The European City: Suggestions for further strategic positioning of the C.E.U.

Harald Kegler, C.E.U. Chair

Meanwhile the C.E.U. has acquired a little history: five years ago the initiative emerged, getting transatlantic support and needing enormous efforts during the first years. In this way, it didn’t take very long to compose and to adopt a charter, which, in addition, was extended in special fields in the individual national groups or chapters, as for instance in Germany. During several conferences in Stockholm or Lisbon, the content of the profile was successfully improved. A foundation for future projects was set up, and furthermore, medial means of communication inclusive own internet web sites were arranged, where the initiative of the British partners should be emphasized, and contributions were published. Apart from this, participants in Norway managed to establish an EC educational project, which has meanwhile achieved a second stage. Here the C.E.U. serves as a “medium” of initiative.

All the facts mentioned above are all the more remarkable, as they are caused by the activities of a small non-profit-initiative, having no organisation apparatus and no finances of its own. The “offices” in Oslo and London do their work very commendably; otherwise we wouldn’t have achieved so much. Unquestionably, the highlights of the activities done up to now were the conferences. After the preparatory convention held in Brussels/Brügge and the foundation congress held in Stockholm, we succeeded in holding the 1st International Congress in Berlin with well-known participants. A second congress was held in Leeds, and the third congress, which will be held in Oslo in 2008, will improve the outline of the C.E.U…

The C.E.U. has not yet become a movement or a mass organisation, but nevertheless it is beginning to show, that there is a need for such a network institution dealing with the topic of the “European City”. At the same time, overseas (especially in the U.S.A., but also in Australia, Israel and Latin America) the New Urbanism is actually developing into a movement characterized by remarkable content and extension. Many people do still smile at it and are suspicious of it, but it has managed to be discussed and to present answers to urgent practical questions with regard to urban and regional development. The C.E.U. would not be conceivable without this movement, which is organising itself formally for 15 years. The C.E.U. sees itself absolutely as a part of this movement, although being entitled to have an own profile. There are good reasons for this.

We have overcome the initial stage of the C.E.U. It is a success which was possible only as a result of the persistent efforts of many people, not at least the efforts of the first chairman and the secretary of the initiative. But now a stage of a new quality seems to begin, even to become necessary. Despite of the Charter, the conferences and publications, the importance and perspective of the C.E.U. and its individual chapters is still relatively indistinct outwardly, although all the participants and a certain number of sympathisers appreciate the formation of such an initiative which feels itself bound to the traditions of urban development and architecture, and which seeks for taking them up into the planning for the future (at least, that’s the way outsiders often see it). So now, after the beginnings have been managed, it is important to determine the exact position, to intensify the effectiveness and to clear the profile of the C.E.U… But one thing shall not get lost: we must remain open for as much as possible views and opinions, professions and backgrounds within a programmatic framework, as just this bears an essential chance for shaping the profile of the C.E.U. as an open network (in contrast to professional or interest organisations). Nevertheless, this will not be enough to get noticed and to gain more influence.

Apart from the content and concrete projects that we can offer, we “own” an especially important thing: the “European City”. As the name of the network shows already – it is an initiative FOR European urbanism.

The European City stands for a model that was built lived in and planned for a relatively successful way of urbanisation in the course of the centuries. The European City has proved to be a flexible and at the same time long-lasting social-spatial system, that has come through great changes and is embedded in the consciousness of the people not only in Europe. It is not only an economical and social, and definitely not only an academic property, but also an emotional one that is the embodiment of such things like home and European identity. Furthermore, the European City represents a model, which was successful in comparison with other models, as for example the so-called American City, especially with regard to coping with crises, phases of development and recession, social stability, economical prosperity or ecological maintenance. Well, THE European City actually does not exist. It rather concerns a spectrum of built, lived and planned city-regions with a relative variety of shaping, which, nevertheless, share several characteristics, like compactness, limitedness, social variety, differentiation of public spaces with mixed use, cultural requirements, integration of historical sections or architectural variety – a reference to all this is embedded in the Charter of the C.E.U.

Meanwhile this model is being copied and newly invented world-wide, and it is regarded as especially attractive for economical, cultural and tourist projects. The European City as a type is particularly characterized by different epochs, as the medieval town (and – the medieval village, which should not be forgotten), the unique baroque town (a phenomena in the world), the city expansion in the years of rapid industrial development, the Garden City – a model, that has kept its attractiveness until today, the socially and structurally ambitious housing and public buildings of different architecture between the wars in the 20th century, the new cities that were built after the war referring to traditions of the European City (from Le Havre to Eisenhüttenstadt), the reconstructed towns (as for instance the old parts of Ypern and Warsaw, nowadays world cultural heritage), but recently also the city of critical reconstruction and ecological renovation.

A special mark of the European City is the decentralised city region. This is generally an important key for future prospects of urban systems. With regard to construction, but also to planning / conception Europe has made decisive contributions in this field. Especially in the United States just these contributions are adopted, thus trying to ban the urban and social scourge, the sprawl, and to head for a social-economical future. Even among sceptics, the European City is regarded as benchmark of the international disputes on urbanisation.

Naturally, during the last 50 years the European City could not escape the car dominated transformation of inner-city districts, sprawling expansion, expanse demolition, overdevelopment of landscapes and change of city and village centres into facades for tourists or sterile uniform ensembles. The requirements of the climatic change affect Europe, too. The European City is not a result of an automatic process. Someone thought that the European City will lose the importance in the future. The opposite is the reality. The European City has proved to be a type of lasting development and can be represented world-wide as a successful development model for an urban future under changing conditions. The European City will also be a successful model in the post-industrial age and in the period after the cheapen energy.

And there things have come full circle: the C.E.U. can and must function as a networker as well as an advocate, as a specialist, valuator, adviser and mediator, but also as a planner of concrete model projects in the sense of the European City.

Here it is necessary to bring out the historically durable structures of the European City (of various epochs) and to make it available as a challenge for actual planning. At the same time it is important to integrate international experiences supporting the planning and further development of the European City, as for instance the method of Charrette, the LEED-standards or the Transect-concept developed in the U.S.A… Furthermore, the planning and building practices in Europe – particularly those developed since 1975 -, the aim of which was to recover the European City, should be integrated into the actual discussion on the planning of the European City. Some of them are:

  • The system Shared Spaces by Mondermann (Netherlands);
  • The City-regional energy autarky (Austria, Germany, Italy…);
  • The urban protection of historical monuments/buildings and the careful renovation of cities / critical reconstruction (Poland, Germany, Italy…);
  • The Urban Renaissance, that means strategies for reviving of city centres, old industry areas and city quarters (England, Ireland, Poland, Germany, Spain…);
  • The redesign of public space (Scandinavia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy…);
  • The strategies of interim use and of the dealing with shrinkage (Germany, France…);
  • etc…
  • The 3rd International Congress of the C.E.U. in Oslo is an important opportunity to strengthen the profile of the C.E.U. and, in addition, to convey the message, that the European City is a model that can effectively be regarded as a means of prevention and after-care in connection with the climate change. That does not mean that this goes automatically. We must rather find out carefully, which elements of the built and planned European City can be considered to be future-orientated under the point of view of the climatic change. In this connection the congress has an important task: to work out specific solutions with regard to the challenges of the climatic change with reference to European urban development – from the historical as well as from the actual point of view.

    Naturally, these aspects have to be completed by non-European experiences and knowledge. This is demonstrated by the articles for the Oslo Congress announced from all over the world.

    The C.E.U. would become the promoter or the European City – as a platform for discussions and for international exchange of experiences, offering qualification and concrete model projects. The future of the city, of city quarters and rural areas asks more and more for feasible solutions beyond the understanding of modernity, which ignores the identity of the European City. Insofar, the C.E.U. can put its objectives and aims in more concrete terms, and it can more often take the offensive. Furthermore, this should be used as an opportunity to talk to the American, Australian, Israeli and other partners, in order to sharpen the profile of the C.E.U. in the ensemble of the New Urbanism Movement and to strengthen the movement as a whole.

    Under this point of view the effectiveness of the internal organisational and cooperation structures of the C.E.U. should be improved. This should be discussed in connection with the preparation of the Oslo Congress. At the same time it is necessary to force up selectively the expansion of the European partnerships. A very important partner is Romania, but also Poland, the Baltic countries, Russia and of course South Europe. The question of a (representative) headquarters of the C.E.U. must be settled as well as questions of the forms of cooperation, internal democratic procedures and public relations work. The basis has been created, on which we can build up our further work.

    With regard to the prospects of the C.E.U., the congresses should be the anchors of cooperation, extension and content of the work. The places and subjects of the next congresses should be fixed in Oslo, whereby the middle of Eastern Europe and the South should be considered primarily. A two year interval could be helpful, so that there is enough time for making preparations. Between the congresses events of the national Chapters could be organized. The C.E.U. should be visibly represented at the annual CNU congresses in the U.S.A. as well as at the events in Israel or Australia and make there own contributions. Joint projects and events, as already practiced in initial stages in Brussels or Stockholm would support the transatlantic exchange. Nevertheless, in this connection the C.E.U. has to make up a lot with regard to systematic introduction of own contributions.

    An important means for improving the communication are model projects, which can clear up the opinions and conceptions of the C.E.U… Under this point of view the national Chapters should consider, which projects can be regarded as representative for the European City and its future.

    Result: The Congress in Oslo is the right time for the C.E.U. to bring before the public a clear declaration of belief in the European City at a new stage as a suitable model for the future.

    Dessau, 2008-02-21

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