Mixed Use and Quality of Life in the City Center

By Andreas Feldtkeller
Director of Old City Restoration, City of Tübingen

Tubingen Market PlaceI think that communities in old European city centers exemplify the idea of a viable community, and when we restore these old cities our first problem must be to maintain this existing community, and not to destroy it by over-planning. By our own actions as planners we can too easily destroy a community.

First I shall talk about the goals which must be identified in the process of restoring an old city center if we wish to maintain a viable community.

(1) Our first goal must be to stop the migration of people out of the central city. In the 1960s in Europe people left the city. They said they could no longer live in the city – mostly because of the congested traffic – and they tended to move out to new houses in the suburbs. Stopping this migration is a difficult problem. We must give people who live in the city a chance to stay there while their dwelling is being restored.

(2) It is very important that we maintain the mixture of dwellings, shops, crafts, and services. It is this mixture that brings life to the town center, and makes the community viable. This mixture of uses is one of the most significant aspects of the central city because such a mixture is seldom found in new towns or suburbs.

(3) We must give back to children the typical surroundings of the old city center, which is full of events (such as festivals, markets, entertainers), stimulating for the senses (with a variety of colors and textures of natural building materials, painted carvings, intricately detailed designs), stimulating for the imagination (with historic sculptures, irregular streets, strangely shaped buildings), and provides for children’s exploration and play (steps, alcoves, ledges). We don’t need playgrounds if the city itself is a playground, if the city is an optimal environment for children.

(4) We must find the right balance between the quality of the city center as a dwelling place, and its function as a regional center. There is a conflict between these two goals, and it is one of our most important tasks to find the right balance.

We must now consider what is necessary to achieve these goals. The resolutions adopted in 1971 by the Tübingen city council identified a number of approaches for achieving these goals, and specified certain legal and financial mechanisms that could be used.

One way of helping to achieve these goals is to give priority for modernizing older mixed use buildings instead of pulling them down. The proprietor must be helped to modernize his building himself, and the state can subsidize him to do this. The city should not try to buy all the historic buildings and modernize them, but rather to assist people to modernize their own buildings.

The other side of the coin is that it must be made difficult for investors to buy buildings for speculation. Speculation and gentrification can be prevented by designating buildings as historic monuments; by local laws stipulating the restoration of facades and roofs; and by providing only limited parking facilities. In Tübingen it was possible to prevent developers from building new apartment buildings in the town.

In some towns in Germany there is a law that says it is not legal to use residential accommodation for other purposes. The law states that you cannot change the use of any dwelling – it is not allowed to turn a residential apartment into an office or a shop. This law exists in a few towns in Baden-Wurtemberg, in Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Tübingen, and I think, in Bayreuth. The law is not always strictly enforced, but we in Tübingen have applied this law very strictly over the past 10 years.

In addition, one of the resolutions adopted in 1971 by the city council was that at least 60% of all floor area in newly restored buildings should be for dwellings, and that 50% of this residential accommodation should be set aside for low income families. This resolution has been firmly adhered to.

During the past 10 years the city of Tübingen has renovated or built nearly 90 dwellings in the old town and these were provided for people who had to move while their house was being restored. In this way, rather than make people move out into the newly built suburbs, they were able to continue living in the old town, and were able to maintain their social connections.

It is very important to help craftsmen maintain their way of life within the central city. In Tübingen we still have many joiners, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, and ironsmiths living and working in the old town. Their skills are necessary for the continued restoration of the old buildings, and thus their crafts are an integral part of the community life of the town. Therefore, we tried to ensure that these craftspeople were not forced out of town, by helping them maintain a dwelling and a workshop within the old city. For example, when the city built a new house adjacent to a craftsman who needed a workshop, we were able to give him the use of the ground floor for his workshop, and the upper floors were designed for apartments which were used for people who had to move while their house was being restored.

Craftspeople in general are important in the life of the city, and we have deliberately encouraged bakers, printers, binders, artists and craftsmen of all kinds, and helped them to maintain, or establish workshops in the central city.

In situations where the individual cannot afford to restore or renovate an old building, the city can decide to carry the expense in part, or even in full if any additional apartments can be created in the process of restoration. In such a case, the city reserves the right to decide who should live in the new apartment.

In some cases the city owned old buildings that need modernization, and sold them to families with young children who wanted to come to live in the central city. This was a deliberate policy to draw young families back into the central city, because this part of the population was under-represented – only 15% of all households in the city center were households with children. When necessary, these young families were subsidized.

Another issue we had to deal with was to stop the increase in the number of restaurants in the city center. In a city with flourishing public life, such as Tübingen, there can be an ever-increasing demand for eating and drinking places, and there are always businesses (in our case breweries) eager to establish restaurants. For this reason, during the last ten years we have not given permits for any new restaurants in the old city.

Ten years ago there were no outdoor street restaurants or sidewalk cafes in Tübingen. Our former mayor used to sat the climate in Tübingen was not suitable for sitting outside, that this was something you do it Italy or France, but not in Germany. In the meantime the “climate” has changed. After the old city was pedestrianized the restaurants, beer halls, cafes and wine houses began requesting licenses to set tables and chairs out on the street. Now there are 50 outdoor street eating and drinking places, which on summer evenings are filled with young people.

One of our priorities in Tübingen has been to plant trees. Tübingen had very few trees in the old town, so we have now planted a lot of trees. We have also emphasized the restoration of all water elements in the city. We recently re-opened, rebuilt and restored a thirteenth century canal that ran through the town, which had become very neglected and was covered for much of its length.

We have felt that it was extremely important to create a better environment for everyday life in the city – especially for children. Where children can live well, everybody else can live well too. If the city is hospitable for children, it is hospitable for everyone. This is one more reason why it is important to encourage families to live in the town center.

If children are to live in the city then good kindergartens and schools must be provided. In Tübingen we built a new elementary school because we decided the old school was not good enough. We also built a kindergarten by adapting old houses and building a new extension. Today we have so many children living in the old city that we need to build a new kindergarten, so we have decided to change a housing restoration project into a project to create another kindergarten.

We also need to create semi-public places such as courtyards, where children can play and adults can meet and talk. There is a need for these kinds of neighborhood spaces, where tourists and strangers might feel they were intruding, because they offer members of a small local community – and especially children – a sense of territorial distinction over public space, and spend time with neighbors and close friends in a somewhat protected open space.

Presented at the 1st IMCL Conference, 1985.