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The Emscher Landscape Park

Strategically, the Emscher Landscape Park represents a change in our exposure to urban nature: From exhausted wasteland to the conscious appreciation of spaces and the shaping of new types of urban cultural landscape. With this first central project, the IBA Emscher Park took new directions in planning, dimension and definition. Spatially, it was about the discovery of qualities, the integration of clearly useless space, the overcoming of barriers to facilitate the redefinition and appreciation of landscapes in the Ruhr area. The linking of previously isolated landscapes, the qualification of individual areas and projects in terms of strong environmental functionality as well as an authentic design, formed the second phase of development.

At the beginning of the IBA 1989, the Ruhr area presented itself as an overdeveloped urban landscape, a functional area for industry and not as a growing urban cityscape. Rich in open areas and waste ground, yet dissected by motorways, highways, railway lines, watercourses, power lines and wastewater drains. Many sites were contaminated by pollution inherited from former industries and dumps. The concept of the Emscher Landscape Park began with this reality, at the same time tying in the idea of a contiguous regional landscape park, formulated by Robert Schmidt as director of the Ruhrkohlebezirk [Ruhr coal district] in 1912. In his memorandum on the necessity of a general settlement plan, he proposed the creation of a ‘national park between the cities’ right in the heart of the former Rhenish-Westphalian industrial area.

Before the IBA Emscher Park called the Emscher Landscape Park ‘the green backbone’ of all following plans in its first memorandum on the central project, Karl Ganser had investigated the basic idea of the regional park from 1987-1988 in a ‘feasibility study of the Emscher Landscape Park’ by the former planning department of the Kommunalverband Ruhrgebiet (KVR). This study concluded that it was technically possible, but practically impossible. The required rethinking was too great. A mental change was required. The urban landscape had to be redefined as ‘valuable’ in the minds of the planners and communicated to the decision-makers.