Berlin: A Divided City

My final paper was centered around the city of Berlin and how its city planning was affected by the division of Germany in 1949 and its eventual division by the Berlin Wall in 1961.  In the post-war era Berlin became the focal point of the Cold War and the tensions between capitalism and socialism could be seen clearly in the economy, social life and urban design policies.  In East Berlin, they planned according to the three features of Socialist Realism:

  • Socialist Realism is the consistent, necessary, and sole expression of the socialist ideology
  • Socialist Realism is the expression of a totalitarian social structure and an anachronism
  • Socialist Realism is the heir of the Classical tradition in architecture and implies a critique of Modernism.

In addition to this, East Berlin used the 16 Principles of Planning as a guide to planning socialist cities in the GDR.  These principles highlighted three important urban elements, plazas and major streets (Stalinallee and Alexanderplatz), significant buildings ( 365m high TV tower building) and hierarchically structured residential areas.

In West Berlin, the ‘International Style’ was utilized to rebuild the city.  The United States even brought German planners back to the US to study American urbanism.   West Berlin also held planning competitions in order to rebuild the city.  In 1957 the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) rebuilt the Hansaviertel residential zone – contrary to the Stalinallee project.  The planning of this neighbourhood was based on a “city in the park” viewpoint which was counter to East Berlins.  The buildings in the neighbourhood were seen as a success but the IBA project as a whole was viewed as a failure as it involved to many self-referential buildings of various famous architects.  In 1987 the IBA was organized again, this time with two principle concerns ‘careful urban renewal’ and ‘critical reconstruction’.  These projects were successful as they focused on a larger area of the city rather than a specific neighbourhood.

By analyzing the urban planning and the major projects of both sides of Berlin, it could be inferred that the capitalist and socialist governments both used the same device, transformation of the urban space, to prove their success and impact in their territories.

Garden City vs Satellite City

While I was doing my research for my term paper (my question is: How did the proponents of garden cities believe that their proposal would solve problems such as overcrowding and poverty? Were they right? And if not, why?) I discovered that there are actually very few cases of pure garden cities, and none that were realized in the manner that Ebenezer Howard hoped that they would be. I’m doing my essay based on a few of the cities that were described in Peter Hall’s chapter on garden cities: Letchworth (the closest realization to a pure garden city), and Praunheim, Romerstadt, and Nordwestadt (attempts at a garden city in Germany). It turns out that most of the cities that had influences from the garden city movement would actually be considered to be satellite cities.
Where garden cities are surrounded by a large and permanent green belt, satellite cities are separated from the city by only a narrow green belt, or even just a park. Howard envisioned the city to be self-sufficient and self-governing, but citizens of the satellite city are quite dependent on the giant city for jobs and most other necessities, besides immediate and basic shopping needs. An example of a local satellite city in Canada would be Abbotsford, which is a satellite of Vancouver.
The fact that there are no actual realizations of the garden city (with all of its initial elements) shows that the garden city was extremely difficult, if not impossible to create to Howard’s original standards, and repeated attempts have suggested that the true garden city (to Howard at any rate) is likely unrealizable.

Women Transforming Cities

Earlier today I stumbled across an interesting article in the Georgia Straight (a local Vancouver free newspaper), the article is about women transforming urban spaces.  After reading this article I did a bit of extra reading on the Women Transforming Cities International Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging women’s involvement in municipal politics in order to counteract the current form and structure of urban centers as mostly men have shaped them.  In my extra research I also came across an article written by Prabha Khosla “Gendered Cities: Built and Physical Environments.”  This article critiques city planning in terms of how its physical planning, provision of social services, and economic development, has failed to understand the intersection of the multiple forces of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, religion, language, disability, etc. on city residents.  The inclusion of the excluded – women – in decision-making and physical planning will create healthy cities for all.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Women Plan Toronto, a unique community based organization that worked tirelessly to demonstrate the gendered nature of the city and to enable women’s involvement and decision making in urban planning.  Its work focused on educating planners and councilors about women’s lives in the city, demonstrated how cities could look and be different if women also planned cities, and significantly, lobbied and won the right to bring women’s voices into Toronto’s Official Plans which resulted in changes to planning regulations and guidelines.  Women Plan Toronto raised specific concerns regarding the height of curbs, the difficulty of negotiating stairs in public spaces with wheelchairs and strollers, the need for safe, clean, and accessible public spaces, accessibility for mobility in shopping areas, and the need for proper lighting for women’s safety in the streets and in public spaces.

To relate this back to the course, women experience cities differently than men because traditionally they have assumed different roles and responsibilities.  Women, in all their diversity, have unique perspectives and insights on how to contribute to effective city planning and decision-making.  Using a gender equality lens is a way of looking at the work we do so as to identify ways of supporting the well being of women and men (boys and girls); taking special care to ensure inclusion of the full diversity of women.

Community in Urban Planning

I remember at the start of this semester I was asked to tell the class a little bit about myself, where I’m from and what I like about my hometown. I remember that I mentioned how much I missed the people back home, in Regina, Saskatchewan. It’s the feeling of being a part of a community the moment you arrive, a community that sticks with you wherever you go. I had never really given much thought to the physical layout of the city itself, but through our discussions in this course I’ve been realizing that it probably has much to do with the sense of community that has been created.

I’m writing my research paper on the development of Regina’s Wascana Park which is a pretty unique urban space. The construction of Wascana Lake (which now sits in the centre of the park) began in 1883 by damming the existing creek to create a functional watering hole for the eventual CPR. It very quickly became a site for recreational activities.

Another attempt to use the lake logistically, to cool machinery for the near by power plant, resulted in hot water being returned to the lake which pooled in a marsh area that remained unfrozen year round and over time developed into a bird sanctuary.

The old power plant is today the Saskatchewan Science Centre, the marsh is an official waterfowl sanctuary, and the park is also home to the provincial museum, provincial legislature building, art gallery, the university and other amenities. The park has earned the nickname of ‘the crown jewel of the Queen city’ and is loved and used year round by everyone.

Wascana Lake itself has also been a part of two urban revitalization projects. It was drained and deepened in the 1930s as part of a make work project and I remember the excitement surrounding the ‘big dig’ in the 2003-2004. The latest revitalization project involved making the lake bigger and deeper again, as well as improving water circulation by building a new waterfall island with the earth that was dug up. Regina then hosted the Canada Summer Games as well the Canadian Canoe Kayak National Championships.

I guess what I’m trying to sum up is that through my research I’m realizing just how much has gone into and come back out of this urban space in relation to community involvement. Any plan that was put forth for administrative or utilitarian reasons was eventually redirected by the actual community working on it. In recent history, the park is celebrated for being a community achievement and for its continued benefit and contribution to the city’s community.

It seems to me that Regina has successfully married the ideals of town and country and created a city that is thriving largely as a result of its community and its close relationship to urban planning.

I guess my views of my hometown are similar to what they initially were at the beginning of this course in that it is the people, and sense of community, that I miss most. I have changed my views in learning how this sense of community was created through the history of urban planning. Has anyone else reflected on their hometown since this course? Have your views or opinions changed at all?

Wascana Park in Winter – 2010


Ebenezer Howard: Facts, Ideologies, and Questions…

Hello Everyone,

My research paper is focused on answering whether or not the Garden City Movement has had a positive, reconnecting influence on the lost relationship between people and nature. I am arguing that despite his efforts to reconnect people to their environment through a number of natural incorporation’s, his plans were too idealistic and did not work within a capitalist framework of society; however, his ideas should not be discredited because they provided an alternative to existing paradigms and has had some success in reshaping the city planning process.

We spent a few classes discussing Howard and his ideas, so I believe some of you may be interested in learning a little more about his life, ideologies and accomplishments.

It is said that there were two major inventions in the beginning of the twentieth century; the invention of the airplane, and Ebenezer Howards’ creation of the Garden City. Howard was born in London in 1850 and was the son of a shopkeeper. He travelled to America at the age of twenty one, taking on 160 acres of land in Howard County, Nebraska to plant cucumbers, watermelon and potatoes. He returned to jolly old England five years later and invented the famous Remington typewriter. He married Elizabeth Ann Bills, had three sons, and one daughter.

Howard was intrigued by radical liberal thinkers, those desiring liberal reformation, and the benefits of socialism. He embraced spiritualism. With Charles Darwin’s publishing of Descent of Man, Howard found himself involved in a religious crisis and moved towards “Modern Spiritualism”.  Howard began to believe that he had acquired a God-given order of the world, and therefore, the path of humanity relied on his concept of city planning to reach a level of higher civility. Also, the enlightenment of individuals would lead humanity into accepting his grand design and its inherent existence in the order of the universe.

Influenced by the Garden City concept, the Garbatella neighborhood was designed to house railway and dock workers built by the Instituto per le Case Popolari (ICP). This neighborhood a low-income housing project aimed at providing for the lower working classes in Rome, and could easily be distinguished from other Roman cities built in the nineteen-twenties. The Garbatella was one of the most successful children of Howard’s ideas, mainly because the inhabitants aspired to his ideals. Nonetheless, the Garbatella failed to live up to its high expectations because of a rapid expansion and the resulting population density that were not characteristic of the model Garden City. In 1922, the city only had 3,400 citizens and four years later reached upwards of 24,000!  Although it did not meet its full potential, the Garbatella still exhibited signs of an extra communal neighborhood and distinctive Roman individuality. With the rise of Mussolini and his Fascist regime, the Garbatella was transformed the appearance, but its character and communal unity stayed intact.

What do you guys think about his Garden City concept? Are there any positive outcomes that come out of his planning, or is it all too idealistic and romantic of society? Does a natural landscape, and closeness of a ‘hinterland’ improve your living conditions?  Does Kelowna have any reminiscent traits of a Garden City? Exciting stuff…..I know your as intrigued as I am.

Albert Speer’s Monster Stadium

Hey everyone,

I’ve recently read about a stadium that Albert Speer was in the process of building, but never finished, due to the outbreak of the Second World War, which was to be called the Deutsches Stadion.  It was being built in Nuremburg, as the city was used every year for the growing Nazi Party Rallies.  This stadium caught my attention as it was being built to have a capacity of some 400,000 people.  Currently, the largest stadium in the world only holds 150,000 people (this being the Rungrado May Day Stadium in North Korea.)  There are currently 67 countries whose entire populations could have sat in this stadium.  While planning out this monstrosity, Speer grew concerned that people at the top of the bleachers would not be able to see down to the bottom.  Although all that currently exists of the Deutsches Stadion is a lake, which is actually the foundation of what was to be the stadium, there are photographs and remnants that can give some idea of what this thing would have looked like.  To test his design Speer created a full-sized model of one section of the stadium on the side of a mountain! Apparently, the design would not have been problematic in terms of visibility.  What I am wondering from you all is what other problems could this design have.  Certainly, there would be issues with accommodating 400,000 people, especially if many of them were from another city, and transportation to and from the stadium would be an issue.  What about water and plumbing, or electricity?  Feeding this many people in one place, and dealing with the garbage aftermath would also be a problem.  What do you think?

Urban Planning Differences in Post-World War II Europe

For my final paper I am examining the differences between urban planning in post-World War II England and Germany. Up until I began researching I had little to no knowledge on the topic and thought that it would be an excellent way to expand my knowledge of Europe. What I found really interested me and one of the most interesting differences between the two nations was what to do with the cities that had been completely destroyed in the war. In England the most popular thought was to build completely anew and use new methods of urban planning and architecture. This can be demonstrated by the city of Plymouth that we studied earlier in the course. The English government decided to try something new and completely overhaul the urban planning process resulting in architecture and urban settlements never before seen in England. In Germany there was a stark difference in the way that these cities were to be rebuilt. First of all England had been on the winning side of the war and thus was in a much better financial position than that of Germany. It was partly because of this and partly because of German ideologies that there was much more opposition to completely abandoning German monuments and buildings that had been destroyed in the war. Some wanted to restore the great manifestations of German nationalism while others wanted to leave them in the past as remnants of the Nazi dictatorship. This is only one of the differences between the two nations but it is one of the most interesting because of the many different contributing factors.

– Zach Coates

Culture and The City

The research paper that I am writing is on the effects that UNESCO’s “World Heritage Sites’ are having on an urban society. As I started to research the effectiveness of UNESCO’s program in the preservation of culture , I started to question the overall effect that it has on a city. It would occur to me that in the beginning of the semester we discussed Max Webber’s,Within nature of a City. During our discussion it was pointed out, that to be held as a modern definition, we had to include a few more ideas; culture being one of them.

What effect does culture have on a city?

Simply put, culture has many categories. It can be seen as historical, “pop”, artistic and even musical or theatrical. When one thinks of New York, they think about the Stature of Liberty, the cliché “I Love New York” t-shirts and Broadway. Paris has the Effel Tower, Berets, and The Louvre.  These examples are stereotypical at best, but as a whole are used by society to paint an overall image of a city. Even when major cities advertise they attract tourists by using their different forms of culture as their main points. Instead of using their sustaining industries or economies.

Now let’s picture a city without culture. There would be no music, art, books, monuments, sculptures, museums, and the general knowledge of the past. Without it then we would be stuck in the present with only the future in mind. F. T. Marinetti, the writer of the Futurist Manifesto, would have seen this as heaven. With no culture we would be rather emotionless, almost robots in a sense.  A city simply needs it just to keep going. Interpret how you like; culture within a city distracts us from the hardships that were and are still around us to this day.

Culture then allows a city to progress, and shine within the eyes of its surrounding urban areas; while allowing its past to live on. In conclusion, much like a first edition book missing its clear protective shell, culture is the missing book cover of Mark Weber’s city. Without it, his city would one day fall apart, while its value vastly diminished over time.


Albert Speer’s Theory of Ruin Value

Hey everyone,

For my research project, I’ve decided to work on Albert Speer’s planned global capital city, which he later dubbed Welthauptstadt Germania, which was to be situated in the area of Berlin.  The idea was that if the Nazi’s had won the war, this new city on Berlin would have served as the world capital, but, as it turned out, they did not win and very little of the proposed city was ever realized.  I found this topic interesting as it was supposed to be this great super-city, though it would have been heavily modeled after Roman architecture, not unlike Washington DC.  Unlike the architecture of Washington, the structures of Welthauptstadt Germania would have completely dwarfed their inspirations.  Just as an example of how huge these structures would have been, one of these proposed buildings, called the Große Halle, would have been a domed structure similar to the Pantheon, but would have been capable of being occupied by as many as 180,000 people.

Although this is just a little bit about the city itself, I’ve found Speer, the man behind the city, to be quite an interesting figure, despite his involvement in the Nazi war effort.  One of Speer’s first state buildings was the Zeppelinfeld, which was featured in Leni Riefenstahl’s iconic propaganda film “Triumph des Willens,” or Triumph of the Will.  In the construction of the Zeppelinfeld, Speer, with Hitler’s approval, did not use any modern ”anonymous” materials such as steel girders or ferroconcrete, as these materials would not have created aesthetically appealing ruins, like those of the Roman Empire.  The reason for this was because Hitler saw himself in the same light as a Roman Emperor and wanted his time of rule to be emblazoned right onto the city, for centuries to come.  The idea for using these materials came about because even after thousands of years, had they existed, their ruins would still display the majesty of the time.  This was called Speer’s Theory of Ruin Value.  I find this concept interesting, and a classic sign of a cult of personality.  I have yet to read any of Speer’s autobiographies, (or any biographies for that matter), but when I do, I will most likely further explore this topic for my term paper.  Despite the passage of roughly 75 years (a far cry from the imagined 1000’s of years) we can already see some of the decaying ruins of what was to be Welthaupstadt Germania.