Urban transformations in the Rhine Ruhr Area

2016-09-12 to 2016-09-21
Event type: 
Field school

The idea of the field school was to bring together Chinese, Indian and German students for an exchange on urbanisation processes and urban transformations. The field school is embedded in a larger programme, consisting of three field schools: The first one in Cologne (on the Ruhr area) in 2016, the second one in Guangzhou, on the Perl River Delta in 2017 and the third one in Delhi on the National Capital Region in 2018.

Three students from Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou and three (four) students from Jawarlahal Nehru University, Delhi and fifteen students from Cologne formed international teams to work on the ongoing transformation process of the Ruhr area. Once Germany’s industrial heartland, the Ruhr area has witnessed deindustrialisation in the last fifty years. Coal and steel industry, which were the backbone of the economic revival of West Germany after World War II, were subsequently closed from the 1960s onwards. The main reason being, that production was not possible anymore at competitive prices in an increasingly globalising economy. This process led to the need to transform the economic structure of the area – which also affected the region’s cities. In total the population declined (even if the loss was not big, the Ruhr area has been a shrinking region in the last decades) and large former industrial areas were not used anymore – and needed new functions.

During the field school, the students worked in teams of three on topics related to the change, the Ruhr area witnessed because of the deindustrialisation process. One group for example looked at the potential of the famous coal mine and coking plant “Zeche Zollverein” in Essen, which was during  the 20th century one of the largest mines in the Ruhr Area and had in the 1970s the most modern coking plant in Europe. This industrial area was completely shut down in 1986, was then bought by the state, transformed into a cultural heritage area and was eventually declared UNESCO world heritage site in 2002. An Indo-German team of students did an assessment in order to find out, in how far the areas directly surrounding this site benefit from this status, e.g. through the attraction of tourists. Other topics picked up by the students were inter alia the environmental long term consequences of mining activities, sports culture and sports sites in the Ruhr Area, the use of public green by the population, challenges related to establishing mining colonies as urban heritage sites and generally challenges of brown field area transformations.

The field work started with a ten days’ intensive field school in September. During this field school the history of the Ruhr area was discussed, theoretical approaches towards understanding transformation processes were debated and methodological approaches for analysing urban transformation processes were developed. Based on this the students developed their own research questions and study design. In these first intensive days the student visited their respective field sites and collected their own data.

This was followed by an eight weeks’ phase in which the students had time to analyse the data, prepare their reports or – if necessary could revisit their field sites for further data collection.

At the end of this phase a two days’ workshop was held in Cologne to discuss the findings of the students’ field work (for more information about the workshop go to "other events").