Once a quarter, the members of Loanboox’s Market Industry Board exchange views on current topics related to municipal financing. In the virtual March meeting, Norbert Portz from the German Association of Cities and Municipalities was a guest. He shared his knowledge and experience and presented inspiring trends on the possible development of cities and municipalities after Corona.
There are about 11,000 cities and municipalities in Germany, large and small, structurally weak and structurally strong. What unites them all – despite the differences – is the question of the “aftermath” and what effects the pandemic will have.
Thesis 1: Inner cities develop new structures
It is foreseeable that online retail, which has increased by 20% in 2020, will remain at a high level. This has an enormous impact on local retailers and on the structure of city centres.
Inner cities are the mirror of society and represent its change spatially. They are home, offer identification, are points of attraction for residents and tourists. Much of this is lost through the closure of department stores and retail outlets as a source of footfall. New concepts of use and adapted structures are needed.
The future lies in functional mixing
Some medium-sized cities are setting a good example – and did so even before Corona. In Chemnitz, for example, a former department stores’ was turned into a museum and in Neuss into a theatre. Others are opting for a mix of uses for the department stores’ property, including retail, gastronomy, education, housing and parking. Potential new tenants for retail shops in the shopping malls could be craft businesses, kindergartens and creative people, for whom the inner city location is becoming attractive due to falling rents. Falling prices also offer opportunities for affordable living in the city and new work concepts.
But a change of use entails other adjustments. Noise protection and making opening hours more flexible are just two examples. Other things also need to be considered: a good pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, public transport connections and accessibility by low-emission private transport. Attractive, safe and clean public paths and squares with seating and sufficient play facilities for children are equally important.
The municipalities, with their economic promotion and city marketing, play a key role in shaping the inner city transformation and are faced with major tasks.
Thesis 2: Working from home strengthens the metropolitan hinterland
Working from home will continue to be recognised by many companies as an equivalent form of work in the future. There will be no complete return to compulsory office presence, according to surveys and studies. The resulting effects will be enormous, especially in the conurbations: vacant office space and buildings in the city centres and their conversion are one thing, moving to the countryside is another.
The dream of a house in the countryside – and more seclusion
Whether Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart or Düsseldorf – the rural areas around the major German cities are booming. There, one can combine the advantages of rural life with those of proximity to the big city: larger flats or houses with gardens, better access to childcare places and nature right on the doorstep, coupled with urban cultural offerings and medical care. Working from a home office also means that it is no longer necessary to drive into the congested city centre every day. This creates freedom and leisure.
Rising property prices reflect this trend. With the exception of Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, the prices of condominiums in the surrounding areas have risen more strongly on average since 2017 than in the metropolises themselves, according to a study by the Sparda banks and the Institute of the German Economy (IW) in Cologne. Moreover, it comes as no surprise that demand for the purchase of single-family homes in particular has risen sharply since the beginning of the pandemic.
A good infrastructure without ifs and buts
The small and medium-sized towns and municipalities benefit from the love of the countryside. But here, too, concepts are needed for the further development of structures. The expansion of public transport and connections to the metropolis, broadband internet and fibre optic cables, ensuring medical care and the expansion of kindergartens and primary schools are important criteria when it comes to choosing the right place to live.
In general, the “after” becomes a social and cultural task for society as a whole that goes far beyond commercial points of view.