Málaga's makeover, Poland's first openly gay mayor and Berlin's co-housing conundrum.
Long seen as a beacon of low-cost tourism, the Mediterranean city of Málaga has been quietly smartening up its act. The effort to clean up the city and its image was first bolstered by a major project in the central port. It was spearheaded by the mayor and financed by a private consortium of banks and construction firms; city hall guidelines required the €80m project to include spaces for culture and small business. The effects were immediate: locals have flocked back, Paris’s Pompidou has opened a new museum to much fanfare and new businesses have flourished thanks to the loose change of the owners of the lavish yachts now moored alongside cheap cruiseliners.
Despite the hefty investment in the esplanade, the adjacent waterside district of Ensanche Heredia was a more complex challenge. The decadent district’s problems of prostitution, crime and crumbling buildings required a formula that went beyond mere cash and construction. Buoyed by the neighbouring development, residents and businesses took matters into their own hands, creating an association to recoup the neighbourhood’s artistic past. A vote gave birth to the Soho Arts District; locals believed the name would be universally associated with art and creativity. A co-ordinated effort was subsequently launched to colour the sullied streets with murals and cultural events. The city council jumped on board, rolling out an ambitious plan to pedestrianise the streets, which attracted more human traffic as well as small-scale retail and hospitality ventures.
“Politicians often try to impose city projects onto residents but in the Soho Arts District the opposite occurred,” says Gemma del Corral Parra, councillor for culture and city-centre projects. “The secret to success was simple; working hand in hand with the community with all major elements decided upon through public forums and a popular vote.”
The portside district’s revival is instructive. The rehabilitative urbanism of Soho Málaga combines activism with city resources, recruiting artists alongside experts. The revival has kept a broad spectrum of the community engaged and invested in its long-term viability.
When Robert Biedron was elected mayor of Slupsk, a city of 96,000 near Poland’s Baltic coast, last December he became the country’s first openly gay mayor. The 39-year-old former MP’s private life was not an issue in the campaign. “Biedron focused on local issues and his openness to the city’s inhabitants, combined with the skilful use of his urban image,” says Leszek Jazdzewski, a liberal commentator. This has made Biedron an “icon” of progressive Poland, he adds.
Equality, freedom and progress are the tenets of Biedron’s politics. “His key change is involving citizens in the governing of the city,” says Dariusz Szwed, one of his advisers, who is a former leader of Poland’s Green party. The strategy they are working on for Slupsk for the coming years prioritises balanced development and green modernisation. To further these aims, Biedron organised a gathering of other progressive Polish mayors, with plans to meet every few months in a different city each time.
As Polish politics remains dominated by right-of-centre parties, Biedron is emerging as the hope of Poland’s new left. When Andrzej Duda, a conservative, was elected president in May, Biedron wrote on social media: “Today modern Poland lost. The president of the future will be chosen in five years’ time. We’ll manage!” Biedron’s supporters hope he will be that guy.
Smart housing solution
Berlin is experiencing a building boom but the influx of foreign investors means property prices are rising dramatically. This is one reason why many locals have joined Baugruppen, or co-housing schemes, where a group of would-be-owners teams up to build a new house without a developer. They handle architects and contractors themselves, reducing costs by up to 25 per cent.
“Berlin has the highest number of co-housing projects worldwide,” says Winfried Härtel, who runs a website that promotes Baugruppen. He estimates that more than 1,000 houses have already been built this way in the city.
Härtel regularly hosts visitors from around the world who want to learn from Berlin. “Co-housing leads to more ecological buildings, better architecture and stronger neighbourhood ties,” he says, because it means building “by the people for the people”.
Lessons from the region
Palma de Mallorca
The small Mediterranean city works all year round and remains gently aloof from the holidaymakers that pack out the island.
- Cities should not let tourism shape them. Stay true to traditions and keep bucket-and-spade shops at the beach.
- Narrow streets paved with stone provide shade and soft breezes in summer.
- The old courtyard homes should be copied. A central shared space that can take the odd car and lush potted plant is perfect.
- Building a cycle route along your coastline will change people’s habits.
- Well-placed pieces of public art give your city edge.
Bright idea to be copied
Like much of Turkey’s urbanising coast, Izmir was in danger of cutting off its citizens from their seafront. Instead of public walkways, the shore was taken up by a congested highway, concrete barriers and the chug of industry. However, with funding from the Chamber of Commerce, three architects have designed a system of floating docks that can be rearranged, snapped together and tethered to the shore.
The project was piloted last summer and handed a portion of the sea back to sunbathers and fishermen. The idea is now being proposed in Istanbul to claim a patch of the increasingly busy Bosphorus, too.