Visit to Kronsberg
I’ve just come back from my second trip to Kronsberg in Germany. Kronsberg is a large new district of Hanover established as part of EXPO 2000 and designed to be “an exemplary initiative on urban development and ecological and social planning”.
Unlike many bold statements, Kongsberg’s bold statement is reaching fruition. From the sustainable transport, through the imaginative schools, to the sustainable use of natural resources Kronsberg is streets ahead of anything comparable in size in the UK. I think that over the next few years in the UK we will see some more imagination going into school design and more sustainable and modern transport thinking like Gateshead’s “CentreLink” and Dartford’s “Fastrack”.
There is nothing special about the housing in Kronsberg (apart from the wonderful apartment blocks with the “winter garden” internal courtyards) and I am confident that with a good partnership between a housebuilder and a planning authority we can match the architecture.
However when it comes to the quality of play spaces then we are a million miles away from the Germans. The quality of play is wonderful in Kronsberg and every opportunity is used. The water tank that collects run off to use for the community is converted to a mini climbing mountain, the SUDS drainage system has pathways leading into it so the kids can run or cycle through the water, the whole thinking is “non standard” and challenging.. challenging not only to the kids but to the “nanny state” / jobsworth thinking that prevails in most UK councils. There is not a bloody springy chicken in site in Kronsberg, imagine how many there would be if the legal advisors to a UK local government planning authorities had been involved..there would have been enough to make another few millions for Bernard Matthews.
What is more I only spotted one “no ball games” sign.. OK my German isn’t that hot but I can read diagrammatic signs.
Kronsberg has been designed as a high density settlement with intensive use of communal open space and like current UK thinking, if gardens exist at all they are small (but by doing away with fences between them and neighbours sharing sand pits , patios etc I think that German society must be less selfish than ours).
It’s high density living where people have the opportunity to turn off the telly and get outside and do something without having to get in the car. Looking back at the environments that my wife and design partner were brought up in in NE Lancs. Its possible to spot a parallel. My family’s first home in Blackburn was in a tower block Queens Park Flats, we didn’t have a private garden but I had access to a wonderfully landscaped park that surrounded the tower blocks. My memories are of playing footy, cricket and “cardboarding” down steep man made mini hills. Meanwhile my wife’s family’s workers terrace in Padiham had a tiny back yard that opened on to the communal “reccy” where today the community still play, celebrate birthdays and sunbathe on leap years when its hot!!!
The UK seems to have lost its ability to deliver high density combined with great civic and communal spaces and is it any wonder that we have such high levels of clinical obesity (8.5 million and counting) when we are designing environments that encourage a sedentary life? Is it any wonder that Britain tops Europe’s anti social behaviour and youth crime charts (16.8% of the prison population are under 18 in the UK ) when we are providing housing developments devoid of decent play spaces. All that pent up energy released in Yates Wine Lodge and Wetherspoons on a Saturday night is asking for trouble.
In Germany Kronsberg isn’t a one off in Freiburg the municipality has started to remove all its 150 fixed equipment playgrounds and replace them with playspaces that consist of a couple of mounds, some sand, rocks, a few tree stumps, a water pump and some dirt. They are called “Action Spaces” and the kids get filthy, like kids like to get….in the UK would council lawyers be worried about being sued for washing powder bills? The “Action Spaces” model resulted from research that showed that kids living in neighbourhoods with poor outdoor environments spent more time indoors and were less active (pretty obvious to me but at least the Germans are doing something about it) Evidently they are going down a storm with everyone, including the municipality – they cost half the price of a conventional play space.
Anyhow an article like this isn’t going change things, in our industry where we have a chance to influence society its up to us to challenge, nag and coerce planners, their legal departments and of course the developers to work damn harder and don’t take the easy option.