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The 11 Cs of Urban Mining


“What to do with …?” This question is raised by communities, enterprises or owners of abandoned industrial sites. They look for ideas and investors to create new use with added social value or bring economically expedient development to these areas. OÖ Wirtschaftsagentur GmbH identified thousands of unused industrial areas in Austria alone. Together they cover an area of about 130 million square meters, about the size of the city of Linz or roughly 4,500 average company sites.


Reintegrating these brownfields into the economic cycle stops urban sprawl and counteracts the re-sealing of fertile ground in the vicinity of large cities. At the same time it promotes the development of low-equity trades and industries that still show dynamic growth, especially that of the so-called “creative classes”. Together with partners in the real estate scene, architecture, economy and politics, it becomes critical to analyze the potential of the sites, develop new models of thinking and prepare feasible strategies for new or continued development.


Every brownfield is contaminated. And this doesn’t just refer to possible adverse environmental effects caused by the pollution of the industrial site. On a positive note, contamination means that every brownfield is an archaeological formation created by layers of histories, attributions and meanings. In line with the spirit of urban mining, this requires conscious digging, where layer after layer is exposed and the extracted materials are formed into a narrative that projects the property’s future from its past. Even a transformed brownfield draws at least some of its identity from its own history. Accordingly, contamination also means: An anchor for the identity of the site for future users and all stakeholders.


In a literal sense, successful brownfield redevelopment is a conspiratorial act, bringing together people from various disciplines and skill sets who inspire each other and can get excited about one and the same goal: finding the best possible scenario for reviving a brownfield and increasing its social value. I would like to emphasize the term “beta”. For me the second letter of the Greek alphabet symbolizes the courage for something new: new paths, new methods, new cultures of discussions and development, new work, a new view of opportunities and risks. If you leave an allegedly secure path, you can fail, but if you never leave it, you have failed already. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the development team should come out into the open with friends. These open spaces are “beta fields” where something new can grow. If you want to build these spaces, you have to intuit them, you must be able to envision them and tell them to yourself and others.


Shared excitement grows into a collaborative implementation. This requires a strong person with a pilot function who steers the processes according to the shared vision, ensures that the whole project functions as a beacon, but who also develops each step according to the needs of the involved parties and takes care to initiate an ecology that forms a foundation capable of growth. Real estate projects and companies should not be created on a drawing board. Successful executions are due in part to pragmatic spatial concepts developed in line with the users’ needs. The collaborative process doesn’t end with the completion of the construction; it proves itself in the accompanying community management. The community manager must ensure transparent project management and act as a motivator so that all of the instrumental parties will join forces for the entire duration of the project. The manager acts as an initiator of impulses and ideas, actively approaches the residents and users of the newly positioned sites and creates a welcoming environment in which the spirit of networking and interactions replaces the side-by-side mentality of traditional offices and residential buildings.
The view is never directed just towards the inside. Successful collaboration means a worldwide networking of innovative locations – so-called “beta places”. Both sides profit from a transfer of know-how, which – just like Tabakfabrik Linz – becomes a messenger of the economics of cooperation.


Successful redevelopment integrates different typologies of usage, industries and interest groups. The personal and professional development goals of potential users must be examined precisely and their network structures must be researched. It’s also important to identify future value-creation chains that can be used to advance the formation of clusters. If the trend towards a “gig economy” continues as predicted, there will be a need for spaces in which the contractors – the independent workers for large corporations – can “team up”, break through their isolation and tackle projects together.
Composition means recognizing and integrating the components that are indispensable for life in newly positioned areas. This also means taking the users’ social environments at the location into account wherever possible: from child care to recreation, educational offers for all generations, to event and community zones.


Contemporary real estate development relies on the participation of all stakeholders. The fundamental requirement for this is transparent, integrated project communication that is open for discussion. It uses traditional and digital forms and channels, formulates clear messages, operates with strong images with positive connotations and increases the identification with each project through professionally presented co-determination events. The entire spectrum of the communication pursues the goal of establishing and strengthening each project as a brand. The core of the brand generally contains the original meaning of the site, its historic significance for the environment and the city. In the best scenario, the brownfield grows into a beacon with associative radiant appeal, which imbues the urban surroundings with new splendor and an intensified awareness.


It’s expedient in the planning process to ensure that different lifestyles and forms of work don’t just coexist under one roof or at one site, but that the difference is comprehended as an energizing factor. This requires structures that go beyond mere functionality, that invigorate the senses and boost creativity. In other words – art that stimulates and signals: This is where future work is conducted.


Projects dealing with brownfield redevelopment like having a defined end. The newly established area itself is subject to a permanent transition, driven by its users. It’s the process of cohabitation, the shared accommodation of a wide range of uses: living and working; creation, production and recreation; training and advanced education; research and development. It’s important to analyze the economic and social dynamics at the newly established locations and continue advising the persons in charge in regards to further dynamic developments. The insights that allow brownfield projects to emerge across the whole world should supplement each other through intelligent networking so that renewable brownfield projects can profit from this pool of knowledge and skills.


To turn an area or object into a project, its financing must be secured and partners must be found for the necessary investments. This takes a reliable network of selected experts – for example specialists in adapting properties, who review sites, consider acquisitions and secure the necessary cash flow. Others in turn are available as business angels and investors when low-equity but highly innovative companies (startups, founders, inventors) want to position their solutions, products and services in the market or arrange a successful exit strategy.


Companions or mining buddies are people who share their bread (Latin: panis) with each other – or their tasks, skills, attitudes, values and goals. Partners – whether they are innovating or investing, accompanying and advising in the areas of education, science and art, trade and industry – should commit to working together and spread this commitment into the projects and among their users. This is based on the insight that communal control brings better and more permanent results in the long run. Short-term cost effectiveness makes way for “companionable” work.