Small Towns / The ASSET Project /
First Working Session
The main topic of the meeting was to discuss the criteria that in a settlement hierarchy would determine a "small town”.
In the introduction to the workshop Arthur Spiegler (AS) stressed the point that almost every small town in Europe is a "historic small town”. New foundations (e.g. 150 years and less) must be sought and identified (named).
Also each small town shows to be an individuality on its own characteristic and full of specifics that could well be perceived by people.
The main task of the workshop was to discuss and identify what, in the view and to the experience of the participants would constitute a historic small town.
Another focus should be put on the question what makes the difference between small towns and villages (there are villages that are bigger than many some small towns!).
The workshops first step to be taken was a 10 minutes silent brainstorming resulting in personal lists of specifics brought to paper. In doing so tha participants were asked to find short and concise terms and not put down sentences or long explanations.
The second step was to read, one after the other the written terms and to dismiss double vot-ings. In the course of that the first – and expected – very valuable discussions among the par-ticipants took place (about meanings, similiarities and overlappings).
The third step was to put down the remaining terms to stickers (each term to a single sticker).
Meanwhile AS out of his experience from working with students put down on a flip chart 10 main items of characteristics of small (historic) towns in a vertical column. (This approach is similar to that of identifying landscapes with the ECOVAST-method). In the course of the workshop the 10 main terms expanded to 12 terms as there is no inherent necessity to stick to 10 or 12 or any distinct other number of main terms.
In step four the participants applied their stickers in line inn accordance to the main terms. This caused the second precious discussion in front of the flip chart.
Finally and as step number five the participants were handed 8 sticky dots and were asked to apply them to the terms they believed to be the most important ones. It is eight dots for ten lines and terms because every one should really give it a thorough thinking which item to decorate. The allocation is done to every ones personal judgement.
Thus a graduation of the criteria (characteristics and specifics) of small towns is achieved that can be used on every small town pointing out differences in their character and specifics.
This work results in a "weighted” (accentuated?) scheme, a sort of check-list of town characterisation as shown below (not in the form of a check-list or matrix). The first line in bold nominates the main term, the number in bracket tells the numbers of dots applied by the participants. The lines and enlisted items are those written on the stickers. They should not be lost to remember the thoughts delivered from the participants and to give hints of further considerations.
Includes: sense of physical identity (through buildings and structure of town); sustainable way of life; strong community awareness; human scale; strong cultural identity; recog-nised as a place by people from outside too; historic continuity and authenticity; lots of regional and local traditions – unique local stories; common memories: people belong and proud of their place: pleasant place to live citizens associations; specific quality of life.
Includes: lots of buildings, ensembles; variety of shops and (higher) jobs (even when regarding the general rural depopulation). Places to meet and communicate (taverns and coffee shops but also open space); heritage representing the traditional culture of the place (thus contributing to the "unique sense of place”; place meaning: town, landscape ("hinterland”), villages and region).
(Can "small town life” be the source of a new, a "rural urbanity"? AS).
Includes: hinterland means the surrounding area, the region; close to its landscape setting; cultural landscape, productive landscape; town can be experienced as a constituting part of the landscape (unit of town-landscape-villages); in contrary to the big cities the small towns do not create their own climate; productivity of landscape is connected to the town through local and regional goods sold in shops and on the (farmers) market. But also the local high floods from near vicinity can threaten small towns.
Includes: main square and main street; an identified "Central Place” as nucleus of the settlement; a centre of trade; centre of activity and public communication (where people meet); often used as (farmers) market place offering local and regional products for sale; often adorned with a historic and beautiful well.
(if combined with number 9 then 15 votes)
Includes: centre for learning: higher schools, adult education; centre for health care; often district hospital (especially if the town is the district capital); centre for other services; cultural centre (with events of regional, often interregional, national or even universal value); town theatre (sometimes even opera!); numbers of academic jobs (various doctors of medicine, as specialist, lawyers, various craftsmen (quite in contrast to the villages where farmers and farmer-related jobs prevail).
Includes: centre of business activity providing jobs for local and regional people (hinterland); this at least is the case relatively to the general rural de-pupolation and even if the town itself decreases in number of inhabitants.
Includes: evidence of both economic and civic and cultural history; sense of historic identity and authenticity; range of different vernacular styles, local and traditional building materials, range of housing styles ..... (attention: this can also occur in villages!); evidence of historical core; unbroken lines of historic facades at least around the central place and along its continuing side streets and multi-stored houses, sometimes imposing large houses (this is not the case in most villages with their smaller, one-storied and often scattered houses or built in a single line along the main road).
Includes: hub of transport routes, including public transport; car parks ???; centre for (touristic) information about the region (hinterland); Shopping centres at the rim of the town mostly as "ugly” suburbs often killing the shops in the town´s centre.
(it should be questioned whether point 8 and 9 are not parts of "central functions” thus enriching item 5!?!)
Includes: being a centre where local decision makers meet or are situated (with their jobs). Buildings for public or private meetings; buildings for cultural activities, recreation.
Includes: places and buildings of worship and religious activities.
Includes: walls, gates, fortresses
(highly contested criterium)
This list, no doubt, can be condensed further, generalised and summarised, may be to the original ten items (criteria).
List as you put it
Additional remarks: As important this criteria may be, we agreed that never a small town should or can be defined alone by the number of its inhabitants. This not only because in different regions of Europe there are different oppinions how big or small a "small town” should be but mainly because the other (10) criterias are at least as significant for small towns.
I add examples of names of towns of different size according to the list.
Remarks: Some/many small towns own a town theatre. Some/many middle sized town run an opera house. Big cities tend to build or already have a subway. How to handle agglomerations?