Monday, June 13, 2011

Tübingen's Development Story: part 1

We have a delegation in Ann Arbor from our sister city, Tübingen, Germany. It's a city about the size of Ann Arbor with a major university (where my daughter Katy studied for a year! :-). We're sister cities because of our similar academic and demographic character.

Tubingen's Mayor for Building and Development, Cord Soehlke, gave a fascinating talk at the Ann Arbor Library this evening as part of the visit. Let me fill you in by quoting the Library's description:

During the last fifteen years, Tübingen has converted many former industrial or military used areas into lively and attractive neighborhoods. The French quarter, the Loretto and the Mühlenviertel are now characterized by a mixed use, a colorful architecture and a high impact of private building groups. For this success the City of Tubingen received numerous awards and distinctions - the German Urban Planning Award 2001 - the European Urban Planning Award 2002 and the National Award for Integrated Urban Development and Building Culture 2009.

I'm tremendously excited about this! It has great applicability to what we can do in Washtenaw County. I'm going to tell you about it in story form: the story of someone who wants to live in Tübingen. To give you the full details would take more words that I want to put in one blog post, so I'm going to break it up into several shorter posts. How many...? We'll see!

But first, who is this person who wants to live in Tübingen? It could actually be anyone. Academic or high-school educated; young or old; single, couple, or family; student, worker, or retired; native German or immigrant; highly paid or not. That's a large part of the beauty of the plan.

Französisches Viertel. Foto: Anne FadenWhen you arrive in Tübingen, you find that - like Ann Arbor - living in the city is very expensive. But unlike Ann Arbor, there are stringent growth limits to the perimeter of the city. Land outside the city may not be developed, though during the 1960s there were tract houses (or their German equivalent) developed in the suburbs. Because of the intense, long-term use of the land in Germany for millennia, sprawl didn't work for long.

So what to do? The key lies in two two foundational concepts: remediation of old industrial and military brownfield areas in the city, and small, ad hoc housing cooperative associations.

Brownfields we know all about. But the Tübingen concept of housing cooperatives is quite different from what you may be familiar with in the Ann Arbor area. They are not like Colonial Square Cooperative or University Townhouses. Next post, I'll tell you more...

Continue with part 2...

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