Sunday, July 13, 2008

Eurosprawl IV: Pepperoni Pizza Suburbia

The Rhine-Main region is a good illustration of how to grow compact suburbia, avoiding the carpet of sprawl that is characteristic of Dayton and elsewhere in the Midwest.
Suburban development in this part of Germany grows around old country villages. The original village adds streets and block of development, expanding the built up area, but still leaving areas of open space between
So the effect is like a big pepperoni pizza

So, taking a look at this in the northern suburbs of Frankfurt, in Rosbach.

This used to be three villages, Ober(Upper) and Nieder (Lower) Rosbach plus Rodheim. The state administrative reform in the early 1970s combined the three communes into one large local government entity named Rosbach. On the map, the settlement at the bottom is Rodheim, and the two Rosbachs are at the top. I’ve marked the autobahn exit and a railroad that goes through the area.

Place name designations in this part of Hesse used vor der Hohe as a suffix, similar to the way the British have descriptive place names, like Newton-le-Willows and Stoke-on –Trent. Here, the VdH means “Before the Height”, meaning the high peaks of the Taunus hill country directly to the west.

So, roughly translated, Rosbach Before the Height (as there are other Rosbachs in Germany). The “bach” would translate as “brook”, meaning there is a creek running through the area. The geology of the region (formerly volcanically active edge of a rift valley) results in things like naturally occurring carbonated and mineral water springs, bottled and sold as table water (similar to the table water one finds in France). If Rosbach is known at all it’s for the table water.

Historically the village was first mentioned in document from 800s, so a fairly old settlement. There are some pre-celtic grave sites (“Hugelgraben”) in the woods south of the two Rosbachs

An enlargment of the map, showing the original village cores shaded, the train station, and the industrial park between the two. The large big box buildings are a distribution center for the German retailer Rewe. We will be taking a closer look at the village to the left, Ober Rosbach

Rosbach from the air, autobahn exit circled in the lower left. The characteristic European rural landscape pattern of relatively small farm parcels, some as ribbon farms, is also visible. These are accessed through unpaved roads and field paths, so one can actually walk out into the landscape.

And a close-up showing different types of auto-oriented development, including a McDonalds. What’s noticeable here is the lack of extensive parking in the presumably more auto-oriented commercial/industrial area. One can also see the fairly dense suburban development.

What’s also noticeable from the aerials is the lack of development directly around the autobahn exit, and the location of the “Bundestrasse” (Federal Highway, equivalent to our US Highway designation) between the villages, similar to the bypasses of the old US highways. Unlike in the US this bypass is not lined with retail development

A map from the Hesse state historic preservation office, showing the original Ober Rosbach village (technically it was a town, as it had “Stadtrecht”, or city rights) surrounded by postwar suburbia, showing how extensive suburban growth was in this area.

And a pix from the 1950s, showing the village church and rooftops through the cherry orchards. Ober Rosbach is on a foot slope of the Taunus, which creates a small microclimate, leading to the planting of cherry orchards. This part of “Kirschberg”, or Cherry Hill, is now all subdivided and built-out

A close-up, where one can see Nieder Rosbach in the background behind the steeple. The open area between is now the industrial park

And an enlargement, showing how the suburbia grew into the orchards. One can also see the compact nature of the original town vs the freestanding structures of postwar suburbia.

Suburban development north of the old village. It's pretty clear here how the old field paths and field divisions are guiding suburban growth outward, as suburbia expands into what looks like either allotments or orchard strips

The red boxes in the maps enlarged, clearly showing the mix of single and multi-family and the fairly small lots. This pattern of development is actually similar to the older parts of Dayton, like Walnut Hills and South Park, where there is a mix of singles, doubles, and apartments.

This approach to suburban development is radically different than the US, where such a residential mix would never occur due to zoning, nor would it be tolerated by American homebuyers. Apparently the Germans don’t zone residential the way we do, permitting a mix of types

Ober Rosbach on the Ground

The suburban area west of the prewar village. A mix of housing types, yet all following a very minimal approach to design, in these cases not much of a revivalist influence.
What’s also noticeable is the mix of multifamily and single family. Directly to the left of the evergreen in the middle of the pix one can see either a 2 and a half story duplex or apartment building, and right next to it is a one and half story single family bungalow (click on the pix to enlarge for detail).

Another look, this time in the northern part of the village, the area covered by the map enlargements above. Again one can see some single family homes directly in front and to the left (the one with the decorative concrete block screening), but also some multifamily, maybe next door
In the background one can see the industrial park, including a gaudy pink and green high rise. Maybe part of the Rewe complex.

Another view of a streetscape from a second story condo. Note again the largish single family homes across the street, but we are in a condo looking at them. Also the street itself is pretty narrow, not even a sidewalk. This pix is a good illustration of how the Germans approach yards and lawns: they fence them off from the street with either landscaping or actual fences.

And another view, showing how the Germans do backyards, and their love of generous balcony or deck space (we’ve seen a lot of deck views so far). One might be close to the edge of town here.

And a few single family homes. These are pretty small, but show two approaches. The lower one is an earlier version, while the one above is a newer, sort of a standard model sold by a commercial builder as a package deal.
And another smaller single family house, at the edge of town. The German suburban dream?

One can see how the Germans do have suburbia, but the standard is less than ours, with smaller lots and a mix of multi-family and single family in the same development area. The houses are also probably smaller inside, and they don't have closets (which is why you see those big wardrobes for sale at IKEA).

We’ll be taking two more looks at Rosbach later, one at Rodheim village and another at transit options.


Matthew Sauer said...

I spent a couple of months in Neu-Esting, a village outside of Munich. Rosbach appears to be very similar. Neu-Esting (or rather, Esting) had an S-bahn station, around which was a small cluster of businesses - a post office, bakery, and a convenience store (marked by the Langnese shingle). There was also a four-five story apartment building, and a school/church complex where the older residents held their kegeln league (not to be confused with...). Around that were streets of single-family and two or three unit houses. As you point out, it was not quite a US suburb, with the mix of densities and uses.

The superficial observation I made at the time was to draw out an historical basis for their pattern of suburbanization, comparing Bavarian farmsteads to American. Their farmers lived in villages, with the farmhouse/barn clustered with other farming families. Farmers would then travel out to their fields to work. The American farmer is, of course, Michael Landon, way the frick out there on his 40 acres of desolate prairie. To me, that was it - the DNA underlying our two cultures, and an explanation for why the quarter-acre lot has such appeal.

Franz said...

I'm in Germany right now, although a bit farther north (Niedersachsen) than where you are reporting on. Still I think that the comparison between the US and Germany is entirely interesting. How did you land on the comparison?

Jefferey said...

"How did you land on the comparison?"

This was a rehash of a post I did on anoter forum a year or more ago. I was familiar with this area, so thought it would be a good case study.

"Their farmers lived in villages, with the farmhouse/barn clustered with other farming families. Farmers would then travel out to their fields to work."

William Gass, in his short story "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country" says that there was a period in the 19th Century (in the town he was wrting about) where farmers would live "in town" and farm outside (presumably the barns were still on the property).

So there might have been a limited version of this in the Midwest in the past. But not something that survived.

In this part of Germany, there are occasional stand-alone farms, called "aussiedlerhof", but they are rare.