After referendum: Citizens jury does urban planning

02. December 2022

An open development with lots of greenery. This is what a randomly selected citizens' jury wants for the former Community Hospital site in the German city of Amberg. The collection of ideas was handed over to the city council's building committee on 30 November 2022.

In a referendum in September 2021, the voters of Amberg rejected the city's plans to build on the Community Hospital site. At the same time, they voted for a new participation procedure. In order to resolve the conflict, the city in the Upper Palatinate opted for a citizens' jury. This jury met from 15 October to 17 November 2022.

With the "Living at the Spitalgraben" project, which was rejected in the referendum, the city wanted, among other things, to enable barrier-free living for young and old and to create attractive shopping facilities. A neighbourhood garage for the residents of the old town was also to be built. From the city's point of view, the project would have offered contemporary, city-centre-oriented and ecological architecture with a high quality of stay.

Citizen participation 2017

According to the city, this mix of uses as a goal for the Old Town had met with approval at a public participation event on the building project in April 2017. Ten Brinke-Projektentwicklungs-GmbH was the winner of an architectural competition for the design of the project.

The "Interessengemeinschaft Menschengerechte Stadt" (Interest Group for a Humane City) had initiated a popular initiative against this project. The initiative had criticised that the city of Amberg wanted to sell public property, which originated from a 700-year-old royal foundation for social purposes, to a foreign real estate company. The IG considered the building project on the site, which at around 5,000 square metres was comparatively large for the centre of Amberg, to be "extremely questionable for urban development":

Argument monument protection

The building planned at the time would have been located in the listed ensemble of the historic old town in the immediate vicinity of the Spitalkirche, the business school and the Ringtheater. In the opinion of the interest group, the building complex, which was planned purely functionally and was almost 65 metres long, would not have fitted into this environment. It also did not comply in any way with the building design statutes that otherwise apply to the old town.

The interest group also felt that the project would have had a negative impact on the city's climate. The planned flats lacked specifications for social housing. Furthermore, the initiative saw the planned underground car park exits and a planned supermarket as problematic. Moreover, the property was the city's silverware. With the sale and the project-related development plan, the city would have given away its options for action in urban development in the long run, criticised the interest group. In the referendum on 26 September 2021, a majority of the voters found this argument convincing.

Citizens' jury developed ideas for use

The site of the former Community Hospital is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas in Amberg's city centre. The hospital buildings were part of Amberg's old town for centuries. After the retirement home housed in them was able to move into a modern new building, the buildings were demolished in 2015. The citizens' jury developed ideas for what should happen to the site, which has been empty ever since.

In its recommendations for the future use of the site, the citizens' jury states that the new building should be understood as an opportunity and become a supra-regional pilot project with a model character in terms of resource efficiency and sustainability. In addition, the members would like to see a small-scale and open development with building heights oriented to the context of the old town ensemble. In their opinion, the open spaces should be planned in such a way that a high quality of stay is created and diverse design elements such as water, large trees, green spaces and squares can be found.

Incorporating wall remains and the Celtic grave

The historical wall remains and the Celtic grave should also be included in the planning of the open spaces. It is also important to the participants of the citizens' jury that the paths and square areas are designed to be barrier-free and that additional bicycle parking areas and sufficient space for seating and lounging areas are provided in order to create a place of peace and recreation for passers-by without gastronomic offerings. Play and exercise facilities, the integration of the playground of the adjacent business school and the integration of the Ring Theatre and the Spitalkirche into an overall concept were also among the points to which the jury members attached great importance.

In terms of use, the citizens agreed that the focus of the building planning should be on residential development with intergenerational living as well as diversity and social mix, but that subordinate space offers for trade, commerce, service providers or doctors are also possible. The goal is not only to create as few new parking spaces as possible, but also to solve the parking issue in an innovative and space-saving way and to develop concepts for alternative mobility for the area. According to their wishes, a contemporary architectural language should be developed for the buildings so that they become a centre of attraction in the old town.

Interim use possible

Since the jury participants were aware that planning and implementation of the measures could take some time, they were unanimously in favour of not leaving the area as a wasteland, but of putting it to interim use for a very limited period of time. However, this should not delay the final construction planning, should not become a permanent solution and should not restrict future planning, according to the resolution adopted on 17 November 2022.

For Mayor Michael Cerny (CSU), "the experiment has turned out well". The citizens' jury "is a very successful method of citizen participation. The city council will discuss the results. In a next step, the citizens of Amberg will have the opportunity to make supplementary suggestions to the recommendations of the citizens' jury via a new online tool, but these should stand above everything as a guideline.

Alternative proposals for implementation

Cerny suggests that the city's building department could then work out three alternative proposals on how the Citizens' Jurys's recommendations could be translated into concrete plans. Then it is a matter of finding investors who are confident about the project. "We now have 40 keen observers watching to see what comes of it," Cerny said, brushing aside concerns that the city council might end up brushing aside the citizens' jury's findings as unworkable and decide something completely different. "If we don't stick to it, we will have shot ourselves in the foot," said Hans-Jürgen Bumes (Greens).

On 19 January 2023, the building committee of the city of Amberg had dealt with the recommendations of the citizens' jury and unanimously endorsed them. The recommendations are now to be brought into consensus with the findings of the city council and, for example, existing expert opinions, and then result in a clear objective. This should then also be seen in the first drafts. With this planning, the search for investors is to begin in the middle of the year.

40 jury participants

The citizens' jury included 40 randomly selected Amberg residents who came together for five sessions. In order to achieve the greatest possible diversity of perspectives, a group of people was randomly selected by the residents' registration office and then contacted by the city administration. The final citizens' jury members were then selected from the group of citizens interested in participating.

The members of the citizens' jury were supported by an advisory board of representatives from different interest groups. These included representatives from the Youth Welfare Office, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Economic Development, Culture and the Amberg Inclusion Alliance. The IG Menschengerechte Stadt is also involved.

The participants of the citizens' jury were trained by experts in the fields of urban development, monument protection, sustainable building and climate protection. In several workshops, the jury members then developed their ideas for the future of the Bürgerspital site.

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