How to…Serve (Up) a City

Vienna's city planners design the urban spaces we live and work in. You can weigh in and try your hand at planning the town, too

Imagine you are planning a dinner party in your home, your city. A mix of people coming together to spend time with each other. Your job, as the host, is to create a setting that is both pleasing and stimulating, one where each of your guests feels welcome and can enjoy a delicious meal in the company of friends. Everything matters, from the décor and furnishings, to the flow of guests through the rooms, and the timing from appetizers to after-dinner coffee. From choice of starters, to which wine for the main course, to the timing of the last tram home.

Now imagine this on the scale of a city: For urban planners it’s like throwing a never ending “dinner party” for the residents and visitors, mixing and coordinating different “ingredients” and needs to create a livable city – a well-functioning and, at its best, pleasing and stimulating setting for the conversation of daily life.

Depending on the scale, spatial planning can focus on small neighborhoods, whole districts or entire cities. It is about approaching public space – whether urban or rural – in a synthesis of infrastructure, economics and social exchange. Today, urban populations are growing populations. As they did a century ago, people are gravitating to the opportunities a city can offer and abandoning the countryside. In both cases, strategies are needed to handle challenges and exploit hidden potentials. Spatial planners must understand how space functions and how different systems affect each other. Residential and mobility development, green infrastructure and climate change, privatization of urban spaces and non-commercial public places – all are on a city planner’s mind.

BE PATIENT, IT ONLY TAKES YEARS

Unlike architecture, the results of city plans may take decades to emerge. “You need to be patient, because the process can take many years,” explains spatial planner Zech, who is a professor at the Department of Raumplanung (Spatial Planning) at the Technische Universität Wien (Technical University of Vienna), and the only woman. “When you build houses, you soon see the results of your work. The results of city planning stay hidden for a long time.” Worse, the public often only notices the things that did not work out. Her work life is divided in two parts – half of her time she spends running her own city planning office, the other half she spends teaching the next generation of city planners.

One such is Tarek Diebäcker, who will soon leave Vienna, his hometown, to pursue a master’s degree in Stockholm. He first discovered planning as a teenager, when his class participated in a small development project close to Am Schöpfwerk, in the 12th district. Led by Helga Fassbinder, the initiator of the Biotope City approach, it was a chance for planners to get a sense of “what young people would wish for this area.”

Today, surrounded by trees and vegetable patches in a small neighborhood garden next to Karlsplatz, Tarek talks about the importance of city planning, about contributing to a more sustainable approach to urban development and trying to change systems that no longer work. “Urban planning sets the rules for many other disciplines,” he says, “We need people who lay down the principles, the basic design of places, and look at how different systems work together beyond a single building.”

“When you build houses, you soon see the results of your work. The results of city planning stay hidden for a long time.” 

Sibylla Zech, professor at the Department of Raumplanung (Spatial Planning) at the Technical University Vienna (TU Wien)

Vienna’s Rudolf-Bednar-Park is conceptualized as the new “green lung” of the 2nd district, amid new projects to house 20,000 people.

CITY | THE SPACE WE LIVE IN

Vienna has always been a multicultural and diverse city. These days, the capital is home to almost 2 million people from 183 nations. City planning in Vienna is often associated with Seestadt, one of its most prestigious expansion projects. But urban planning isn’t limited to new neighborhoods – even the oldest districts are continuously under development.

For about two weeks, the interactive traveling exhibition Wien wird WOW made a pit stop at Reumannplatz in the 10th district. Only a stone’s throw from the renowned Tichy family Eisladen (ice cream shop), the exhibition showcased current development plans for the neighborhood, including the expansion of the FH Campus Wien, the construction of the residential complex Viola Park, and the revitalization of the Haschahof – Vienna’s last Vierkanter (an old square-shaped farmhouse). Visitors can also try their own hand at city planning – there was a hands-on Lego-brick district to play with and a traffic planning activity for players to manage traffic within a limited amount of space.

Every choice shows an immediate impact on the surrounding residential area – too many cars and too few trees increase air and noise pollution; too many sidewalks and recreational areas decrease the quality and availability of mobility. Having mastered these challenges, visitors can go bigger and try to plan a whole district with housing, parks, schools, playgrounds, hospitals and shops. The only mission is to create a diverse and affordable neighborhood for as many people as possible.

THE FUTURE IS GREEN

Wien wird WOW will tour the city through next year, giving passers-by the chance to weigh in with ideas and criticism of current development projects. With it, the city hopes to reach the people where they live, says Kurt Mittringer, head of the Division for Urban and Rural Development at MA 18, directly where the new developments will be happening. MA 18 is in charge of drawing up the Stadtentwicklungsplan (City Development Plan) that will determine the development agenda for the next decade.

The cities of the future – Vienna included – have new challenges, including extreme temperatures caused by climate change. While Vienna has been a traditionally green city, it will have to continue to adapt in order to maintain the quality of life we enjoy today. One key area is transportation: “ The cities of the past were built for cars. The cities of the future cannot be,” explains landscape architect Attila Tóth.

In the end, planning and developing cities is about the people who live there. So, apart from understanding the relationships between the various city systems, communication is a central challenge of city planning.The often-elaborate plans need to be explained to people affected in a way that makes sense and invites participation.

Everyone needs to get to work and school, mingle, shop, play and rest. “We are talking about people’s daily lives, yet we often express ourselves in a complicated way,” explains Sibylla Zech. Bringing in the public is key. “Space is more than just a container, it is a relational structure in which social interaction takes place. People identify with the spaces they live in, so when planning a space, you need to relate the space strongly to the people that have access to it.”

And thus the city, like dinner, is served.

Veronika Hribernik
Veronika Hribernik studied Transcultural Communication and Social and Cultural Anthropology before turning to journalism. Now she is out and about, recording people's stories in as many languages as possible.

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