Belvedere 1


The “Productive Park” – A New Concept for Urban Greenspace

Around the world, many cities currently face challenges posed by uncontrolled urban growth. Urban fringe areas, where agriculture has traditionally been the dominant land use, have often borne the brunt of such development. Indeed, farmland on the urban periphery has frequently been perceived negatively as providing a land bank for future urban development rather than being considered for the multifunctional ecosystem service benefits that it can provide.

The “Belvedere Park” in Cologne shows that the concept of a “productive park” actually has great potential. It can sustain land use, regulate urbanisation, transform ordinary landscapes into public spaces, deliver ecological services and provide recreational opportunities - all in addition to traditional agricultural production. To this end, the design concepts do not result in significant transformation of the physical landscape, but instead alter the way that the landscape is perceived.

The "Belvedere Park" in Cologne is part of a green infrastructure project called "Regio Grün". Through this wider project, the region has been promoting and linking its open spaces in order to create a green network for recreational and ecological purposes and to provide better defined boundaries to residential areas. In particular, the "Belvedere Park" reconnects urban dwellers with agriculture in the landscape.

Agriculture is often considered as being in conflict with urban culture. However, the park illustrates that it can be a lively and natural part of modern city life. ln a 2OO7 competition, landscape architects were asked to turn an "unfinished" part of Cologne's outer green belt into a park - the area was considered incomplete as more than 300 ha of land were still under agricultural production. Most of the competition entries changed the agricultural fields into a more classical parkland design of meadows, trees and paths. However, by contrast, the winning entry instead featured agriculture as the core component of the park.

As a result of the proposals, a new circular path was created allowing the public to circumnavigate the park. The iconic path design, featuring a loosely bound whin dust and aggregate surface, was designed to be suitable for both recreational use by walkers and cyclists and also for agricultural machinery. A second feature of the Park was the creation of four steeI observation platforms which form distinctive landmarks along the route. From the "Domblick" lookout platform, visitors can appreciate the whole landscape, including the nearby highway, tractors in the surrounding fields and the iconic profile of Cologne Cathedral on the distant horizon.

The "Felderblick" observation platform includes a gangway which allows visitors to appreciate the aesthetic and sensory qualities of various field crops, such as the heady fragrance of rapeseed flowers or the subtle popping sound of the grain seeds on a summer’s day. The farmers, who have been involved in the design process, also independently suggested growing a wider range of crops, particularly of flowering varieties, with the aim of increasing diversity. Cultivating phacelia or red clover, for example, has proved an effective way of enhancing the variety and beauty of the area and of, additionally, protecting the groundwater quality.

Meanwhile, a local research institute for plant breeding, has also been acting as a key stakeholder in the development of the park. The Institute has created a "science barn" and a crop plant garden which are situated right in the centre of the area. These showcase some of the species traditionally cultivated within the locality, over the last 3000 years or so.

In summary, the Belvedere Park experience, highlights a general approach which makes use of agriculture to create a new form of park, as an alternative to substituting farming with altogether different greenspace concepts. These design concepts have not resulted in a significant transformation of the physical space itself, but have instead, altered the way that the area is perceived through sensitive application of landscape architectural practice. The Park’s design has therefore turned an ordinary agricultural Landscape into an innovative "agricultural park" concept which delivers diverse and multifunctional benefits.

Source: Presentation - Urban Agriculture and the Planning of City Regions - Prof. Dr. Frank Lohrberg.

Institute of Landscape Architecture, RWTH Aachen University (2019)                            

Urban Agriculture and the Planning of City Regions