I want to tell you the story of the little town of Illingen. At the end of my story, you may say: Yes, there’s hope for the future. But it’s necessary, that the local authorities and the population say: Yes, we can.
Illingen Municipality, a local government district of 18,000 inhabitants, was for a long time a rural-industrial market town at the heart of the Saarland. During the industrial age, hundreds of workers commuted to the coal pits and steel works in the immediate vicinity, providing growing prosperity right through to the 1960s. But after the first ECSC crisis in the coal mining and steel industries, the region had to undergo a process of unprecedented structural change.
Illingen turned into a services and health services location. A secondary school was erected, and two trading estates were developed, built and marketed. Within 15 years, 1500 jobs had been created in alternative sectors. At the same time the tender plant of culture attained a respectable size. Private initiatives brought about an independent, alternative music and cultural scene, created by school children and students. It formed the basis of a new identity.
That’s an important item: IDENTITY!
I would say: NO FUTURE WITHOUT IDENTITY!
Bill Clinton said: It’s the economy, stupid.
I would say: IT’S NOT ONLY THE ECONOMY, STUPID! IT’S THE ECONOMIC CAPITAL, THE SOCIAL CAPITAL AND THE LOCAL CULTURE. THERE’S NO FUTURE WITHOUT CULTURE AND SOCIAL CAPITAL.
Illingen became a prosperous small town, developing from a rural-industrial market town into „middle-class suburbia“. But the boom was of limited duration, and the first downturn came in the mid-80s. The region’s last steel works and coal pits were closed, and there were not enough alternative jobs for the coal miners and factory workers. Another problem arose: the first secondary school graduates left, first their school and then the town, in order to study in the cities and university towns. And when they had finished their studies, in very many cases they had to look elsewhere for work that matched their qualifications: in other towns, even in other federal states. Illingen itself could not offer enough suitable jobs for highly qualified graduates. Good schools, good job training, but poor career opportunities in the region – it was a paradox, and for the responsible politicians in the town hall and the town council, who had only just been persuaded of the value of learning and knowledge, it was an irritant, in a sense the curse following the good deed.
SOMETIMES YOU THINK, YOU MAKE GOOD POLICY – BUT YOU EARN GREAT PROBLEMS. THAT’S LIFE.
But after the decade of the baby-boomers the birth rate dropped – and with this sudden, pill-induced fall there came an abrupt decline in fertility rates. The pill phenomenon had a negative impact on the town’s development, but only for a few years, until the world changed to its very roots: the existential crisis of East Germany, the flight of East German citizens to the West, and finally the Fall of the Wall and the inner-German frontier set off a process of internal and cross-border migration. Illingen had tangible benefits from this migration: more than 500 people moved to the town, giving the local population figures an appreciable boost. But it was only a flash in the pan. Most of these German „immigrants“ left the town within a few years, to seek their fortunes in metropolitan regions in other federal states.
INTRASTATE MIGRATION IS AN IMPORTANT PARAMETER IN DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE.
For a long time, success at local elections was closely related to the growth of built-up areas and new housing in new residential estates. It was practically a law of nature that you could get votes for concrete and tarmac. Whoever could afford it wanted to build or buy a house on open land. Residential space expanded, and with it the demands made by residents. The problems come when growth curves tilt over. Structural problems, rising unemployment, divorces and their consequences (homes auctioned off), vacant housing, a constantly falling birth rate in many German regions – all this suddenly accumulated and became a demographic problem. The local politicians could no longer deny the existence of the problems. BUT: instead of taking the indicators seriously, many local politicians cast doubt on the statistical basis of the studies.
BUT YOU CAN’T SOLVE PROBLEMS, IF YOU STICK YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND
In Illingen, however, the politicians did not even try to deny the obvious problems of demographic change. A young student discovered there was a growing number of vacant houses and flats. The first investigations revealed a vacancy ratio of 1.5 to 2 per cent, which did not seem, at first, to be a problem. Closer analysis showed that the number of privately owned homes occupied only by people over 70 (years) was many times higher. It was evident that several hundred houses would have to be classified as in danger of falling vacant in the medium term. The results indicated a growing problem. This was the kick-start for a fundamentally new strategy and policy. It was the birth of the Illingen 2030 Future Programme.
DON’T WAIT TOO LONG. MAKE THE KICK-START FOR A FUNDAMENTALLY NEW STRATEGY AND POLICY ,TOO!
YOU CAN’T SOLVE PROBLEMS, IF YOU STICK YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND.
Illingen 2030 – The ingenuous start of a trial-and-error project
Illingen decided to start with a trial-and-error approach. We needed little time to get started. We were not weighed down by theoretical discussions, but simply and spontaneously got down to work. Our very ingenuousness helped us to find partners, because no one supposed we were playing a tactical or political game.
Naturally, there were reservations to the effect that confronting the population with a flood of bad news might drastically harm the mayor’s election chances. Influential advisers of ours, however, said: If the project was a success, its promoter could take the role of pioneer and shaper of public opinion. That was the decisive argument for the launch of the project.
SOLVING PROBLEMS IS A CHANCE FOR POLITICIANS AND PUBLIC MANAGERS. AND I WANTED TO BE A PIONEER.
But LEADERS can’t solve the problems alone. It was clear from the start that it would be based on participation.
NO DEMOGRAPHIC PROJECT WITHOUT PARTICIPATION
The initial aim was to confront the population, the politicians and administration with the unpleasant truths of demographic change, truths which the politicians normally turn a deaf ear to. Today we would classify our approach under the heading „Intervention, interaction and participation“ (Lachenmann 1997).
INTERVENTION, INTERACTION, PARTICIPATION
The Illingen 2030 project is intended to make the town fit for the future at a time of demographic change and limited funds, by giving town districts their own profile, utilising individual, honorary commitment and deploying social networks and inter-communal cooperation.
Brainstorming and structuring
The relevant spheres of local politics were identified as:
· business, energy, transport, tourism
· development of residential estates
· public life
· local author
A future-oriented pact with local residents
The aim of the project was a future-oriented pact with local residents. BUT IT’S ALSO A GREAT CHALLENGE FOR THE MAYOR. YOU NEED LEADERSHIP AND PARTICIPATION. IT MUST BE ALSO A BOSS’S PROJECT.
No process of developing guiding principles
One of the fundamental requirements for demographic processes is to develop guiding principles. Illingen decided not to, because the process of doing so is protracted and often does not produce practical results applicable in the long term, but instead uses up resources. We had principles, and we didn’t want to change them in this first step. We can do it later – if we want to do so.
600 residents offered the community their time, ideas and commitment
It is a fascinating fact that over 600 local residents gifted the community their time and their commitment, and actively participated in future-related workshops. The organisers made a point of providing a platform not for those who were traditionally politically active but for the local inhabitants. They were intended to articulate their wishes, anxieties, concerns and ideas themselves. The mayor too kept well out of it. (I had nothing to say). The meetings were chaired by external specialists.
That was one of the keys to success: go out to the people in their own local communities and give them a chance to speak and a chance to act.
The workshops produced a pool of ideas which the local authority can make very fruitful use of in the future. Not just theoretically: it is important for the town council and administrative organs to adopt them and shape them into practical politics.
The most important sectors:
Policy for families – care facilities for all age groups
Active management of vacant residential space: direct approach to owners
Make way! – more town for fewer people
The slogan „Make way!“ aimed at houses fit for demolition was selected by Illingen local authority with the deliberate intention of provoking public debate. The first buildings due for demolition were just as provocatively draped with a banner declaring either „Make way!“ or „I’m the next one to go!“ The slogans were criticised for going too far. But the effect of attracting a great deal of attention was achieved. Media coverage – radio, press and TV, verbal and where possible visual – was extensive. This public relations work was essential as a means of involving the general public.
Quarter residents‘ project
Within 18 months a cross-party revitalisation process succeeded in creating a new sense of community among the residents, strengthening their social coherence, building up social capital and developing new ideas after the demolition of a number of problem buildings. Three of the four empty houses have been removed, and the adjacent residents have acquired space round their houses and thus enhanced their quality of life. The premises of the former butcher’s are being re-designed as part of a community project.
Culture creates identity< /strong>
Cultural activity is an important factor for any community. It engenders identity and social cohesion. The point is to achieve, not cheap savings but sustainability, on the basis of quality, distinctiveness, identity and identification, and also intensified commitment on the part of residents.
The Illingen 2030 project has not only raised awareness regarding the opportunities and limitations of participative processes, but has also provided an indication of how political priorities are changing.
Land consumption around the city borders must be drastically reduced as the infrastructure costs will shoot up at an above average rate during the demographic change. The city centres must be strengthened against this. The establishment of large discount stores and undesirable retail businesses with particularly large sites may well have to be stopped in accordance with building laws.
Using strategic management, mayors can direct the process of change so that communication, cooperation, concentration and profiling to maximise benefits is just as possible as the residents’ actual participation. Classic administration and traditional local affairs, however, cannot resolve these problems. It is thus necessary to act innovatively. Participation incorporates citizens’ skills, makes use of their competencies, and promotes involvement in society and the identity of the residents.
The Illingen 2030 process has also shown the limitations of participation. Unconventional ideas are often subject to prejudice in participative processes.
The most innovative project, the relocation of the grammar school and the development of a “City of Knowledge” (Wissenscity), was given no chance to survive in the participation process: It was torpedoed by local and regional politicians. Inconvenient adjustment processes (infrastructure, communal facilities) were omitted for the most part.
Project managers were successful, however, in empowering the township. Considerable social capital was acquired. The community started a new children’s home project, a participative youth project for a new youth centre and built a new, modern central playground. All projects are planned to be barrier-free. These initiatives were started by residents, as was the founding of a food for the poor project and the foundation of a trust. The identification of the residents with their town and their home has also been strengthened. Societies are cooperating more successfully and a social network for the elderly is emerging. The aging population is a problem that requires much more attention from local politics than it has received until now. This necessitates the removal of barriers and requires new forms of participation in regional society for the elderly. This also, however, necessitates an examination of the negative consequences of an aging society. Local government initiatives in the involvement of civil society provide a promising way of resolving the problems together. Classic cross-sectional administrations will lose their significance due to cooperations and e-Government. Qualified citizens’ advice, however, will become a new area of emphasis. The community program to address the problem of vacant old houses was particularly successful. By motivating the populace in the residential quarter, it was possible to reduce the number of unoccupied houses by more than 60 percent over five years.
It is important for a town to be able to make its inhabitants enthusiastic about such projects, and for it to become part of larger networks. The financial problems and demographic change mean that local politics runs up against limits. It is however also true that the rediscovery of the scope for action by local residents opens up new opportunities for us all. Think differently, act differently – and take responsibility. That is the slogan for protecting the chances of future generations. It works best when the projects are highly concrete, fit into an attractive framework and are of direct concern to residents. The decisive thing is the quality of life in the neighbourhood. The precondition is that the administrative and political organs take the residents seriously and give them the chance of putting their ideas into practice. The administrative staff have strategic duties. They must increasingly work on a network basis and take the initiative in talking to the residents. This is not easy when funds are short. But, if the organisation is done properly, it is certainly possible for development planning to be done on a participatory basis.
The effects of the demographic challenge will transform the nature of politics and the priorities of political action in the next 20 years, particularly at the local level (Altrock 2008). The population will age and the number of inhabitants will decline (ZIRP2030 2004). New thought patterns are therefore necessary, and new social skills and a new awareness of sustainable development.