Urban Renewal

Phoenix Lake is part of the Phoenix See area of Dortmund.

Phoenix Lake is part of the Phoenix See area of Dortmund.

It’s an urban oasis, a place of peace and relaxation. Hard to imagine the belching smoke and noise that once filled this area.

The first time I remember hearing about Dortmund was as a young boy, reading about the Second World War and the Allied bombing of the Nazis’ industrial base. Dortmund was a prime target (and the occasional unexploded bomb still is turned up today). Times have changed though, and Dortmund is no longer known primarily for its coal mining and steel mills. The last mill was shut down years ago.

A monument to the city's past, one of the last canisters used to pour steel, sits at the water's edge.

A monument to the city’s past, one of the last canisters used to pour steel, sits at the water’s edge.

Phoenix See was once, or so I’m told, an industrial wasteland, a steel factory complex, part of a manufacturing district that had dominated the area for more than a century and a half. Today, after a decade-long reclamation project, there is a lake where the ThyssenKrupp factory once stood, with a walking path around it and housing and offices springing up along the edges. It is a park area, with playgrounds and boating, lots of green space. I can only imagine just how polluted the land was and how much it cost to make the area look so appealing.

I suspect the new housing going up on the lake’s edge is much more expensive than those homes formerly located near the plant. It looks like a very desirable place to live, especially for young professionals. What once was once a working-class area now gets taken over by the middle class. The poorer people have to find new places to live. So it goes in cities the world over.

Ground floor restaurants with offices and housing above.

Ground floor restaurants with offices and housing above.

City planning is a hot topic in most urban centres. We struggle with cramming people in close together in a way that is both cost effective and humanizing. Rectangular concrete towers went out of fashion with the collapse of the Soviet Union, if indeed they were ever in fashion. But there is no room for single family dwellings downtown; land is too costly. So we still build big buildings, with small individual living spaces.

Or at least we used to. I think the realization has come that big is not necessarily better, that green space is essential for a healthy urban environment and that bigger buildings, although more profitable for the owners, can be dehumanizing. The problem is that there is not much unused land in urban cores that can be used for new residential projects.

A very imaginative play structure in one of the pkaygrounds.

A very imaginative play structure in one of the pkaygrounds.

My hometown has height limits on new development, much to the frustration of those wishing to put up new condominium towers. Strangely, those proposed towers are always in the downtown area, not 20 kilometres from the city centre. People on the outskirts are there for space I guess. There is one area of the urban core of our city slated for new development, a place called LeBreton Flats. The housing there was razed 50 years ago as part of an urban renewal plan that wiped out a historic neighbourhood. Then nothing happened.

In the past decade there has been some development – a museum and a condominium tower (rather nondescript in my opinion) and now local government is looking for ideas. An arena is a possibility, or perhaps an aquarium. My guess is there will be a lack of vision and we will wind up with more condo towers. I hope I am wrong.

Construction on new housing continues.

Construction on new housing continues.

I don’t know that Phoenix See is on the list of must-see tourist locations in Dortmund. Actually, I don’t know what any of those would be – we were there to visit family, and we like to walk so it was a perfect place to visit, especially since there was a place to get ice cream which we ate while sitting by the lake. I wonder if Ottawa’s planners have thought about something similar for LeBreton Flats?

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