Graduate College "Medium-Sized Cities as Co-Participation Cities"

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Qualitative Change Through New Ways of Citymaking

Related Links:

Website of the Graduate Research Group 

The team composed by RWTH Aachen University, University of Stuttgart and University of Potsdam offers a graduate research training, which is funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation. It concerns future developments in medium-sized cities in Germany of 20 000 – 50 000 inhabitants. The research training group is organized with an inter- and transdisciplinary focus aiming to examine future transformation issues in eight selected towns in order to activate development through innovative forms of citymaking and participation.

After the year 2020 was dedicated to the establishment of the network of medium-sized cities and the coalescence of the team of colleagues, the PhD students concretized their research approaches in a 'discovery phase' and joined forces with cities from the network. Everybody works with one to three case studies in the midsized cities. Other cities are involved for complementary formats such as expert interviews, surveys, focus groups, expert exchanges, etc.

Since we are in the fortunate situation of being able to coordinate about 40 medium-sized cities, 13 doctoral students, and many co-participation topics, a 1:1 match of student and city was hardly possible in this process. Therefore, we have developed a gradual matching process with several steps from getting to know each other better to a binding commitment to work together. 

Currently, the graduate students are concretizing their methodological approach in order to carry out on-site activities in selected cities in 2022, which are intended to generate impulses for a specific change in the cities and which will be researched by the doctoral students in their work. 


Graduate Research Group : A Team of Universities, PhD Candidates, Municipalities and Foundation

The Graduate Research Training is developed and conducted by six professors from RWTH Aachen University, University of Stuttgart and University of Potsdam for the Robert Bosch Foundation. They offer their know-how in the fields of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban-, Regional-, Spatial- and Environmental Planning, Spatial Sciences, Political / Administrative Sciences and Social Sciences for the doctoral theses’ supervisions and for the municipalities:

  • Prof. Dr. Agnes Förster, Chair of Planning Theory and Urban Development, RWTH Aachen University,
  • Prof. Dr. Frank Lohrberg, Institute of Landscape Architecture, RWTH Aachen University,
  • Prof. Dr. Cordula Kropp, Institute of Social Sciences and ZIRIUS, University of Stuttgart,
  • Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann, Chair for Political Science, Public Administration and Organization, University of Potsdam,
  • Jun.-Prof. Dr. Jan Polívka, Sustainable Housing Development, RWTH Aachen University,
  • Prof. Christa Reicher, Chair and Institute for Urban Design, RWTH Aachen University,

Dr. Fee Thissen, Chair of Planning Theory and Urban Development, RWTH Aachen University, is the coordinator of the Graduate Research Training. The Research Training Group comprises ten PhD candidates that will work in cooperation with selected medium-sized towns that will be chosen during the first year of the PhD.


Science Meets Medium-Sized Cities: Innovation on Three Tiers

The Research Training Group follows an innovative approach linking three tiers:

1) Agent approach: PhD candidates work embedded in a praxis field and gain access to practical and insider knowledge, as well as to local networks. They function in the municipalities as agents for the Research Training Group’s future-related topics. The municipalities will be explored inside out and will receive stimuli for transformation and development. Networking, knowledge transfer and project development are closely intertwined during this process.

2) Linking future-related issues and participation processes: The Research Training Group offers the opportunity to link closely the essential issues of future-oriented medium-sized cities with participatory and integrative approaches, as different levels of cooperation. This four-year-long training enables relatively quick feedback reactions between concepts, implementations and evaluations. This iterative procedure is an essential basis for innovations in planning, communication and coordination. PhD candidates are supported in this process in order to reflexively link academic competences with the necessities of urban planning and administration.

3) The town as a promoter of change: The research training follows a qualitative approach and recognizes shifts of urban planning and administration as an opportunity of change. This way, cooperation, reciprocal support, product and organization development are tightly intertwined. Synergies between these fields can only evolve in an interdisciplinary setting in close dialogue with practice.


Initiating Change: Intertwining Contents and Processes Provides with Solutions for Specific Innovation and Transformation Issues of Towns

The research training follows a qualitative approach in order to investigate, test, reflect and re-think the stabilization and sustainable development in medium-sized cities. The Research Training Group considers the specific resources of towns and devises from them a development strategy. The goal is a qualitative growth towards new perceptible qualities towns which experience spatial expansion and impact through new forms of cooperation and participation.

Towns are places associated with a special quality of life, identification and sense of home, local democracy and codetermination, but also with engagement within the community. Quality of life is determined by common assets developed by towns and offered to its citizens: living and working, public spaces, infrastructure, mobility. These urban planning action fields are subject to significant trends and driving forces: i.e. demographic shifts, lifestyle changes, financial structural changes, digital transformation, energy transition, climate adaptation. These developments trigger the generation of new topics and spaces as well as new processes and forms of organization and coordination.

With this background it is the goal of the Research Training Group to point out development strategies to the municipalities in terms of innovation and transformation issues, and to introduce a change in planning and administration practices. Three possible approaches take center stage:

Change through places and spaces, change through institutions and governance, and change through processes and dialogues.

PhD candidates have the opportunity to explore transformation processes and identify transformation challenges in cooperation with the municipalities, as well as to observe governance structures, planning and communication practices. Pressing future-related issues are expected to be stimulated, tested and reflected upon locally through participation and cooperation. PhD candidates act as agents on-site through an approach of “transformative research“, which links their empirical research with specific spatial, structural and planning-related impulses.