented them out for a small fee to construction companies, mov­ing firms, etc. Furthermore, entrance to the sites remained illegal and was only possible and of interest for a part of the public. The fundamental rea­sons for these issues were the absence of social controls and the potential safety risks of the ruins, mine shafts and brownfields.