Natural-Based Urban Development for Post-Industrial Regions


The Aachen Institute of Landscape Architecture is coordinating a Horizon 2020 project. RWTH researchers are developing a living lab with fish and urban farming in the Ruhr region.



Axel Timpe


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Using fish farming to cultivate vegetables in the middle of Dortmund? At first that might sound like a shot in the dark for the industrial wastelands in the district of Huckarde. But when Dr. Axel Timpe explains the idea, it quickly becomes clear and obvious. The approach used by the landscape architects at the RWTH Aachen Institute of Landscape Architecture headed by Dr. Frank Lohrberg is called aquaponics. The nutrient-rich water from the fish farm is purified in a way so that the fish excretion can directly be used as fertilizer for the plants. The principle is urban farming, where farmland grows even in cities, namely upwards and not outwards.

The Aachen plan for Dortmund-Huckarde is one of three primary components of the Horizon 2020 project "productive Green Infrastructure for post-industrial urban regeneration“ or proGIreg. The project aims to establish living labs in urban areas facing the challenge of post-industrial regeneration. Dortmund is one of the frontrunner cities along with Turin – with old automotive factories – and Zagreb – with a decommissioned slaughterhouse and sausage factory, in which similar projects are being started.

The project's participants include six universities, seven other municipalities aside from the three frontrunner cities, which are to imitate the projects, eight small and mid-sized companies, and seven NGOs. The Aachen institute is coordinating the entire project, which the European Union is funding with more than ten million euros. "It's an unusually large project that's being started," says Timpe. The project will be kicked off in September at a conference held at the Alte Schmiede in Dortmund-Huckarde.

  Copyright: © FH Südwestfalen/Pösentrup

EU Framework Research Program

Horizon 2020 is an EU framework research program with 75 billion euros being invested in research projects between 2014 and 2020. The project led by the Aachen architects is among those projects selected thus far. "This project is of the utmost importance to the RWTH Aachen Faculty of Architecture. Not only due the extensive external funding that is actually outstanding for the faculty, but also for its content: International collaboration and the project's character are important to us as the applied innovation action practices allow the the faculty to function as a link between science, small and mid-sized companies, civil society, and planning practice in cities," explains dean of the faculty, Alexander Markschies.

It is certainly not a coincidence that the Aachen Institute of Landscape Architecture is coordinating such a project – and, even in Dortmund, is working with people on site to realize the idea of fish and vegetable farming with a living lab and is developing joint strategies to implement the idea. In the project CoProGrün, Co-Produced Greenways as Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure, the Aachen architects and their research partners have already been active with the financial support of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In that case, the project focused on urban farming and gardening in Dortmund and the neighboring cities of Waltrip, Castrop-Rauxel, and Lünen. "We will be able to build on our relationships there," says Timpe.

Not a Clinically-Sterile Lab Environment

The aquaponic approach, which will be tracked by citizens on site, cannot just build on the existing relationships. Initial drafts for testing facilities for the fish farming have been drawn up. Initial testing facilities for fish farming already exist at FH Südwestfalen, one of the project partners. "This shouldn't be a clinically-sterile lab environment. The approach is intentionally low-tech, so that the facility can be operated by assocations and people there, thus creating an employment opportunity," explains Timpe. Other building blocks of the Dortmund project include measures for promoting insect diversity and turning the former Deusenberg dumpsite into a sports facility with solar fields.

The work in the cities, planned to take place through summer 2023, is accompanied by teaching and learning modules on edX, a platform for massive open online courses. The free access to knowledge generated through the project is an elementary component of the Horizon 2020 project. Corresponding modules on nature-based solutions are currently being prepared.

Source: Press and Communications