This is a guest post from a reader who’s currently based in Germany. She takes a look at the evolution of Germany’s Ruhr region – a case study in the role of natural resources, technology, and disruptive economic change in shaping urban form.
In a recent New Zealand Herald article, Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury suggest an alternative approach in how Auckland urban form should be developed, a theory that they are calling the “linear city”, as discussed in this previous post. To support their theory, they use the example of three German metropolitan areas including Munich, Frankfurt and Ruhr:
“Other famous models of successful, decentralised and polycentric development are metropolitan Munich and the urban region of the Ruhr. Both cover large areas, include plentiful open spaces, and have managed to contain urban sprawl in the form of a coherent polycentric pattern.”
They seem to suggest that what makes these case studies “successful” is that they have been able to contain urban sprawl. So lets look more closely at the success of one of their case studies, the Ruhr metropolis.
Ruhr Urban Metropolis
The Ruhr metropolis today has 5.30 million inhabitants, over 3 administrative districts and 11 cities (Hamm, Dortmund, Hagen, Bochum, Herne, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Bottrop, Oberhausen, Mülheim, Duisburg). The area is geographically defined by being set between three rivers (Ruhr, Emscher and Lippe), and along a coal seam. Because of its history, the Ruhr is structured differently from monocentric urban regions such as Berlin and London, which developed through the rapid merger of smaller towns and villages with a growing central city. Instead, the individual city boroughs and urban districts of the Ruhr grew independently of one another during the Industrial Revolution.
The development of independent cities of Ruhr can be seen in the series of maps below from 1840, 1930 and 1970.
In the Middle Ages, the trading cities of Dortmund and Duisburg already existed and were part of the German Hanseatic League. The area began to transform in the late 18th Century with early industrialisation, and by 1820 there were hundreds of water-powered mills and workshops, and by 1850-1860 there were almost 300 coal mines in operation around the central cities of Duisberg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund. Workers lived in close proximity to the place of work, often directly around the workshops, mills and mines.
The population climbed rapidly and small towns with only 2000-5000 people grew in the following years to contain over 100,000. By 1870, over 3 million people lived in the wider regional area, which had become the largest industrial region of Europe. During World War 1 the area functioned as Germany’s central weapon factory, and at the Essen company, employees rose from 40,000 to 120,000. The area was much disputed during the two World Wars and Cold War period due to its industrial importance. During the 1950’s and 1960’s during the rebuilding of Germany, a phase of very rapid economic growth created a high demand for coal and steel.
However, after 1973 a worldwide economic crisis hit the Ruhr region very hard, as the easily reachable coal mines had become exhausted and German coal and steel prices were no longer competitive globally. The region went through phases of structural crisis and industrial diversification, first through heavy industry, and then moving into service industries and high technology. Since the 1970’s, as mines closed, unemployment has been rising and population has been decreasing.
Beschäftigte in 1000 = Employed per 1000;
Beschäftigte im Bergbau = Employed in Mining;
Beschäftigte in der Eisen- und Stahlindustrie = Employed in the Iron and Steel Industries;
Arbeitslose = Unemployed
The transformation of former industrial sites into smaller modern commercial centres has been difficult, perhaps partly due to their poly-centric nature. As an attempt to encourage new forms of economic activity, projects such as the Phoenix urban development project in Dortmund are currently being implemented, to try and encourage more higher-income people into the area. Phoenix is not a market-led project, and instead has received considerable funding from both the local administration Nordrhein-Westfalen and also by the European Union in an attempt to regenerate the region.
The images below are from the Ruhr area in 2015.
What does this mean for Auckland?
The development of Ruhr has therefore had a very different history to Auckland, which has instead grown around one main central city. The development of the Ruhr into poly-centric hubs was therefore not an urban planning vision, but a direct result of workers living close to the spread-out mining sites, and highlights the strong relationship between the location of employment and of housing. The poly-centric urban form does not help to create successful economic outcomes for the region today.
In his Auckland Conversation presentation in September 2015, John Daley from the Grattan Institute explains his research “City Limits”, concluding that the Australian economy is increasingly dominated by services produced in cities and that more jobs are being concentrated at the centre of big cities. However new housing is being supplied at the outskirts, which is creating long commutes, geographic divides and putting the social fabric under strain. These Australasian patterns are also clearly evident in Auckland’s urban issues.
It is therefore difficult to see how in 2016, with falling population, rising unemployment, and subsidised urban regeneration projects, how the Ruhr metropolis is a “successful model of a linear city” as Bogunovich and Bradbury claim. What we can learn from the Ruhr case study is the relationship between the type of economy and job location; and how transportation, job location and housing are critically linked. We therefore need to ensure that the urban plan for a growing Auckland, in determining the location and density of new housing, enables efficient public transportation networks between this new housing and the central city.