Rethinking ‘Ruhrbanity’  – Green-Blue Dreamscapes and Regional Renaturalization in Germany’s Former Industrial Heartland in Comparative Perspective



Ruhrbanity , renaturalization, ecological restructuring, industrial nature, landscape park




Within the world of urban-regional spatial development and its accompanying models and theories, the German Ruhr Valley has always occupied a special space. From the late 19th century on, large-scale coal mining and steel production operations created a heavily industrialized, poly-centric landscape where urban, industrial, residential, commercial, recreational, and rural elements became interspersed in ways that were fundamentally different from the typical European city ideal. It became the main inspiration for Tom Sieverts famous concept of the ‘In-Between-City’ (Zwischenstadt). Dortmund planning scholars once coined the term ‘Ruhrbanity’ (Ruhrbanität) to capture its essence (Reicher et al. 2011:230). During the industrial decline of the late 20th century, the region was forced to reinvent itself again. The various cities branded themselves as a joint ‘Ruhr Metropolis’ (Metropole Ruhr) that celebrated its rusty and dusty past rather than deny it. New types of ‘landscape parks’ were created by turning abandoned industrial monuments and wastelands into new spaces for recreation and culture. Nature was allowed a comeback and ruderal ecologies began to be valued rather than ignored or sanitized. The linchpin megaproject at the heart of this momentous socio-ecological restructuring effort is/was the renaturalization of the Emscher – a river which had been turned into a channelized open sewage canal during the industrial era. This was considered a necessary sacrifice during the coal mining era because ongoing land sinkage made the creation of underground sewage system impossible - but once the mines closed, regional actors began to dream big. In the 30 years from 1992 to 2022, 5.5 billion Euros were spent to build a new underground sewage canal, along with several new pumping stations and wastewater treatment facilities. Today, the river is sewage-free along its entire length of 81km. Regional actors enthusiastically speak of the ‘rebirth of the Emscher Valley’ as a successful “green-blue infrastructural development” and they emphasize the importance of this “river of reconciliation” for the region’s reckoning with its exploitative and extractive past (Berger and Eickelkamp 2022). Given this context, this paper rethinks possible new meanings of the term “Ruhrbanity” at a time when urban-nature relationships are once again being rethought in the terms of degrowth, climate resilience and multi-species justice. My perspective is that of a Ruhr Valley native who doing a comparative study of the ecological restoration of the Emscher river in my original hometown of Dortmund and of the Ballona Creek near my current home in Los Angeles.


Author Biography

  • Deike Peters, Soka University of America

    Associate Professor of Environmental Planning and Practice

    Soka University of America


    Visiting Researcher

    Department of Urban Sociology

    TU Dortmund


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Berger and Eickelkamp. (2022). ‚Fluss der Versöhnung.‘ in Paetzel, U., Nellen, D and Siedentop, S, (ed.). Emscher 20 I 21+ Die Neue Emscher Kommt. Jovis.

Laser, S., Sørensen, E. (2021): Re-Imagining River Restoration. Temporalities, Landscapes and Values of the Emscher Set in a Post-Mining Environment. In: Berliner Blätter 84, 21–34.

Reicher, C., Kunzmann, K.R., Polívka, J., Roost, F., Utku, Y. and Wegener, M., 2011. Schichten einer Region. Jovis.