• S. Loesser

Post-corona city: RWTH Aachen University and Stadt Aachen develop perspectives for the inner city

The corona crisis acts like a magnifying glass for the development of Aachen's city centres. Even before the pandemic, the change in the retail trade was being intensively discussed. How does the focus on online shopping change the residents’ and vistors’ behaviour and needs? How does it change shopping streets and pedestrianised areas? What are the characteristics of an attractive city centre today and in the future? What problems need to be tackled urgently? And what challenges will arise when the workplace and people's leisure behaviour change in equal measure, for example through increasing telecommuting?

Finding solutions with the urban community

The RWTH Aachen University is now researching this complex topic in close cooperation with the Stadt Aachen as part of the project Post-Corona-Stadt: Ideen und Konzepte für die resiliente Stadtentwicklung (Post-corona city: ideas and concepts for resilient urban development). The aim is to find practical approaches to solutions locally. What will our tomorrow’s inner city look like? What can we already do today to create high-quality recreational spaces and appealing places in the city centre? What opportunities and potentials lie in the challenges that the current corona situation presents us with?

The interdisciplinary Aachen science and city team is one of 13 projects that have been selected throughout Germany. A total of 222 applications were received by the Nationale Stadtentwicklungspolitik (national urban development policy) – a joint initiative of Bund, Ländern und Kommunen (the federal government, federal states and communes). The Bund is funding the entire project call with 3.5 million euros. 350,000 euros thereof now go to Aachen.

For Aachen's Oberbürgermeisterin (mayor) Sibylle Keupen, the intensive, professionally founded analysis of the city centre is crucial for Aachen's future development.

"We are facing enormous challenges. It is to be expected that the vacancy of premises, which we already registered in parts of the city centre before corona, will be further aggravated by the debilitating management of the pandemic. We now have to find good approaches on how we want to jointly shape our tomorrow’s Aachen city centre!",

emphasises the Oberbürgermeisterin and continues:

"To tread this path together with our strong partner RWTH now, to open up new perspectives for a resilient – thus a robust – urban development, makes me confident that we will master this mammoth task."

The city benefits from the cooperation with the universities in many places - and vice versa.

"We must also play this strength in the post-corona city’s reconstruction. Just as much do we also rely on the everyday experts’ know-how and commitment, our residents.",

Sibylle Keupen promises to incorporate the topic in an intensive public discourse.

"We can only achieve this change with a strong community spirit!”

Photo: Aachen Pontstraße. A street with many restaurants, pubs and little shops, leading from Ponttor (pont gate) to the Aachen Rathaus (city hall) and Markt (market square). © Junghyun Shin 2015

RWTH rector Rüdiger: “Consciously shaping change!”

RWTH rector Ulrich Rüdiger explains:

"The pandemic has severely changed our lives, and we will feel this exceptional situation’s effects for a long time to come. The changes affect us at the university – for example in the teaching and examinations – but they will also be visible in the cities and in our social coexistence. We should see them as an opportunity. Together with the urban stakeholders, RWTH wants to shape the change consciously and contribute to future-oriented urban development through our scholarly know-how."

The nationwide project call was divided into three topic areas:

  1. Solidary neighbourhood and economy in the districts

  2. Public space, mobility and urban structure

  3. Integrated urban development strategies taking into consideration resilience aspects

The application from Aachen was successful in topic area 1 "Solidary neighbourhood and economy in the districts". Under the title "ACademie für kollaborative Stadtentwicklung” (ACademie for collaborative urban development), the pilot project will now test new approaches to strengthening urban and district structures. In order to make the inner city, as Aachen’s heart, fit for the future, the project is developing new alliances between economy, civil society, politics, administration, researchers and students.

Professor Agnes Förster from the Faculty of Architecture at RWTH Aachen University says:

"As an interdisciplinary team, we would like to create opportunities to redesign the inner city together with many of our city’s stakeholders. To do this, we do not only need new concepts, but also new stories and images in people's minds. We see this as an open process in which our students will also play an important role. The dialogue with owners, users and a wide circle of interested parties is a vital component for the project.”

ACademie starts in May 2021

The project offers all stakeholders in Aachen's city centre the opportunity to develop and also to test, new, sustainable concepts. The focus should be on applications suitable for everyday life and new mixtures of habitation, work, education, neighbourhood and culture. Spatially, the focus is on the inner city within the Grabenring plus adjacent transition areas characterised by trade. [The Grabenring is the area within the inner city centre marked by the following streets: Hirschgraben, Seilgraben, Dahmengraben, Holzgraben, Kapuzinergraben, Alexianergraben, Löhergraben, Karlsgraben, Templergraben. It also marks the area within the old inner city wall whose construction started in 1172.]

Within the project’s framework new planning tools are being developed. For example, available spaces, interested stakeholders and application ideas should be linked in a new way through a digital platform. In shops that are vacant already, ad-hoc solutions will be developed and tested. It is also planned to set up a participation centre run by students. All of this ties in with established formats and projects in the Stadt Aachen that have already been dealing with the pressing issues of structural change in the city centre for some time.

The project is expected to start in May 2021. First public formats within the framework of the ACademie für kollaborative Stadtentwicklung are planned for late summer 2021. The project is currently scheduled to end in autumn 2023.

Photo: Aachen Krämerstraße. With its nice shops and cafés, the iconic "Puppenbrunnen" (dolls fountain), and being the parallelstreet between Dom (cathedral), Rathaus (city hall) and Markt (market square) the Krämerstraße is still one of Aachen's nicest shopping streets and attracts many residents and vistors. Other streets, such as the Adalbertstraße or Dahmengraben, suffer from increasing vacancy. © Junghyun Shin 2015

The project team:

RWTH Aachen University: Professor Agnes Förster and Anne-Julchen Bernhardt as well as Professor Jan Polívka, Faculty of Architecture (Fak2), together with Professor Carmella Pfaffenbach, Faculty of Georesources and Materials Engineering (Fak5), and Professor Tobias Kuhnimhof, Faculty of Civil Engineering (Fak 3). Including RRI Hub – Responsible Research and Innovation Hub.

Stadt Aachen: Das Dezernat III Stadtentwicklung, Bau und Mobilität (department III urban development, construction and mobility) (joint secretary: Frauke Burgdorff) with the Fachbereich Stadtentwicklung, -planung und Mobilitätsinfrastruktur (department urban development, urban planing and mobility infrastructure), the Stadt Aachen Fachbereich Bauaufsicht (department construction supervision) and the City-Management as well as the Dezernat VI Wohnen, Soziales und Wirtschaftsförderung (deprtament VI habitation, social affairs and economic promotion) (joint secretary: Professor Manfred Sicking) with the Fachbereich Wirtschaft, Wissenschaft, Digitalisierung und Europa (department of economy, science, digitalization and Europe), the Fachbereich Immobilienmanagement (department of property management) and the Fachbereich Wohnen, Soziales und Integration (department of habitation, social affairs and integration).

The project partners RWTH and the Stadt Aachen are also planning a collaboration with the urban community and the local economy within the framework of ACademie für kollaborative Stadtentwicklung.

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