Graduiertenkolleg Mittelstadt
Photo: PT, 2019

Medium-sized Cities: Modernization and Participation

Qualitative change through new cultures of city-making

On behalf of the Robert Bosch Foundation, the team, consisting of RWTH Aachen University, the University of Stuttgart and the University of Potsdam developed a post-graduate programme for prospective development of smaller medium-sized cities (20,000 – 50,000 residents). The post-graduate programme is inter- and trans-disciplinal and aims to analyze future questions and concerns regarding transformation in eight selected medium-sized cities to induce changes through new forms of city-making and participation.

The period of application for postgraduates and smaller medium-sized cities ends ended in January 2020.

The post-graduate programme: A team consisting of foundations, universities, postgraduates and municipalities

The post-graduate programme is developed and implemented by six professors of the RWTH Aachen University, the University of Stuttgart and the University of Potsdam by proxy of the Robert Bosch Foundation. They provide expertise in the areas of architecture, landscaping, city-, regional-, area- and environmental planning, space sciences, political and social sciences and public administration. They also stand by as mentors of dissertations and advisors in municipalities:

  • Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann, Chair for Political Science, Public Administration and Organization, University of Potsdam
  • Prof. Dr. Agnes Förster, Chair of Planning Theory and Urban Development, RWTH Aachen University
  • Prof. Dr. Frank Lohrberg, Institute of Landscape Architecture, RWTH Aachen University
  • Prof. Dr. Cordula Kropp, Institute for Social Sciences, University of Potsdam
  • Jun.-Prof. Dr. Jan Polívka, Sustainable Housing Development, RWTH Aachen University
  • Prof. Christa Reicher, Chair and Institute for Urban Design, RWTH Aachen University

Dr. Fee Thissen, Chair of Planning Theory and Urban Development, RWTH Aachen University, is the coordinator of the post-graduate programme. The team is to be enlarged by eight selected small medium-sized cities and ten postgraduates.

Science meets medium-sized cities: Innovation on three levels

The post-graduate programme follows an innovative approach and, in doing so, connects three levels:

1) Agent approach: Postgraduates work embedded in a field of practice and can therefore gain access to practical insider knowledge as well as local networks. The postgraduates themselves become agents for upcoming topics at the local level. The municipalities are explored from the inside and thereby receive impulses for renewal and further development. Networking, the transfer of knowledge and project development intertwine. In cooperation with the Robert Bosch Foundation, the agent approach is being developed as a new standard and can be used by further medium-sized cities.

2) Combination of future topics and participial processes: The post-graduate programme offers the chance to connect content-essential pillars for sustainable medium-sized cities with participative and integrative procedures as various levels of “participation”. The four-year course of lecturers enables a relatively fast feedback between concepts, implementation and evaluation. This iterative proceeding is an essential base for innovations regarding planning, communication and coordination. Doing so, postgraduates learn to reflexively connect academic competences with the requirements of city planning and administration.

3) “Medium-sized cities” as a cultural achievement: The course follows a qualitative approach and understands the changes regarding planning and administration as a cultural achievement. Appreciation, product-development and organizational changes intertwine. Synergies of those three levels can only be developed through an interdisciplinary environment in dialogue with practice.

Initiating change: The entanglement of contents and processes leads to approaches for concrete innovative and transformative concerns of medium-sized cities.

The post-graduate programme follows a qualitative approach, in order to explore, test, reflect and re-think change, and thereby the stabilization as well as the sustainable development of medium-sized cities. The post-graduate programme puts to specific resources of medium-sized cities and follows a perspective of  development from the inside out. The goal is qualitative growth towards new sensible qualities in cities that will have an impact through new forms of “participation” and “city-building”.

Cities are places with a special quality of life, identification and home, local democracy and participation but they are also places of engagement for and in the community as well.

These are secured by “common goods”, which cities develop and offer their residents: Living and working, latitude, infrastructure, mobility. Those fields of action in urban development are subject to certain trends and drifts, inter alia, demographic change, change of lifestyles, economic structural changes, digital transformation, energy transition and adaption of climate. Besides the formation of subjects, those developments also necessitate new processes and forms of organization and coordination.

On this basis, the course pursues the goal to illustrate development perspectives for concrete requests regarding innovation and induce a transformation in municipalities as well as a change when it comes to the culture of planning and administration. Three possible approaches take center:

Alteration of places and space, alteration of institutions and governance, alteration of processes and dialogues.

In cooperation with the municipalities, the postgraduates have to analyze transformational processes, identify and concretize transformational tasks and governmental structures and observe cultures of planning and communication. When it comes to pressing future issues, the participation and co-designing should be encouraged, tested and reflected on-site. With the approach of the “transformative research”, the postgraduates will become local agents, who connect their empirical research with concrete spatial, structural and planning impulses.

Under discussion: Middle-sized cities and postgraduates among and with each other

Within the framework of the post-graduate programme, a network of medium-sized cities will be established. The participating municipalities will have the chance to interchange their requests, possible solutions and experiences at network-meetings and middle-sized cities meetings.

The postgraduates will benefit from the exchange and co-operation among each other. Amongst others, the collaboration will be strengthened through common events, peer-to-peer-procedures and subject-tandems. Furthermore, through the co-operation of the municipalities and the postgraduates, an exchange of knowledge between research and practice will be enabled. The postgraduates work in tandems in one or two medium-sized cities with direct contact to the administration, public institutions and social organizations on the ground.