Galeria insolvency and urban planning: What comes after the department store?

On Monday, the creditors’ meeting of Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof will decide on the insolvency plan. Three voices, what can come after that.

Faded Hertie lettering behind a Karstadt lettering in front of washed-out concrete

What will become of the old department stores? Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa

Meeting point without consumption

“I expect that department stores will remain as urban anchor points – but with a different inner workings than we know it today. This is not only due to the crisis in department stores, but also to the speculative real estate market. As cities and municipalities, indeed as society as a whole, we urgently need space for non-commercial uses, not for office properties or luxury apartments, as high-yield property developers are planning. We have to redefine our inner cities, including shopping malls and department stores. Because in the best inner-city locations, the buildings offer ideal conditions to also be places for care work, which in our world has far too little importance. This work would be made visible and better conditions would be created.

Care centers can be meeting places for caring relatives or alternatives to the playground that can be easily combined with care and education, exchange shops or repair shops. Local health care, such as medical practices, also fit into this. All in all, they should be places that enable encounters without consumption, that bring neighborhoods together. In the decision-making process as to what should happen in a specific building, the participation of local people is essential. But the commitment of the city governments is also necessary, because they have the planning authority, not the investors.

There are urban planning instruments for this, such as the designation of redevelopment areas, development plan procedures or the right of first refusal, and the local governments have to use them. And that has to happen quickly: At Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof, the department stores now have to be secured so that they don’t fall to real estate sharks. Of course, there is always the fear that such far-reaching transformations cannot be paid for. But there are subsidies for lively inner cities at EU level, among others, and the federal government can also provide funds. So money must not be an argument against change.”

Katalin Gennburg is spokeswoman for urban development policy for the left-wing faction in the Berlin House of Representatives.

Green inner city for young people

“In many cities, after the department store closures, there will be a different inner city. One that will not only be characterized by shopping, but also by more quality of stay. If we look at the fact that people under 30 practically no longer go shopping in the city center, then it becomes clear that we need new perspectives. The situation at Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof is thus accelerating a process that is already taking place: the conversion of inner cities. At the moment there is often too much parking space, too many areas are sealed, there is not enough greenery and not enough life. So too few things that create a feeling of “This is where I want to be”.

Now, of course, there are hurdles in this transformation process. A big one: The real estate does not usually belong to the city itself. In the best case, the owner owns the self-managed shop directly, in the worst case, for example, an Australian financial investor is the owner. And it doesn’t really matter what happens in a medium-sized German city, they just want their returns. As a city, you have to bring together different, sometimes conflicting interests and perspectives: the property owners, the local dealers, but above all the people who use the city center. Therefore, the most important thing is: an idea.

An idea of ​​what I as a city and society actually want to do with these incredibly attractive areas. And if I say I want more greenery and less concrete, I want fewer cars and parking spaces, but instead some water and places that provide vitality – maybe a daycare center or apartments – then I can work with that. The key question should be: Where do we feel comfortable? And as a rule, we feel comfortable where there are other people, where there is life. So we have to create a space that people say: I would like to be here.”

Helmut Dedy is General Manager of the German Association of Cities.

A house for education

“The old department store building in our city center has been empty for almost two years. We then bought the building about six months ago: We will turn it into an education building that will be used by high schools, universities and start-ups. We are currently in the concept and development phase and are involving students and stakeholders from universities and start-ups, among others. The subsequent use was discussed quite controversially, and other types of use were also in the running: A museum use or care for the elderly, among other things, but also a discotheque. We are counting on the fact that with the new concept we will create an additional revitalization of the city center and a new attraction in the old town. For example, there could also be a large, partially publicly accessible roof terrace, which will invite visitors in the afternoon hours to look at the historic church towers while listening to music.

In a nationwide comparison, Lübeck is still in a good position in terms of attractiveness and willingness to settle. Nevertheless, we have a few vacancies and do not want to rest on our laurels in the comparatively comfortable situation. In this respect, what we do can also be a role model for other cities. Large-scale retail in a department store structure will not be the future. It does not have to be the right thing for every city to focus on education as a subsequent use. But large-area department stores will be used for other, more flexible, small-scale purposes in many cities. Three things are important.

Firstly, one should never be satisfied with simply closing the building permanently. Secondly, urban planning must remain in the public domain – there will be many actors with many ideas, but most of them will end up making a lot of money themselves. Thirdly, it will not fail because of the money. If the idea is good and in the interests of the citizens, then sources of money will also be found.”

Jan Lindenau (SPD) is mayor of Lübeck.

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