This is the English version of an originally German post which I was able to publish on https://www.postwachstum.de/. It is a book review for which I got the approval to share it here with you as well. Even though the book is only available in German so far, its core messages might be interesting for all of you. For everyone who prefers to read the German original, look here: https://www.postwachstum.de/ein-plaedoyer-gegen-das-neubauen-20201016
More new buildings than necessary
The book ‘Verbietet das Bauen!’ (roughly ‘Prohibit construction!’) by Daniel Fuhrhop, which has been reissued and expanded this year, contains many number-based facts and arguments against new construction. Apart from the negative environmental consequences of building, the author also and above all explains why new construction is not as social as it seems. New construction is often justified with arguments relating to housing shortages, especially in popular cities. This must be remedied. Fuhrhop shows, however, that the housing shortage is often not as acute as it seems to be. Even in popular cities many flats are empty. Also office buildings or other properties are vacant nationwide, which (partly converted) could serve as living space. One problem in recording such potential, however, is that most municipalities in Germany do not record vacancies or do so only inadequately.
On the other hand, Germans are occupying ever larger areas per capita, partly due to the increasing number of singles who alone occupy entire flats and thus consume relatively more space. This is just one of the reasons why, despite largely stagnating population figures, construction in Germany continues to be brisk. In addition, cities are competing to attract new businesses and residents, so that the shortage of space in popular locations is increasing, while elsewhere the vacancy rate is becoming increasingly dramatic. In a way, the motto “up or out” also applies to cities, which is being questioned in the context of the post-growth debate.
The author not only explains these and numerous other reasons that make new buildings superfluous, but also uses many examples to show how they can be made superfluous. Some of the suggestions, such as the increased use of all possible types of shared housing, such as ‘multi-generational living’ or ‘housing for help’, are easy to understand and probably at best only surprise for a few. Sharing desks at the employer’s or the use of co-working rooms is also familiar to many. Corona may even accelerate this job-related development. The effects of the pandemic could not yet be analysed in the book published in May. However, perhaps there will be a new edition in a while or the author will discuss the changes caused by the pandemic on his blog.
Other tools, such as renaming places with a bad image, for example by moving the municipal border, were new ideas for me. There seems to be no precedent in this respect so far. The author suggests, for example, the renaming of Duisburg to Düsseldorf-North (p. 163 or p. 190, tool 40). The proposal of anti-marketing – which emphasises the negative aspects of a city – or non-marketing for popular cities such as Munich is probably also more controversial in general.
The figures of the supervising housing association are presented for a conversion project of an entire city district: Overall, the conversion is less primary energy-intensive than a new building, even if it is built as a passive house. In addition, such modernisation is also considerably cheaper. Among other things, the costs of demolishing the old building, which must make way for a new building, must be included. Of course, the figures presented apply to a specific project, but if such comprehensive calculations were systematically made when deciding between conversion and new construction, conversion would perhaps occur more frequently than is currently the case.
100 tools in implementation
For each of his proposed tools, Daniel Fuhrhop gives examples of their implementation to date, if they already exist. Many of the measures also sound useful for more collaborative behaviour, no matter how one assesses the title or the core message of the book. More correctly, the title should actually be ‘Prohibit New Construction!’, as it advocates renovation and, in some cases, adding storeys instead of new construction. The author also speaks out against supposedly ecological new buildings, as these are just as unnecessary and also very energy and resource intensive. However, the search for more sustainable building materials and refurbishment methods as well as better recycling of materials would make sense.
It remains to be seen whether politicians will make greater use of the proposed tools in the future, at least in part, to address the housing shortage or whether more and more land will be sealed for new construction. Uwe Schneidewind, who wrote the preface to the first edition of the book, has now been elected Lord Mayor of Wuppertal. It will be exciting to see whether he will be working there with the tools presented there, for example. All in all, the book fits in well with the post-growth discourse, because the basic motivations and conclusions go in the right direction. Therefore, the book is recommended to all those who deal with the topic or have any influence on building. But also for all others it contains exciting suggestions for alternative forms of housing.
Daniel Fuhrhop (2020): Verbietet das Bauen! – Streitschrift gegen Spekulation, Abriss und Flächenfraß. München: oekom verlag.