Drawing the Line for urban Gentrification

Interview with Sigrid Meyer

"There is a development concept for Steinstraße, but no potential developers. You have to be in for the long haul."
Sigrid Meyer, Managing Director of Schönebecker Wohnungsbaugesellschaft mbH


By participating in IBA under the motto “Seventeen Hundred and Seventy-Four”, Schönebeck has made a decision for traditional construction projects with regard to the urban structure, but also in individual undertakings. The municipal housing company is bound to play a leading role there.

Sigrid Meyer: Great expectations were generated with the decision in 2008 to participate in IBA. And they simply cannot be fulfilled by 2010. Although thought processes were prompted, it will still take five years before there are any visible results. But we at SWB believe we are a driving force. However, our primary goal is to provide for affordable housing and to make sure that the company remains commercially healthy. And that is no easy matter with tenants of whom almost a third are dependent on state benefits.

But that does not mean you cannot get the show on the road with individual projects …

Sigrid Meyer: That is precisely what we are doing. We purchased the old department store property on the marketplace in 2009 and will, by 2011, have constructed a residential building there with shops on the ground floor. We are investing 3.7 million euro in this – our hands are tied economically for any more. But it is an important location; and once the bypass road is finished, there will bound to be a lot more happening around the marketplace in the Old Town.

The citizens’ initiative “Save the Old Town” believes that SWB is not doing enough in the Old Town between the rail tracks and the Elbe. The houses there are in a very poor state …

Sigrid Meyer: We do not own the majority of the houses. We have 31 buildings in the Old Town, 18 of which have been renovated or partially renovated. These and others are or were restitution objects. That means that we managed them, but could not simply avail ourselves of them, as owners had registered their claims. Thankfully, most of the cases were over by 2008, and the buildings have been transferred back to their previous owners. As regards our current involvement in the Old Town: in December 2009, we handed over the restored Thimann Home.

What is behind that?

Sigrid Meyer: Investing 1.7 million euro, SWB created a residential complex with specially designed apartments for senior citizens with sheltered housing in the historical buildings of the Thimann Home in Thimannstraße, right in Schönebeck Old Town. With this also, I think we have drawn a line for urban gentrification in the Old Town. The 21 apartments are much in demand among the more senior residents of the Old Town.

And you also invested in the housing estates on the periphery …

Sigrid Meyer: We invested wherever our tenants live and quite rightly expect a modern standard of living. Of our 198 buildings with 4,280 apartments, roughly 60 percent were constructed in prefab industrial block style. We have 26 buildings in Bad Salzelmen, of which 22 are fully, and 2 partially renovated. Faced with 3,500 vacant apartments in Schönebeck, investments need to be given very careful consideration.

Faced with this complex situations, what expectations and hopes do you bring to the IBA process?

Sigrid Meyer: We want to change the cityscape. In this, other points of view and suggestions can be very helpful. We have to get used to the fact that housing will to a great extend be characterised by demographic changes and that we have to plan the city for older residents, although they are still very active. IBA gives us ideas. Ideas such as going back to the colonial roads or the Plot Park for vacant lots on Steinstraße?

What can SWB absorb from this?

Sigrid Meyer: Not much along the colonial roads; in all of them together, we only own 12 houses that have all been fully or partially modernised, apart from two. The ownership situation also defines the limits in the Plot Park on Steinstraße. Our properties are available to the Plot Park. There is a development concept for Steinstraße, but no potential developers at the moment. You have to be in for the long haul.”

Info: Schönebeck (Elbe)

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 46.589
2009: 34.504
2025: 26.419 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 85,77 qkm