CVC4 | Illingen | 20-23 March 2014


The Creative Villages Conference took place from 20th to 23rd of March 2014 concerning the topic of coping with abandoned property on community level in Illingen/Germany. During these four days the main goal was to develop coping strategies regarding the problem of abandoned property and unused living space. Guest speakers from Germany and Austria described the cause and background of the problem area and showed best practice cases, where vacancy was seen as a potential for development and an impulse for the implementation of “Changing strategies”.

Structural change led to vacancy problems

On Thursday, 20th of March, an excursion through Saarland took place as an opening program. Karl Kleineberg, the former head of the structural change development in Saarland as well as Andrea Berger, the manager of vacancy in Illingen, gave some interesting insight regarding the topic of coping with difficulties in context with vacancy. Practical examples in the region of Saarland displayed the participants the impacts of such abandoned property, such as e. g. the Forsthaus Pfaffenkopf, a revitalized old farmhouse, the mining museum Carreau Wendel in France with spectacular architecture and informative guides in the old mine  or the “Förderturm” (winding tower) of Göttelborn, which can now be used as lookout tower.

Demography as pacemaker for vacancy programs

On Friday mayors and municipal administrators of Saarland were invited to join the conference about demography in Illingen. Top class speakers as Dr. Armin König, mayor of Illingen, Reinhold Jost, Minister of environment and consumer protection, Gerd Rainer Damm from the Home Office, Michael Sossong, head of the bureau of statistic and Professor h.c. Dr. Karl Ziegler from the technical university Kaiserslautern among others shared their knowledge with the participants and gave valuable insight in the topic of demography.

Best practice leads to emulation

The following excursion through Illingen showed some best practice examples of conversion, revitalization and future development in Illingen. The major outcome of the excursion was the fact that there should be more awareness for the topic of vacancy in the community. Awareness can be stimulated by unconventional actions, a contact person in the municipality and personal contact with homeowners. 

Keynote speaker Matthias Hartman, mayor of the municipality Unterstinkenbrunn in Lower Austria, who conducted research on abandoned property in his municipality, concludes that to change the situation of vacancy it will need different factors. A funding model, higher awareness regarding the topic of vacancy, an improved relation to reality of the homeowners regarding the market prices as well as innovative utilization concepts where mentioned in this context. Moreover, a moderate tax on abandoned property was discussed afterwards with the participants. Keynote speaker Roland Gruber, the initiator and organizer of the “Leerstandskonferenz” (vacancy conference) in Austria, provided an insight in three different practical examples of vacancy management: Haag started with the organisation of a summer theatre to put new life to the center, which was followed by an enormous rise in high quality architecture in the whole town. In Haslach the engagement of architect Josef Schütz lead to the revitalization of an old and vacant factory and the revitalization of some single houses in the city center, which brought great impulses for the development of the village.

On Saturday the focus of the conference lay on best practice examples. Dr. Ing. Sven Uhrhan of the Regionalverband Saarbrücken (regional association) gave numerous examples as a stimulus for further projects. Klaus Häusler of the Wirtschaftsförderungsgesellschaft (association for the stimulation of economy) spoke about the opportunities and limitations of an active business area management. Subsequently Johann Stixenberger gave insight into the success story of Waidhofen/Ybbs in Lower Austria, where vacancy could be reduced from 30% to almost 0%.

The program on Sunday included working in groups and generating ideas and action approaches to tackle real live vacancy problems in the communities. The municipalities presented a real case scenario, which was on debate in the community. With numerous valuable ideas and thoughts for the local work, the participants returned home from a productive and informative conference in Illingen, where the social aspect of the exchange among the participants didn’t go short.

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