Germany Greens Its 'Brownfields,' Offering a Post-Industrial Model Innovative Waterfront Project Is among Examples of Renewal

By Ruth Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Germany Greens Its 'Brownfields,' Offering a Post-Industrial Model Innovative Waterfront Project Is among Examples of Renewal


Ruth Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The United States may be leading the way in inventing jobs for the 21st century. But Germany has a lot of expertise to offer in cleaning up the industrial messes of the 19th.

That was the impression some two dozen urban activists got during a recent week-long visit. The American activists came to check on the progress of the Emscher River environmental cleanup and rebuilding project in Germany's industrial Ruhr region.

Joseph Schilling, director of economic development for the International City/County Management Association in Washington, called the project "absolutely incredible." Mr. Schilling works with many local government officials facing similar challenges in cleaning up "brownfield" sites - areas once used for industrial development. Schilling says he has found it helpful to share what he has learned from his previous trips to the Ruhr. "It's great to be able to show people from an area like Green Point {a heavy industrial area} in New York ... pictures of this area so that they can visualize what can be done." There certainly is a lot to be done here. The region is experiencing, in intense form, a process that is familiar elsewhere in the industrialized world: a difficult transition from a manufacturing-based economy to one based more on services. For years, jobs have been disappearing by the tens of thousands as factories and mines closed. Many date back into the 19th century, before problems like ground-water contamination or hazardous waste got much attention. But the area is being cleaned up under the auspices of the Internationale Bau Austellung or IBA, a regional association based in nearby Gelsenkirchen and involving 17 cities and towns. IBA is coordinating some 120 projects involving nearly $2 billion. Created in 1989 and set to wrap up in 1999, it is funded by local governments and the European Union, and has some private support. Here in Duisburg am Rhein, IBA is committing roughly $70 million to new infrastructure to rehabilitate the inner harbor. "We're building a whole new neighborhood within 400 {yards} of the old city center," says Dieter Steffen, managing director of the Inner Harbor Promotion Agency. Like many other German cities, Duisburg is in severe financial crisis. Receipts from the all-important tax on trade are down sharply, and unemployment has reached 16.8 percent. As a result, "All investment spending - rebuilding schools, streets, everything - is at a halt," says Frank Kopatschek, a city government spokesman. "We're nearly bankrupt." Kopatschek says, "It's easy to make this area look bad. All you have to do is point a camera and shoot.

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Germany Greens Its 'Brownfields,' Offering a Post-Industrial Model Innovative Waterfront Project Is among Examples of Renewal
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