New towns in Eastern Europe that were built for specific purposes, such as heavy industry, are now empting at an ever-increasing rate due to the industries becoming redundant. In response to this a u-turn in our cultural preoccupation with the concept ‘more is best’ has occurred. The author examines the towns of Marzahn [East Berlin] and Drumul Taberei [Bucharest] to identify two differing responses to the issue of depopulating towns and deserted public space.
> More is Less?
More has suddenly become, not only worthless, but also harmful in some cities. Clearly a new approach to urban design is required in these areas. In place of cultivating, appropriating, extending, enlarging, colonising and building we will have retreating, demolishing, abandoning and mass returning to nature. Shrinking the city in a pragmatic fashion could potentially enable more effective and efficient urbanism to emerge – a sort of urban defence mechanism is response to growth for growth’s sake.
> Less Equals Opportunity!
This new approach to urban design provides an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-programme newly acquired swathes of public space. “No” to buildings, settlement, infrastructure, production, profit, architecture, ownership and political interference. In this sense, saying “No” is not a negative response to urban dilemmas. “No” is a possibility, an open invitation to realise untapped urban potentials. “No” is hope for the future of cities.
> ’Terrain Vague’
“The terrain vague is an empty space without cultivation or construction…an indeterminate space without precise boundaries…an internal, uninhabited, unproductive often dangerous island, simultaneously on the margins of the urban system and a fundamental part of the system.”
> To Plan Or Not To Plan?
The relationship between absence of programme and public freedom is critical. Ownership of public space should be less regimented, to permit social and economic dynamicism, and private initiatives. A system of total state planning in a rigid top-down system results in a stifled urbanism, with an absence of social and economic activities. Conversely, a complete lack of planning, a system of bottom-up planning, may generate a much more proactive urbanity but also results in discontinuous and fragmented public spaces.
|+ Ideals in Concrete - pragmatic planning strategy diagram [CTW 2010]|
> Planning For The Unplanned?
Perhaps an intermediate level of planning somewhere between rigid top-down and loose bottom-up planning is required; a more pragmatic, proactive and flexible form of urban design This could result in improvements in social and economic dynamicism, and private enterprise, whilst simultaneously providing coherent and connected public spaces.