Exchange for vital Neighborhoods: How six cities in Europe and the USA connect to learn from each other

Six cities. Three in Europe, three in the United States. And one common topic, as social coordinator Jochen Schäfer from Cologne, Germany says. It is about vital neighborhood. Representatives of cities like New Orleans, Detroit, Turin, Cologne or Brussels visit each other and learn from each other. Among them urban planners, community networkes and volunteering citizens.

After flying to Detroit, now Cologne representatives welcomed Maria M. Galarza from Detroit’s Public Planning Unit in Cologne. Topics are similar but also different: Since the breakdown of the car industry Detroit suffers from leaving people and social and financial problems. The total population decreased from nearly two million people to under one million, Galarza says.

Student Paul Röser showing his school campus to urban planner Maria M. Galarza from Detroit.

The city went bankrupt in 2013. Basics like street lights had to be fixed first. In Cologne it is a district that needs special care. At the end of the 1960s Finkenberg was planned as a neighborhood for everyone. Tall buildings with flats next to one family houses. A project that did not work out well in the long run for various reasons.

But a lot is in progress: the locals schools, youth centers, the city as well as churches and social providers support activities and projects. So learning from each other is a main part of the exchange programm, financed by independent German Marshall Fund.

Visiting a youth center focussing on soccer – Jochen Schäfer (l.) and Hubert Röser (r.).

“So many great ideas were shown to us in the USA,” says Hubert Röser, one of the active citizens in Cologne-Finkenberg. “Maria is like we are. I think interchanging between us will not come to an end very soon.”

“Hubert is superactive,” states Maria M. Galarza. Also Röser’s son is an active citizen and involved in various projects at his school.

Paul Röser, Maria M. Galarza and Jochen Schäfer (from left) in the distric Cologne-Finkenberg.

“For Detroit it is about bringing back the people to the city,” says Galarza. Art is only one key. And also a few companies are coming. “Good places attract many people,” Galarza says about youth centers in particular. But that is something that is valid for all kinds of places.

After being in Cologne Maria M. Galarza visited Turin in Italy. Another place. And again: Some problems are the same, some are different.