In this blog article, Katie Kershaw reflects on an inspirational study trip to Potsdam, Germany with the Matrix Housing Partnership with whom she is a board member.
The Matrix Housing Partnership is a unique co-operative of nine highly skilled associations providing affordable housing and health & social care services. The partners collectively manage over 100,000 homes across the wider Midlands region. As part of our joint working, the Matrix partners have undertaken a series of best practice study visits, with recent tours to York and Freiburg in Germany.
This latest trip to Potsdam, a small city on the outskirts of Berlin, focussed on estate renewal, sustainable regeneration, and the planning of large scale new communities: all highly relevant issues to a partnership that has been identified as a Wave 1 Strategic Partner with Homes England, securing £77million of funding to deliver 2,257 additional new homes by March 2022 through their ‘New Ways of Working’ programme, which aims to take significant steps towards dealing with the UK’s housing crisis.
The study visit allowed the partners to learn from completed schemes and planned future development, together with having the opportunity to visit Potsdam’s historic core to understand the city’s complex historic narrative, from its origins as a summer residence of Prussian kings (and the significant number of palaces and designed landscapes resulting from this) and the creation of a Dutch Quarter to house skilled artisans; to the widescale destruction of the city during the Second World War; the subsequent occupation by the Red Army during the period of the German Democratic Republic (GDR); right through to its modern renaissance from the 1990s onwards. This unique history poses both challenges and opportunities to development.
Our first stop was Gartenstadt Drewitz (Drewitz Garden City), where significant investment has been made to regenerate a GDR era tenement scheme, which suffered from a low quality, unengaging environment, a lack of useable public space / facilities, car / highway dominance and a poor reputation.
Our host, ProPotsdam, a city-owned group of real estate businesses that has spearheaded the regeneration of Potsdam, was tasked with defining a new future for this unloved and disconnected neighbourhood. After undertaking extensive public consultation, including specifically reaching out to the children of the neighbourhood, in 2006 a masterplan was revealed.
The masterplan’s key features were:
- The core priority was people: ProPotsdam wanted to ensure that the existing community was not displaced through gentrification.
- A key focus was made on the quality of the external environment as a meeting point for the community.
- The quality and appearance of housing needed to be significantly enhanced, which was in the classic GDR style, with little variation and in a very poor state of repair.
- To provide varied options in dwelling size to invite a broader range of family types into the community.
As of 2019, Drewitz Garden City is still very much work in progress, with a number of apartment blocks yet to be renovated. Key features have, however, been delivered, the most significant of which is a linear park along a former highway, which has created a focal point for the community, intersected by a secondary green route which provides a pedestrian link to nearby points of interest. Oskar, a mixed-use building providing a community centre and school, creates a further meeting point for the community, where a varied range of events run alongside education to foster multigenerational integration.
Other key features of the development include:
- Integrated public transport including tram and bus, allowing ease of connection to the city centre.
- Allocated parking to minimise the impact of cars on the street scene.
- Codesign with the community, including children who helped shift adult perceptions, particularly regarding the linear park.
- Creation of play spaces / varied planting / routes to key destinations including adjacent woodland and shopping centre to promote movement on foot.
- Environmental improvements to result in lower energy consumption.
- Provision of cycle lanes and parking to promote cycling.
- Fixed, low rental prices for former residents, with higher prices for newcomers to the area to cross subsidise the existing community.
Even before full completion, the results are impressive:
- The scheme has 90% population retention (60% was considered typical), demonstrating minimal displacement of the existing community: a common criticism of similar regeneration schemes.
- A radically improved public realm: the delivery of the park and infrastructure early in the life of the project has been vital to changing perceptions of the area and attracting new people into the community.
- Greater choice of property: adaptations to the previously limited apartment typologies has allowed a more varied community to call Drewitz home, and will permit people to remain in the area in the event of changes to their lifestyle or family size, strengthening the potential for a cohesive community.
- Wider range of uses including Oskar, the community centre/school providing a hub.
- The area is better integrated into the wider city thanks to the transport changes including tram, bus and cycle routes.
- Improved sustainability credentials thanks to better performing buildings and more sustainable resident choices.
- A measured improvement in the image of the area, with the neighbourhood rising from last, to second last(!) in local perception rankings.
Gartenstadt Drewitz is an inspirational case study in estate regeneration, not because it is perfect in design terms (it isn’t and doesn’t claim to be), but rather because it demonstrates how those tasked with regeneration can truly put the needs of an existing community as the principal focus of their efforts. In doing so, Drewitz provides an excellent example of Jan Gehl’s approach to placemaking: “First life, then spaces, then buildings”. The proof of its success is in the statistics, with 90% of the existing community remaining in situ.
Krampnitz Eco Quarter
Our next focus was a planned community at Krampnitz. This 140ha site was originally a cavalry barracks for the German military, planned in 1935/6 and opened on September 1st1939, designed by the architect Robert Kish and delivered in the German Garden City style, with set piece building arrangements in formal layouts within a heavily landscaped environment.
After the war, the site was immediately occupied by the Red Army, who made their own idiosyncratic adaptations to the buildings and spaces to serve their needs. The site therefore has a rich history and its built environment is rightfully protected by numerous heritage designations. The wooded landscape environment adds another layer of richness to the site which will nonetheless provide challenge to its redevelopment.
So what to do with a unique site such as this? It was heartening to see that best practice principles were being observed in the masterplannning of the future community, led by ProPotsdam, which by 2032 is planned to be the home of around 10,000 people (around 5% of the current population of Potsdam).
The community will:
- Create 4,900 homes
- Be carbon neutral
- Retain 82 listed buildings, providing 1400 apartments
- Create three varied character areas
- Create a 8ha central park on the site of a demolished former riding stables
- Utilise a range of sustainable transport initiatives, notably including the extension of a light rail line through the site from the city centre, together with autonomous minibuses
- Create decentralised parking areas away from homes to reduce impact of cars on the public realm
- Provide connected, high quality cycle routes through the site to link with existing infrastructure
- Provide sustainable energy initiatives including combined heat and power, solar, geothermal and wind energy generation and promote waste water recycling
The scheme is still in the advanced planning phase, but provides an exciting and ambitious example of a carbon neutral future community in a unique existing environment. As an urban designer, it is the stuff of dreams!
Throughout Potsdam’s history, the city has continually adapted to a radically changing political and social landscape. Its most recent renaissance in the post GDR era has in many ways provided its greatest challenge.
ProPotsdam’s holistic approach and innovative thinking has allowed a highly creative and people centred response to this challenge which is allowing the city to buck the trend of diminishing populations of settlements within the former East Germany and create an aspirational and indeed inspirational environment.
As such, Potsdam formed a fascinating destination for the Matrix partners, with much to draw upon and inspire us as we look to collectively create outstanding places to live across the Midlands.