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The best shape

Bochum [NIGHTLIFE]

“The only time you hear about Bochum is when Nokia or Opel close a factory,” says Volker Brunswick, who runs a commercial interior-design agency in this German city of 360,000. Located in the Ruhr Valley, it often evokes mining and industrial decline.

Yet Bochum has also managed to cultivate another reputation: it now has Germany’s highest number of restaurants and bars per citizen – one per 1,000 – and the highest per-capita revenue in food and nightlife. Its thriving hotspot is the city centre, known as Bermuda-Dreieck (Bermuda Triangle). Covering about 2 sq km, it is home to 20 per cent of the city’s bars and restaurants, plenty of outdoor seating and a nightlife district that attracts three million people every year and as many as 30,000 each day in the summer.

The area’s nightlife credentials built gradually. Ruhr University opened in Bochum in the 1960s, bringing with it an influx of young people who began setting up informal bars. Leftist entrepreneur Leonardo Bauer laid the foundations by opening Bermuda-Dreieck’s first club in 1972, which was swiftly followed by the region’s inaugural beer garden. “The city supported us, which was crucial,” says Dirk Steinbrecher, who now runs Bauer’s original club.

The neighbourhood’s entrepreneurs and property owners formed a business-improvement district in 2004 “to maintain its attraction, identity and diversity”, Brunswick, a board member, explains. The association plans urban-development measures with the city; it also tries to keep restaurant chains out.

The nightlife hub employs an estimated 2,200 people and the city continues to support its growth; a concert hall is being built next to the Bermuda-Dreieck. “We never planned for any of this,” says Dagmar Stallmann of Bochum’s building regulatory agency.

No sweat

Belgium [TRAVEL]

The days of arriving at the office hot and bothered may soon be over in the Belgian province of Vlaams-Brabant. Officials have been road-testing new-generation 45km/h electric bikes, also known as speed pedelecs, in order to convince commuters that cycling is a viable travel option.

“We have an enormous issue with traffic congestion but the faster e-bikes present huge potential,” says Tom Dehaene, a member of the provincial executive responsible for mobility. “At the moment our bike lanes are quite narrow but we are investing €3m per year in 4-metre-wide lanes. These will also be safer for pedelec users.”

The advent of e-bikes means that those who are not super fit or are getting on in years can also saddle up; even commuting the 28km from Vlaams-Brabant’s capital city Leuven to Brussels should be a doddle.

Slow and steady

Athens

There’s a lot to love about the Greek capital – a catalogue of culture, bustling nightlife and glorious climate spring to mind – but a devastated economy means improvements have been sluggish. Even small fixes could have big results:

  1. Regulate the unruly adverts that tarnish the capital’s historic buildings.
  2. Close off unused streets to traffic to provide more room for trees.
  3. Many pavements are too narrow and uneven.
  4. Cycle lanes would reduce traffic and make the streets safer for everyone.
  5. Call on volunteers to pick up rubbish and raise awareness of urban cleanliness.

Q&A - Inés Sabanés

Councillor for transport and the environment, Madrid

Madrid is getting serious about air pollution: new environment and transport councillor Inés Sabanés is readying a plan to freshen up the Spanish capital’s concrete jungle. The overhaul will harvest smaller-scale solutions in search of cleaner air and greener pastures.

Why are you embracing smaller solutions such as mini city parks?
The current model of urban development is inhospitable on a human scale: a city of hard, often-empty spaces. Madrid’s vacant city lots provide an opportunity to create temporary green spaces managed by locals.

What is the roll-out plan?
This can’t be the exclusive effort of the city council; forming partnerships with neighbourhood associations and corporate social responsibility programmes is essential. It will only have an impact if all are involved.

What elements will help to make Madrid greener?
Instead of native flora we need to consider “adapted vegetation” because plant life needs to be able to resist the harsh urban environment. It’s not just cities that require individual approaches but neighbourhoods too. We’ll draw from local experience and socio-economic characteristics; collaboration is key to rethinking our public spaces.

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