Leipzig has seen some turbulent changes over the last 100 years or so, from turn-of-the-century metropolis through the destruction of war and socialist reconstruction to the peaceful revolution in 1989 and a decade of shrinkage following German unification. Since the start of the new millennium, the city’s fortunes have once again started to be reversed. The economy is recovering and population is predicted to rise from around 567,000 in 2015 to more than 720,000 by 2030 (Stadt Leipzig 2016). Within the space of just two decades, Leipzig has gone from a shrinking city to, once more, becoming a vibrant centre of growth.
All of these changes have given rise to challenges that make the city a unique location for our research on nature-based urban interventions. Through interviews and discussions that we have held with municipal officers and stakeholders from non-governmental organisation since May 2017, we have found out that these challenges have recently included the impacts of industrial pollution, the need to redevelop former open-cast mines and disused military training grounds, river pollution and the drying up of the city’s characteristic alluvial forests, vacant building plots and brown field sites, rising air and noise pollution, rising social inequalities, the creation of job opportunities and, recently, growing pressures on land and conflicts over use as well as the need to maintain and improve social cohesion in an increasingly diverse city.
The aim of our current research in Leipzig is to examine how nature-based solutions have been used to deal with some of these past and new challenges. In addition to the above mentioned interviews, we have attended a range of public consultation events, discussions, urban festivals, guided walks and planning labs, as well as studying reports, briefs, online information and press articles. Our research focuses on three interventions: 1) renaturation projects that stretch from Leipzig’s “New Lakes” to its system of rivers, canals and alluvial forests, 2) the city’s tree planting and tree protection schemes, and 3) competing uses of green ‘free spaces’ in the eastern part of Leipzig.
While it is too soon for us to present results, we are noticing already that the city’s past problems with economic and population decline also opened up opportunities for ecological recovery and communal uses of vacant sites that are once again under pressure as the city grows. Thus, social, economic and ecological concerns do not easily overlap and can be difficult to reconcile.
Retaining past opportunities while responding to the diversity of needs and interests of citizens and different interest groups while at the same time increasing resilience to climate change and tackling the consequences of urban growth are amongst the key challenges that our interview partners have highlighted for the city in the future.
Kathrin Hoerschelmann is a Researcher at the Leibniz-Institut fuer Laenderkunde (IFL) and working on the NATURVATION project.