Four Little Red Riding Hoods are touring Böckinger Strasse in the Zuffenhausen-Rot district of Stuttgart. The goal: to promote activity among neighbors. Welcome to an experiment in the Böckinger Strasse laboratory!
How can citizens in a neighborhood be activated to take action together? How can social interaction be encouraged? A team of students from different degree programs are conducting an experiment on these questions during the IBA Summer School 2019 and during the winter semester 2019/20 at the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences (HFT). They design four small kiosks and call them Little Red Riding Hood - a reference to the Zuffenhausen-Rot district. Their laboratory is Böckinger Strasse. The collaborative project is led by planners Carolin Lahode and Sarah Ann Sutter and business psychologist Sarah Lang, research assistants in the HFT's M4_LAB transfer project, which funded the project.
"Böckinger Straße is a typical row housing estate from the 1950s and 60s, and today mainly older people live there," the researchers explain. The owner, Stuttgarter Wohnungs- und Städtebaugesellschaft (SWSG), now wants to expand the neighborhood on an adjacent green area. 360 new apartments will be built there in the coming years, adding 750 new neighbors.
"The problem with many old housing estates is anonymity," say the researchers. People often know their immediate neighbors, with whom they chat from balcony to balcony or meet at the rotary clothes dryer in the summer, but what the people on the next street are up to is often unknown. This is reported by neighbors interviewed by the researchers.
The garden with greenhouses of the Evangelische Gesellschaft Stuttgart (eva) is a great asset for the district as a basis for a lively neighborhood. The garden belongs to the men's residence at Immanuel-Grözinger Haus (IGH), which is run by eva.
"Our experiment started at a place that is already well established as a neighborhood meeting place," say the researchers.
Men from the residence take care of the chickens, grow vegetables themselves and look after the bee colonies. Once a week, the garden is open to everyone. "Our garden invites people from the neighborhood to just step foot over our threshold, despite some fears of contact with the men who have experience with homelessness," says Markus Vordermeier, who is responsible for guiding the men's work and the garden. "The neighbors pick up vegetables and often put a small donation in our Kässle," Vordermeier said. Students from the nearby school are also regular visitors, especially when chicks hatch. In addition, Café TaS also opens once a week. There, the men of the dormitory serve a cup of coffee for a few cents.
Böckinger Strasse has been given a special position in the urban development process. That's because it's a candidate for the International Building Exhibition '27, which opens in Stuttgart in 2027. "We find it interesting how to deal with these post-war housing estates, which now have to be redeveloped and modernized in many places, also in terms of construction. The challenge will be to integrate the new neighborhood into an existing urban district," says Nina Riewe, project manager of IBA'27. To take a closer look at these issues, the IBA Summer School 2019 is held with the participation of the HFT's urban planning program.
During the international IBA Summer School 2019, students of urban planning and architecture work with researchers to develop four Little Red Riding Hood kiosks that can be pushed around the neighborhood with the help rollers attached to their feet. Within a week, a concept is developed on site, sketches are made, a design is worked out, and the four kiosks are assembled in the workshop and in front of the café. In addition an interview guide is developed during this process to ask the neighbors about their needs.
The info kiosk is a kind of rolling bulletin board for information about the development of the new neighborhood. It offers service and neighborhood help under the motto "search" a dog sitter, offer "watering plants". Later, a neighborhood mailbox was added to it for suggestions, requests and concerns.
With five shelves for storage, the garden kiosk offers produce from the eva garden even outside opening hours. According to the principle of food sharing, everyone can take something here, but also bring and hand in their own food.
The games kiosk and the sports kiosk can be used independently by neighbors anywhere in the neighborhood. The games kiosk is a folding table, its housing can also accommodate stools and board games. The sports kiosk holds badminton rackets, discus disc and other sports equipment.
When the first test day in August 2019 dawns, the sky in Böckinger Straße is bright blue. On a pre-determined route, the students parade through the neighborhood with invited guests. The Little Red Riding Hoods are placed along the way at interesting spots in the neighborhood and are collected one by one. At each station there is a short explanation, board games and badminton are played. From their balconies, elderly neighbors watch the activity with interest. The researchers' plan to attract attention seems to be working.
The experiment continues after the IBA Summer School. Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Christina Simon-Philipp, Carolin Lahode and Sarah Ann Sutter once again offer the teaching research project Labor Böckinger Straße at the HFT in the winter semester 2019/2020. It is a transdisciplinary seminar of the master's program in urban planning in cooperation with the program in business psychology under the direction of Prof. Dr. Katrin Allmendinger and Sarah Lang. Through the different expertise and perspectives from architecture, urban planning and business psychology of the supervisors and students, the interdisciplinary approach to the further development of the Little Red Riding Hood is continued.
In October and November during the cold season, the students test only the information kiosk and the garden kiosk. They push the “Rotkäppchen” through the neighborhood and place them in various locations - at Café TaS, at the Church of the Resurrection, at the corner of Rotweg and Roigheimer Straße. In conversations with passers-by at the kiosks, the students discover that there is definitely an interest in more neighborly networking and information about the new neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Markus Vordermeier and his men also start to take care of the Little Red Riding Hood. A handyman resident equips the garden kiosk with a plexiglass door. This Little Red Riding Hood develops into a neighborhood swap meet for books, CDs, umbrellas and children's toys during the vegetable-poor winter months.
The garden kiosk had a predecessor - an old wheelbarrow that men filled whenever they had vegetables left over. "It has a completely different effect when there is a beautiful wooden cabinet with a red cap," thinks Markus Vordermeier.
The eva employee is pleased with the students' commitment. "They are there regularly. This creates trust," he says.
The surveys conducted with various neighbors as part of the seminar also show how much people in the district appreciate eva's garden. One woman says she often comes by with her grandchildren because of the chicks. She would like the garden to be open more often. Other respondents would also like to see more public spaces and green areas in the neighborhood.
That community gardens can be ideal meeting places is shown by model projects in other places, such as the Prinzessinnengarten collective in Berlin-Neukölln, which was established ten years ago. On an area of just under 6,000 square meters, neighbors plant raised beds, organize workshops, learning kitchens and a garden academy. But such types of community spaces are still rare.
"Older settlements often lack public spaces where the residents can meet informally, without compulsion to consume. But we need open spaces in cities, that means free spaces for stay, communication and interaction," says HFT professor and architect Prof. Christina Simon-Philipp, who is a mentor from the urban planning side at M4_LAB. "When new neighborhoods are planned in Stuttgart today, the idea of shared, public space that citizens help to shape plays a much greater role than it used to," says the HFT professor. This, she says, is not least thanks to civil society initiatives such as Stuttgart's "Stadtlücken”, which want to get involved in shaping their city and encourage citizens to participate actively.
Carolin Lahode and Sarah Ann Sutter are also privately involved with “Stadtlücken” with the goal of advocating for more communal space in the city. This space is what the researchers call urban commons. "These can also be shared places, such as orchards that people tend together, where they pick apples and then have neighborhood pie parties. How the neighbors use such places is open, they decide for themselves. Characteristically, though, there is more social interaction among people when such places exist," they say.
More ideas on how the community in Böckinger Straße in particular can develop and what contribution the Little Red Riding Hoods can make in this context is gathered at a neighborhood evening organized as part of the seminar.
At this neighborhood evening in December at Café TaS, a colorful mix of eva esidents, people from the neighborhood and citizens of Roter Bürger gather a small audience of about 15 people. Suggestions are collected for a regular neighborhood meeting, a children and family friendly neighborhood, and for places and green spaces in the area. The visitors stick post-its on the designed themed walls and share what they find important in a good neighborhood: helpfulness, cohesion, fun, harmony and respectful interaction. New networks are also established on this evening. With the district councilor as a new volunteer helper in the café, the Zuffka project, a bicycle cab with a passenger trailer, also makes its way to Böckinger Straße. The rickshaw is operated by volunteer drivers and drives elderly people to the grocery store, to the doctor's office or to a coffee party.
Will the four Little Red Riding Hoods stay in the neighborhood? As long as there are people who care, the chances are good. "There is the question of continuation, for which there must also always be responsible people" say the researchers.
Markus Vordermeier finds the cooperation with the seminar team very enriching. The work of the students has also increased the self-confidence of some of the men, he says. "It's great that there is now a professional concept for what we do with the garden and the neighbors. We also see the kiosks as a kind of gift to the neighborhood," he says.
IBA'27 project manager Nina Riewe also emphasizes that the research has provided important impetus. "We thought the low-threshold approach of these interactive elements was great, building the Little Red Riding Hoods and going into the neighborhood with them," she says. "We find it very exciting that the project dealt with what the neighborhood needs in the more peripherally located places like Zuffenhausen-Rot and thus also deals with social aspects, for example how to get into conversation with citizens who are otherwise not used to participating or being involved," Riewe says. It's also about many older people who often live alone in Rot. How can they be integrated into an active neighborhood life?
What Carolin Lahode, Sarah Ann Sutter and Sarah Lang would like to see for the further development of the Böckinger Strasse is a neighborhood that has opportunities to actively participate. "Experience shows that often the same people come to the city hall for the citizen participations to wish for more greenery here or a tree there and that's it. But that is too little in our understanding." There is a need for innovative participation formats to activate and thereby involve citizens," they say. The experimental development of such participatory formats will certainly be part of one of the next labs for experimental urban space.