THE ’MOUNTAINS OF THE RUHR’ AS PLACES OF IDENTITY
Keywords:Ruhr region, places of identity, coal mines, regional planning, ‘Mountains of the Ruhr’, ecological restoration, green transformation, Ruhr Metropolis
For decades, the Ruhr region in Germany was shaped by the coal mining industry. In the late 19th and early to mid-20th century, industrialization and accompanying urbanization processes turned small villages into large cities. In consequence, the Ruhr region became the largest industrial agglomeration in Europe with coal mines being both the main employer and an essential identity-forming feature.
As of today, the Ruhr region has undergone another set of decades of structural change. Former industrial sites were re-cultivated and renaturated and by now, the region no longer understands itself as the ‘Ruhr region’ but as the ‘Ruhr Metropolis’. Within all the change, however, there is one constant – a special kind of place that remains: the heaps. As former collection points for coal mining overburden and the collieries’ slag, they are now the ‘Mountains of the Ruhr', a vital element of Green Infrastructure (GI) of the Ruhr Metropolis and still an anchor of identity for 5.1 million people.
The regional planning authority of the Ruhr region, the Ruhr Regional Association (German: ‘Regionalverband Ruhr’ short RVR), is responsible for the preservation and development of open space and GI. Currently, the RVR develops 46 slag heaps and will take over several more in the near future (cf. Website RVR, 2022). The exciting challenge for the RVR is now to make the 'Mountains of the Ruhr' usable for the region’s inhabitants, to foster the ecological value of this special GI in the overall open space system and to bring together cultural preservation and strategic development.
This paper offers insights into the transformation processes of the Ruhr region (see section 2), the change in identity of its slag heaps and the planning and development of heaps as an anchor of urban GI (see section 3). Recent findings on the narrative and place-making of heaps are presented, highlighting both the storyline for the ‘Mountains of the Ruhr’ and the individual character of the heaps (see section 3.3). Thus, this paper offers an empirical example of the shift in meaning of place, which creates identity, drives ecological restoration, and is one milestone of the green transformation of the Ruhr Metropolis (cf. RVR, 2021).