Neighbourhood development based on equal opportunities in Krefeld

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City Government, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group

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Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2013

Through its pilot project Nachbarschaft Samtweberei (“Velvet weavers’ neighbourhood”) in the German city of Krefeld, the Montag Foundation for Urban Spaces is demonstrating how cooperation with the local authority can make socially sound urban development work.

The project aims to revitalise the velvet weavers’ neighbourhood, which until now has been socially and economically deprived. It also plans to make the neighbourhood (once again) an attractive urban environment for people from different cultural and social backgrounds to live and work in. And it intends to make the neighbourhood socially sound.

The municipality of Krefeld is firmly involved in all processes. Among other things, it will perform measures to care for and maintain public spaces and revitalise the neighbouring district. It will also support the project when the latter applies for funding. There is also a steering committee that supports the entire project. It comprises representatives of the local authority, the foundation and the project company. 

Originally published by the International Community of Practice for Sustainable Urban Development CONNECTIVE CITIES:

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Krefeld, Germany

Size and population development
233.982 (31.12.2013)

Main functions
Historic centre for the processing of flax and silk which made the City become the richest in the German Empire. Became later a regional centre for art and avant-garde movements.

Main industries / business
The economy of Krefeld has been dominated over 200 years by the textil industry. Nowadays leading industries in Krefeld include "high-tech synthetic materials, stainless steel, press systems and highspeed trains" (source: Krefeld City Council)

Political structure
Krefeld City Council has 58 members; the Lord Mayor is chair of the City Council and supervises the city administration.

The Samtweberviertel (velvet makers’ quarter) is located on the south-western edge of downtown Krefeld. It is home to many people who receive transfer payments such as type II unemployment benefit. Well over half the inhabitants have a migrant background. The district contains a large number of historic buildings – though many of them are dilapidated, require renovation and in some cases are uninhabited. The neighbourhood enjoys a poor reputation throughout the city.

The centre of the neighbourhood and the nucleus of the project, which is run by the initial capital programme of the Bonn-based Montag Foundation for Urban Spaces and the municipality of Krefeld, is the ensemble of buildings of a former textile factory – the old velvet weavers’ mill. This industrial site, which has been disused since 2007, measures 7,000 square metres. Some of the buildings and facilities it contains are listed.

The project will begin by renovating the old velvet weavers’ mill – as a space for people to live and work in, share cultures and engage in neighbourhood activities. The plan is to create a broad offering of office and residential space for a variety of users and income groups paying different rents. Around one third of the total of 2,700 m2 of available living space will then be state-subsidised. When financing apartments at going market rates, however, the project will also avoid becoming a cost driver. To keep the rent level low, the project will (among other things) deliberately avoid structural or technical features that would drive prices upward. All rents will be set at a break-even or profitable level in order to guarantee the accrual of interest and repayment of the foundation capital and the funding.

Following completion of the first construction phases in the former administrative building of the old velvet weavers’ mill (the pioneers’ building), 25 creative enterprises from Krefeld have now moved into their new offices. From September 2015 onward a further 630 square metres will be available for commercial use. For the 33 residential units that will be available from the beginning of 2017 there is already an established group of more than 20 interested parties who are closely involved in the planning process.

In addition, numerous projects and initiatives around the old velvet weavers’ mill, i.e. in the surrounding velvet weavers’ neighbourhood, have been launched. Many residents are on board and are taking part in a range of activities such as greening roads and squares by planting trees and flowers. A neighbourhood radio station and a neighbourhood newspaper have also begun work. A café meeting for intercultural exchange has been launched, people are having parties together, and various regular project meetings are being held on all kinds of topics concerning the old velvet weavers’ mill. 

Cooperation between the two project partners, the Montag Foundation for Urban Spaces and the municipality of Krefeld, is based on a unanimous council resolution dating back to 2014 that formalises the cooperation and transfers the site of the old velvet weavers’ mill to the specially-formed non-for-profit company Urbane Nachbarschaft Samtweberei gGmbH (UNS) under leasehold for 60 years. This was preceded by the elaboration of a joint programme of action and a qualitative survey of local residents concerning their life situation, their needs and their ideas for improving the neighbourhood.

Furthermore, the municipality and the foundation have launched a joint usage profile for the old velvet weavers’ mill. One of its distinctive features is its broad diversity. Among other things there are plans for residential spaces for various housing projects (multigenerational house, inclusive living etc.) as well as office spaces of various sizes for small companies in different sectors.

The total costs for renovating the buildings amount to around 7.5 million euros. Around one million euros of that amount is accounted for by urban development funds for conversion of the publicly accessible 3,000 m2 warehouse in the yard of the velvet weaving mill. For the first few years the foundation will be making a basic budget of 60,000 to 80,000 euros available for community-based projects and measures. The plan is to finance these public welfare projects and work on the neighbourhood entirely from rental business from 2018 onward. The foundation intends to withdraw after five to seven years and transfer the entire project – including social management of the old velvet weavers’ mill, which by then will have been renovated, and the not-for-profit development of the velvet weavers’ neighbourhood – to local structures.

The project will send positive signals, and not only for new residents and traders. The renovation of the buildings is also designed to drive the future development of the entire neighbourhood (development of the local economy, increase in educational offerings, rehabilitation and upgrading of public spaces etc.). Cooperating closely with residents and locally-based social, cultural and religious institutions is part of the project’s self-understanding.

The core idea is to support not-for-profit projects and initiatives to strengthen the local community using the profits generated by renting out the residential and office space. At the heart of the project is the goal of fostering the coexistence of different cultures through active social engagement by the residents, preventing any further social exclusion of the local population, upgrading the district as a whole and achieving a higher quality of life. In the medium term it is envisaged that the financial and social investment will help make the velvet weavers’ neighbourhood independent of public support. 

Through the old velvet weavers’ mill project the Montag Foundation and the municipality of Krefeld are making an innovative and effective contribution to integrated urban (neighbourhood) development. The project is made particularly sustainable by the fact that the business profits from renting out the buildings are channelled straight back into the neighbourhood. The original investment thus generates a considerable and continuous social return. The declared objective of the foundation was to involve all the relevant local policymakers and administrators with decision-making responsibility in planning and implementation right from the start, and to get the municipality of Krefeld on board as a partner. This proved important. The project gains credibility and backing from the residents due to the fact that they are also involved comprehensively. The renovation of the old velvet weavers’ mill thus provides the starting point for developing the entire surrounding neighbourhood – one more example of the fact that civic engagement can be a key factor for social justice, diversity and peaceful coexistence in general.

- Neighbourhood development based on equal opportunities in Krefeld, (accessed 27 March 2016)

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