The Saxony-Anhalt Process
The modern pioneer’s tool box benefits from the ease with which one can connect and share ideas with people around the world. It turns out declining population problems are not unique to the Great Plains. For example, over the last 20 years many smaller communities in what used to be East Germany have undergone demographic shifts comparable to those in parts of rural America. As a result, communities here can benefit from learning about the tools used to deal successfully with the problem of community “shrinkage” there.
A process intended to counter the effects of declining populations by developing existing potentials has evolved through work with a number of towns and small cities in the Saxony-Anhalt area of Germany. This work is explored in the book International Building Exhibition Urban Redevelopment 2010 Less is Future — 19 Cities, 19 Designs published by Jovis.
Briefly, this process begins by creating a profile of a community through analyzing its history, character and educational/social resources. Since citizen participation is vital, tools such as “moderation, coaching and networking” are used to “sensitize communities to their own identity and to stimulate a sense of self-responsibility.” The process remains open at all times so “corrections and adjustments can be made at each stage, and priorities changed or newly defined.”
This process differs from more traditional approaches in that it “rejects the notions that ‘strategic planning only works from the top down,’ and ‘the bigger the better.’ The aim of the process is to develop a new image for towns based on their specific potentials.”
Once this has been accomplished the process proceeds to the building phase. This involves starting “small with two or three simple projects that use the available endogenous potential and can be put across to the citizens (or better still, initiated by them), and thus not perceived as alien elements, and therefore lastingly endure. The success of these projects provides the impetus for subsequent projects, enabling entire cities and regions to transform themselves from within.”
This is very much the approach University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor Martin Despang had his architectural students use when they began working with communities in Boone County. But it need not be confined to architecture: a variety of community development projects could potentially benefit from this type of approach.