Thursday, June 23, 2011

Decreasing population, increasing density

The Institute where I work is built on land that used to be part of huge East German ship building facility. The facility folded shortly after the German Democratic Republic did. The buildings were, for the most part, left derelict. One of the former factory buildings has been converted into an indoor shopping center. Each store is its own single story box built into the bottom of the cavernous factory building, with walkways and cranes still hanging overhead. Most of the other buildings have been torn down, and ~15 waterfront apartment buildings have been built (or are being built) on the land, most just within the two years I have been here. Apartments in these new buildings are on the expensive side for Rostock, but are filling up fast. One or two huge windowless cement monstrosities (one holds a dance club called The Bunker) remain, as well as a couple of older brick warehouses that have been refurbished. One is being used as a temporary home for the Rostock Volkstheater (community theater) while their main hall is closed for fire-code violations. It feels as though a new, fairly fancy, neighborhood is simply sprouting from the root-system of the old shipyards, among the remaining shells, foundations and train tracks to nowhere.

The demand for housing that fuels all this building is a story of migration. Rostock is Mecklenberg-Vorpomern, the least densely populated state in Germany, and a state that has steadily lost population since reunification. Many of the outylying villages are dominated by abandoned buildings. Apartment complexes on the outer edges of Rostock, plunked down in the middle of fields by the communist planners, now offer multiple months of free rent to anyone who will move in and still are emptying out. Rostock is full of college students, who don’t want to be on the outskirts in half empty buildings, and an aging population of long-term residents, who don’t either. The more abandoned the outskirts get, the strong the incentive to move toward the city center. So the center of Rostock is becoming denser even as the state loses population.

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