A plan for a better Oststadt in Pforzheim

Socially disadvantaged communities dependent on government welfare, buildings in decline, vacant ground floor spaces, public spaces overtaken by parked cars, lack of green space and high level of noise pollution that is, at times, harmful for residents – these are some of the challenges faced not only by the district of Oststadt in Pforzheim, in southwestern Germany, but also in many other cities in the world.

In many similar cases in Germany, this would be addressed by first creating an integrated urban design concept (ISEK) which describes the scope of the problem, down to the finest details, followed by the master plan – two classic procedural steps to guarantee funding. As can be expected, the focus is mainly on obvious areas of intervention that can be addressed in a concrete way: through public space and facilities for education and culture.

Our proposal for Pforzheim-Oost – which was commissioned by the municipality but not selected for the follow-up phase – took a different approach. It began with creating a healthy city by addressing the pain points, namely the traffic noise and the responsibility of private owners and businesses. Traffic on the wide, busy public road that runs through the neighbourhood needs to be reduced by decreasing the number of lanes. Only this way does this give priority to public transport and cycling infrastructure. At the same time, it creates space to develop a mixed neighbourhood with not only housing but also provides employment opportunities for people.

But public space alone does not make a city, and a lively urban quality only results if the buildings are also suited for this purpose. To that end, existing buildings need to be repurposed and offer more diverse functions. The necessary energy transition offers opportunities for this. Regulations for private projects, for both renovations and new-build, create hybrid buildings that transform dull mono-functional post-war floor plans and building typologies into lively mixed-use spaces and neighbourhoods; every house and building has the potential to accommodate new possibilities.

Having a concrete masterplan is unavoidable when it involves an extensive and sustainable restructuring of a neighbourhood. The same rigorous approach used for addressing public space also needs to be applied to reformulating the programme and types of buildings. Only then can gentrification have a positive impact on the quality of the city.