GMF Fellow analyzes economic and industrial regeneration strategies in Europe
On July 29, GMF hosted Jess Zimbabwe, a Comparative Domestic Policy Fellow, to present her preliminary findings on her research in Europe on public leadership decisions in older industrial cities.
Zimbabwe's research examined the re-use of former industrial buildings as part of a wider economic regeneration strategy in three industrial regions: the Ruhr region, especially the city of Essen, in Germany, as well as Turin in Italy, and Manchester in England. She framed the discussion by arguing that while these types of projects do exist in the United States, they tend to be driven by the private sector on an ad hoc basis, whereas in Europe the local government often takes the lead and can link projects to wider economic and social plans in the city.
In the densely populated and heavily industrialized area of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, the cities of Essen and Duisburg have faced challenges in coping with the decline of iron and coal industries respectively. Both have sought to transform their industrial buildings into community facilities. Thyssen Mill was once a major part of the Duisburg iron industry, but closed in the 1980s. It has since been turned into a recreational facility, featuring wall climbing, music concerts and even scuba diving. It can also be reserved for weddings and conferences. In Essen, the Zollverein coal mine also closed in the 1980s, but is now used as a cultural center - complete with a museum of design and a school of management and design. Zimbabwe said that although the approaches taken in Duisburg and Essen may vary - the former creating a recreation facility, the latter a cultural one - the purpose is the same: to ensure industrial buildings that are part of the identity and physical fabric of the city remain focal points for the re-birth of the urban area Turin in northern Italy is another European city that has been forced to adapt to the decline of the heavy industry that the city was once built on. The closing of car giant Fiat's Lingotto factory in 1982 was a blow to both the economy and the confidence of Turin.
A pivotal point in Turin's recovery came in 1995 when the first city-wide plan in almost half a century was agreed. It was quickly followed in 1998 by a regional plan that brought in surrounding areas, linking the city with its hinterland through major improvements in transport. Zimbabwe explained that this laid the basis for Turin's successful bid to host the 2006 winter Olympics, which involved the entire city region. With the economy improving, the Lingotto factory is now a popular mall. The final case study presented was Manchester in northwest England, formerly an industrial textile giant that at its height produced almost two thirds of the world's cotton. This success was in no small part due to the excellent transport links in Manchester and the surrounding areas (firstly in the form of canals and later trains) that gave the city a competitive edge over its rivals. Manchester's industrial decline began in the 1960s, earlier than in the other two case studies, and so the effort to use the industrial heritage as the basis for economic improvement also pre-dated those cities. In 1982, the Museum of Science and Industry was opened, and in the following years many of the textile factories in the Castlefield area of the city were adapted into apartments and office space. The area's famous canals are once again a feature of the area, with numerous foot bridges making Casltefiled very pedestrian and bike friendly. Through these case studies, Zimbabwe identified clear lessons for policy makers in the United States. The first was that planning must take place across the whole metropolitan region, not just in individual towns and cities. The close links between a city and the surrounding area mean that a strategy must include both if it is to be successful. She also pointed out that a common feature of each of the case studies was a high level of public accountability and recognition for local representatives, such as directly elected mayors in Essen and Turin. This helped to galvanize public support for projects and brought different parts of government together under a common vision. A closely related lesson, according to Zimbabwe, is that the needs of the public must be paramount in the re-use of industrial buildings. Most importantly, this means that the new facilities, be they cultural, recreational, or learning based, are made as accessible as possible. The issue of accessibility, however, is a reminder that cultural and legal differences exist between Europe and the United States - in this case the stricter personal injury insurance system and litigation culture in the nited tates makes old industrial buildings less accessible in many instances. While city and regional authorities play the lead role in re-igniting local economies, national level support is necessary as is leveraging philanthropic support for projects in industrial areas. In Manchester, central government spending helped improve the transport infrastructure around Castlefield while charitable funds from the Italian bank Compagnia di San Paolo played a significant part in Turin's transformation. Zimbabwe concluded with a final, overarching lesson for any city looking to harness its physical and cultural industrial heritage for economic improvement. She stressed the need for a full and frank assessment of the local identity and assets upon which to build a fully fledged strategy. In Turin, for example, planners looked beyond the history of Fiat to other traditional, although less recognized, strengths such as aeronautics and gastronomy that could also contribute to the city's future success.
The presentation was followed by a lively and well informed question and answer session. Topics ranged from how ‘shrinking cities' are managed in Europe, to how officials ensure that government investment has a tangible result for the public to the extent of economic and social improvements that have resulted from the projects in the three case studies. Differences as well as similarities between American and European experiences were also discussed. With regard to the former, the availability of European structural funds were explained, where EU money is directed toward economically struggling regions in order to reduce inequality across the continent. As for the latter, a parallel was drawn between the example of Turin, a city built on the auto industry, and the difficulties being faced in many car building cities in the United States. Zimbabwe is currently writing a policy brief based on her research in Europe that will be published by GMF later this year. The audience, of around 35, represented a wide variety of sectors, including local government, think tanks, NGO's, Congress and Federal agencies.