Green innovation areas as contested spaces? Investigating potentials and risks of revitalization schemes in shrinking cities

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All over the world many cities are undergoing structural changes with symptoms of economic crises (Pallagst, et al 2013). In these postindustrial or ‘shrinking’ cities, the transformation of former brown field areas has left many large urban areas abandoned or vacant. When looking to revitalize these cities, substitute industries often play a major role (Pallagst, 2012; Harkavy and Zuckerman 1999). Previous research by the authors made clear that revitalization efforts often focus on green infrastructure, in particular utilizing vacant properties for commercial uses such as urban gardening, farming, or agriculture (Pallagst, 2013; Pallagst forthcoming). Vice versa vacant or abandoned urban areas offer both, the potential for a sustainable transformation of former polluted sites (Vargas-Hernández 2011), and for creating jobs in new emerging areas thus transforming the identities of places. The US city of Flint, one of the major cities caught in a long term spiral of economic decline and being governed under conditions of austerity, has brought about the urban planning category ‘green innovation areas’ in order to implement creative and innovative solutions in existing vacant spaces (Pallagst et al., forthcoming). Potential uses in these much debated areas are not fixed, but should explicitly be experimental and innovative. So far they might range from extensive greenhouse uses to less extensive clover fields, but their potential is not yet fully explored. The implementation of new and innovative modes of production in the urban realm is so far not represented in research for urban areas, in particular when development schemes like bioeconomy are considered. Here, issues and land use conflicts, often raised by civil society, might extend towards nuisance, over-exploitation of space, and rising land prices, leaving many open questions for urban research. This is exacerbated for instance in the Mexican realm, where, traditionally, in many areas public policies have been imported and imposed by external pressure without considering the local conditions, leading to high levels of influence of and power of economic and / or political interests and provoking serious conflicts. The joint German-Mexican research presented here aims at scrutinizing the use of vacant inner city spaces as green innovation areas – discussing their potentials and detecting possible risks for implementation in shrinking cities.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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