An ongoing social congress with ambitions and impact
People meet here. Simply that. And many remain, enthusiastic to shape the city together. Together they lend out bicycles, discuss urban development, share tools, use co-working spaces, renovate an old train station and secure derelict land for something completely new. They create such a vibrant place that an urban development research team came all the way from California because they couldn’t find anything comparable anywhere in the world.
Our ambition is the connection of local action with general knowledge in order to shape our society together. Our work extends from concrete local projects right on our doorstep to strategic networking at municipal and regional level, creating findings whose effects reach up to the federal level and the international arena.
Utopiastadts open front door is the Café Hutmacher. The counter is made from old books, the seating originates from attics, cellars or bulky waste, and the beer is called »Bärtig Bräu« (»beardy brew«), is brewed in the region following organic standards and finances projects in the neighborhood through parts of its earnings. Next to the counter is the door towards the community workshop. It accommodated bicycle repair tools, belt sanders and laser cutters. However, since more tools and machinery as lathe, foil plotter, storage racks, metal workshop and electrical laboratory are to be added, committed people around Utopiastadt are renovating the old lugggage handling building next door, moving the workshop part for part to its new, bigger location. Meanwhile, the former 3rd class waiting room is often used as a concert stage by national and international acts, as an art gallery or as a living room for one or two party groups. Anyone who tries one of the fair trade organic teas can sweeten it with honey from Utopiastadt beehives.
Utopiastadt is located directly at the »Nordbahntrasse« – a 22km long bicyclecycle and pedestrian lane through Wuppertal’s north. Civic engagement meets new infrastructure in the ThinkTank Utopiastadt — from here, a completely new way of thinking mobility is spreading. Here is the place where Wuppertal’s first e-cargo bike for everyone meets Wuppertal’s first bicycle repair café, a car-sharing station, a voluntary bike rental service and the inaugural meeting of the Fahrradstadt Wuppertal interest group. All of this happens alongside with participation in the »Wuppertal 2025« urban development strategy. While streets are still used in a traditionally car-centric manner, there are many ways to be found here to try out directly how individual mobility can work in a completely different way – and maybe even much better. Should the city use funding programs to purchase additional e-cargo bikes for free rental in the future and their usage flourishes thanks to good networking via the rental system established by volunteers, then mobility change is no longer a distant plan, but a living experiment. The same applies to neighborhood work in the »Forum:Mirke«, the change in food politics with »food sharing«, the farm box of the »Aufbruch am Arrenberg e.V.« and the nutrition advisory board. It applies for digitization issues in the hacker space of /dev/tal e.V. and opendatal or for activities in the »Transformation City« network. The latter was founded by Utopiastadt, the Wuppertal Institute, TransZent and the »New Efficiency« to jointly develop, research and communicate these very topics.
Findings emerging on site through the activities of more than 200 volunteers in dozens of projects are not only interesting for the Mirke district and Wuppertal, but can also support projects in their success elsewhere. For this reason, Utopiastadt actively shares its experiences beyond the city limits with others, in order to research them and to bring new knowledge back to Wuppertal. For example, Utopiastadt is a founding member of the »Immovielien« network. Its focus is on real estate by many for many – and on strengthening the basic framework of socially defining projects alike Utopiastadt at the federal level.
The other way around, the development of Utopiastadt from a small 200 sqm coworking space to a 40,000 sqm development area is also attracting the interest of students from numerous faculties. To avoid starting their surveys always from scratch and to faciliate opportunities to benefit from each other, results of their studies should flow directly back into social commitment. For this purpose we launched »Co-Research« in 2015 in cooperation with the University of Wuppertal. Through Co-Research, students exchange their research information related to our train station and the Mirker Quartier in an interdisciplinary manner. There are initial approaches to roll out this principle nationwide.
And as the Solar Decathlon Europe – an international competition for sustainable building – will soon be visiting the Utopiastadt Campus, you can actually touch the term ‚experimental urban development‘ on site.
UTOPIA IS EVERYWHERE
UTOPIASTADT IS HERE
All of this – and much more – finds its home in a train station building from the late 19th century. A building that, when it was built, was absolutely characteristic for the city and an important driving force for the structural development of the neighborhood. A good 100 years later, it lay largely derelict; now we are renovating it with the help of urban development funds from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with contributions from the city of Wuppertal, the Jackstädt Foundation, the NRW Foundation, other donors – and above all, with the energetic help of many utopians. From the very beginning, the mixture of commitment to individual projects and the close exchange about them inspired an ever-evolving commitment: Together, all participants provide a framework in which they can try out and implement their respective projects for the further development of the city and of society. Doing so, they transform an urban wasteland back into a central, pulsating place and an experimental space for future society.
Utopiastadt is an ongoing social congress with ambitions and impact.