Travels in Zürich (2/2): Urban development and creative projects

Urban development and city planning is a fascinating topic, in particular the temporary use of industrial wasteland and empty urban spaces. Berlin is a good place to be if you like this sort of thing – there are plenty of creatives/communities/artists/galleries based in abandoned houses, old factories or other unusual places. And Berlin still has  a surprising number of urban spaces left although over the last years, many areas have been redeveloped or are currently under construction.

In Zürich the case is quite similar. Although this is a city of tremendously high property prices, especially in the city centre, there are little pockets of creative communities that use whatever urban spaces are currently unoccupied. Like Basislager, an art collective based in containers, or the non-commercial communal area of Stadionbrache Hardturm, both of which are located in the Zürich suburb of Altstetten.

A note of explanation: although Zürich is very rich and consequently expensive it has, like any urban agglomeration, poorer neighbourhoods. Altstetten or Schlieren, for example, are comparatively affordable – that is “affordable” when compared to Zürich’s standard real estate prices, of course.

In comparison to most other European cities Altstetten still has premium property prices. However, in the context of Zürich city, Altstetten is affordable. Although several Zürich banks have offices there and you have a high percentage of urban young professionals, plenty of immigrants and foreigners live in Altstetten too.

The part of Altstetten that directly adjoins the train station – the area between Aaargauer and Bernauer Straße – is currently under development. This is where the neighbourhood of “Zürich West” will eventually be built, an entirely new city quarter which will feature a combination of industry, art and culture, offices and living spaces. A few buildings are already finished, in the area near Toni-Areal, for example.

However, much of the future Zürich West neighbourhood is still industrial wasteland. There is an old football stadium which was supposed to be torn down years ago and then it wasn’t, and now it’s still there, although mostly in ruins. This means plenty of industrial wasteland spaces that are now used for different temporary purposes.

Like Basislager, for example. The Basislager community was founded several years ago in Binz (an old occupied factory complex in the Zürich area of Wiedikon) by a group of artists. Their goal was to offer artists, designers and other creatives affordable atelier and office spaces – in containers, the kind you see on any large construction site. The Binz area has since been developed and Basislager had to find another home. In 2012 the community moved to its current location in Altstetten, containers and all.

They are located on Aargauer Straße, directly next to another container settlement – asylum seekers – and not far away from the infamous “sex containers”. Yes, I was surprised by this, too. It appears that Zürich’s street prostitution area was located right in the middle of the city centre. Then the Zürich government decided that it wanted to move this particular business away from the city and established a sort of “sex drive-in” park in Altstetten. The prostitutes are waiting inside container-sized garages and  clients can drive in, conduct their business, and drive out again. After I researched this I found out that several European cities have prostitution parks like this. It is considered to be a fairly successful concept. Who knew.

But to return to Basislager: their container settlement is now part and parcel of Altstetten. Some 200 artists, designers, architects and other creatives have their workspaces there and Basislager organises regular events, exhibitions and markets. Check it out:

Basislager Zürich (9) Basislager Zürich (8) Basislager Zürich (3) Basislager Zürich (2)

Another very cool temporary use of industrial urban wasteland in the direct neighbourhood of Basislager is Stadionbrache Hardturm, which is located on the area of the old stadium.

A whole range of different individuals and groups are using this space for non-commercial creative and communal projects – people have planted little gardens there, climbing enthusiasts have erected a free-hand boulder nearby, there is a small skater area and a football pitch, wooden huts for children and a clay oven that can be used to bake bread.The oven is operated by bread cooperative Brotoloco, check out their website! They have a communical pizza bake every Thursday evening!!

Any visitor can enter the Stadiobrache area, provided they observe some commonsense rules about noise and litter. You can also start a project which, however, needs to meets certain basic criteria: projects have to be non-commercial, they should have a cultural or social aspect, be open to anyone in the community and respect the other Stadionbrache projects and individuals.

Stadionbrache Zürich (9) Stadionbrache Zürich (7) Stadionbrache Zürich (6) Stadionbrache Zürich (4) Stadionbrache Zürich (3)

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