The Ruhr 2 - Dortmund is Trying to Forget

Last week I wrote here about the Ruhr and its efforts to recover from the consequences of the structural changes it is undergoing. During the first half of the 20th century, the region’s cities expended so much, that they almost merged into some kind of a big city, home to more than 5 million people. While the region is basically a continuous urban agglomeration, every city in the region got its own tactics and solutions to fight the economic decline and shrinkage of population. The area has some kind of regional planning cooperation (Regionalverband Ruhr), but it has no legal rights. Only cities and the states have this kind of power, and therefore the Ruhr is falling between two stools. Germany is a federal state and the Ruhr is a region within a state (North Rhine-Westphalia).

When I shared here one of Duisburg’s solutions, I thought it is a good example of mixed-used development that doesn't forget the past. In this post I’d like to write about another project, currently under construction, in Dortmund. It’s called Phönix Lake, and just like Duisburg’s Inner-Harbor, it is also constructed on a brownfield (those empty spaces that were used by huge factories, which were closed down during the last decades). Dortmund’s plan is different from Duisburg’s. They decided to try something completely new.

Phönix Lake, before and after (Source: Bassaar, Wikipedia)

At first look, the idea is magnificent: getting rid of the old factory; creating an artificial lake in a post-industrial city striving for attractive public spaces; and lastly, building beautiful houses around. Sounds like a win-win solution, doesn't it? The poor residents from the neighborhoods in the area will enjoy a beautiful new attraction, and the city could be proud of a new, prestigious housing projects.

Well, it is not as good as it sounds. On the one hand, the lake is indeed a very popular attraction in Dortmund, only second to the local football team’s home games. I heard that on Sundays it’s impossible to find a piece of grass around the lake to sit on. That’s great, but there are also some pitfalls. The houses built around are intended mostly for the rich, and are so detached from the surrounding city that the entire project feels like a bad version of Disneyland.

Phönix Lake (Picture: Lior Steinberg)

I wish the problem was only the aesthetics. At first, Dortmund opened the lake to the public, and later started to build the villas you see in the pictures. Now, some of the villa owners are unhappy that so many people are walking outside their luxurious houses, peeking curiously inside. I can’t blame the visitors, some of the villas in the project are so kitschy, that it is impossible to resist taking a second look. In addition, the entire project lacks public transportation infrastructure, attracting only residents who can afford a car. Conflicts over parking spaces have started between residents and visitors.

One of the houses viewing the lake. A quote by the German poet Novalis is displayed: “Wir werden die Welt verstehen, wenn wir uns selbst verstehen” / “We shall understand the world when we understand ourselves” (Picture: Lior Steinberg)

Phönix Lake is beautiful, but the housing project around it is a real-life example of why starting entirely from scratch, in a city with such extensive history, is almost an impossible task. Dortmund is not a quite suburb, but a big and noisy city. Selling the rich a fantasy of quite residential project by the city center is not fair. While the new residents probably spent their money on a dream of a sterile living environment, they need to face the fact that they live around Dortmund's most attractive location.


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Written by Lior Steinberg. Follow him on Twitter and .