It’s Saturday night in Cologne’s small Neubrück district and the police are on site. This time, for disturbing the peace. Last time due to vandalism. And the next time, perhaps, because of harassment. You might expect that the center of Cologne would be the venue for these scenarios rather than the Market Square of a 9000-inhabitant village. Designed in the 1960s as a focal point for residents, the large open space where these crimes were taking place was socially demoted to, at best, a thoroughfare, and at worst, a place of destruction, noise pollution and other nuisances for residents.
Sometime in the spring of 2012, the patience of residents was exhausted. It finally became clear change had to happen. With the support of local citizens, the Interessengemeinschaft Marktplatz (literally, the ‘Interest Group Marketplace’, or IG, for the sake of this article) was founded. Schools, retailers, residents, the local nursing home and many more came together in order to “keep the market square as a usable and attractive public space for all citizens”. It quickly became clear that this goal could not be achieved within a few weeks and as a a result, a three-stage plan was developed.
In the short term, IG wanted to establish an alternative use for the square in order to give it a life beyond the market, providing new activities for residents whilst at the same time turning the square into a place of activity throughout the week. Outdoor chess and other sporting activities soon became commonplace on the square, along with mobile counselling services and supervised lunchtime recess for primary school pupils from two local schools.
These changes were well-received, but small structural adjustments will also be necessary to ensure success in the medium term, for example, the installation of seating surrounding the square and repairing broken surfaces.
The Cologne University of Applied Sciences has attempted to develop a long term vision for the square in recent months, challenging 120 students to redesign the space. According to Prof. Dutczak, lecturer at the University’s Faculty of Architecture, the problems of the square are fairly obvious: the space is too large, and there’s an absence of uses beyond the Market itself. Students were challenged to address these problems, whilst also using their work to provoke discussion among citizens regarding the potential of the space.
Clara Brenner, Dimitra Hampidou and Christoph Ungethüm’s concept for the Market Square
13 student groups were selected to present their work to residents, who willingly signed up to critique. 250 locals accepted the invitation, discussing, commenting and rating the work. Some ideas resulted in real enthusiasm, others complete denial. However, while the purpose of this student exercise was to select a winning idea, the real work is yet to begin.
Now is the time to take the ideas generated by this contest and the local discussion it inspired and turn them into a starting point for concrete implementation – literally and figuratively! At the same time it is necessary to bring the question of Neubrück square to a wider audience, integrating the town’s diverse population in the process as much as possible. Creative approaches and examples from other cities should also be used to realize the full potential of the space. The local interest group and student involvement has shown that citizens want to shape the future of their city.
Christian Fahl is Editor of This Big City auf Deutsch
Images courtesy of Clara Brenner and Wikimedia