Looking back: Bundeskongress für nationale Stadtentwicklungspolitik 2019 in Stuttgart

It’s been a whirlwind the last few weeks – one trip after another. I’m going to be recapping the various conferences, trips and trainings over the coming weeks, starting with the Bundeskongress für nationale Stadtentwicklungspolitik (Federal Congress for National Urban Development Policy) 2019 in Stuttgart, which took place on the 18th to 20th of September.

The conference, which was titled “Smart, solidary, resilient: How can we shape the future in cities and the countryside?” this year, examined a number of highly current topics. Of the panels that I saw, I could identify three which seemed to dictate the discourse: affordability, citizen involvement, and digitization. Naturally, topics such as climate change also played a role, but not as much as one might have expected from a conference with “resilient” in its title.

“We need to create the conditions so that everyone can afford to live a decent life in cities.”

Anne Katrin Bohle, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Interior, Building, and Homeland.

Affordability, in particular affordable housing, was far and away the most talked about topic, especially among the policy-maker panels. The question was brought up time and again how planning policies and regulations (for example the building code) can be adapted to promote fast, serialized construction and densification in urban conglomerations so as to provide some relief for urban populations.

These concepts were often (rightly so!) talked about together with grassroots led projects and initiatives such as Immovilien, which are more widely discussed under the heading of “gemeinwohlorientierten Stadtentwicklung” (urban development for the common good). This term is being used to collect concepts from urban commons to inclusive citizen participation – a number of projects were exhibited or had the chance to present themselves in side events.

Many of the panels examined the current trends and good practices in digitization and smart city development, with some justified critical voices. The representative from the Finnish EU Council Presidency, for example, warned in her speech against allowing the smart city movement to be driven by the tech firms instead of what cities really need.

All of this was framed by the choice of venue, the Wagenhallen, which was once a post-industrial self-led artists’ space and has now been converted into a relatively high-end conference venue. The artists and makers now use a container village next door for their ateliers and workshops and the area has been designated a “cultural protection area.” I’d be curious to learn more about the various stakeholders’ views of the success of this arrangement.

It was all in all a good congress. The only real disappointment this year was the lack of women on the stage. I find it rather shocking that the Federal Ministry signed off on panels moderated by women in which there was only one female participant (with five men). It was pretty old-fashioned and was a source of commentary among the groups I spoke with (and rightly so!).

It was great to see everyone and, as always, enjoy the inspiring and collegial discussions on the sidelines. See you next year!

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