Status quo analysis St. Pölten – findings from KulturFORUM#1

More than 200 citizens from St. Pölten and its environs discussed the future of their city at KulturFORUM #1 on 4 April 2018. The event was held in the former Löwa department store on Neugebäudeplatz under the motto “Let’s make St. Pölten the European Capital of Culture 2024”. The aim was to identify St. Pölten’s profile, unique strengths, talents and gifts, but also its deficits and weaknesses, and to reinforce its regional identity. Findings from the discussions flowed into a status quo analysis, which in turn forms the basis for developing specific work areas for the “St. Pölten 2030” cultural strategy, as well as a vision and strategy for St. Pölten’s application to be the European Capital of Culture in 2024.

All participants were discussing the status-quo of St. Pölten at six topic tables.

 The premises of the former Löwa department store on Neugebäudeplatz (which has now been vacant for more than ten years) were deliberately chosen as a working and operational venue for the first of a total of three KulturFORUM events held during the bidding process for the European Capital of Culture 2024. It is an exceptional location for an event like this, adapted for our purposes with great effort on the part of those responsible. One of the factors in our decision was our desire to use and temporarily activate specific locations that have the potential to help develop St. Pölten.

Guests were welcomed by Matthias Stadler, Mayor of St. Pölten, and Hermann Dikowitsch, head of the Department of Arts and Culture of the Province of Lower Austria. The discussion emphasised the great potential and our determination in pursuing the goal of winning over the jury in late 2019 to pick St. Pölten as European Capital of Culture 2024. The partnership between the city and province is an ideal basis and opens up new possibilities. In introductory lectures, Michael Duscher, managing director of the “St. Pölten 2024” application office, and Prof. Rudolf Scheuvens of Raumposition, an urban planning firm, explained the challenges of the application procedure and our strategy for jointly developing basic concepts for the application.

 KulturFORUM#1-1 © C. Fürthner

The citizens subsequently started with an open brain-storming session along these lines. The current situation of St. Pölten and possible future scenarios were discussed at six topic tables moderated jointly with the civil society platform KulturhauptSTART on the basis of three questions. Starting with the questions “Where are we coming from? Where do we stand?”, the discussion focussed on the assessment of the current situation for the application process. The next session explored the question “Where do we want to go?”, which involved identifying future topics in the context of a sustainable cultural strategy for St. Pölten 2030, a prerequisite for a European Capital of Culture 2024 application.

The following contains an overview of what was discussed at the KulturFORUM #1 tables:

1. Space & Location

Every city district has its own identity

  • St. Pölten has a naturally grown structure. There are 11 city districts with 42 cadastral communities.
  • Each city district has its own identity (“the Wagramers”, “the Radlbergers”, etc.), making it difficult to pinpoint a shared identity.View the variety of identities as a strength and look for what connects them. Perhaps we could also form “Capital of Culture Villages” within the “Capital of Culture” – i.e. find something special in each part of the city and link all city districts to one another. 

St. Pölten is provincial and not a regional capital

  • Provinciality has negative and positive connotations. What does “provincial” actually mean?
  • Provincial capital St. Pölten: does it have a place in people’s hearts and minds?

St. Pölten is a functional stopover, not a city where people want to live

  • St. Pölten is a commuter city for the surrounding population, but also for people living in Vienna.
  • St. Pölten is a school and university town for young people and students, though the city has yet to reflect this in any visible way.
  • St. Pölten is where people from the region run their everyday errands, see the doctor or buy locally grown vegetables at the market.
  • St. Pölten is therefore more of a functional stopover than a city where people can see themselves living. People use the city, then leave. This makes it more of a transit space. 

St. Pölten isn’t beautiful

  • Inhabitants see the city as “nothing special” and are not conscious of the fact that they live in a beautiful, baroque city. But perhaps St. Pölten is the “happy medium”?
  • The outward effect and image are still rather negative, though exact reasons (such as the earlier stench of the Glanzstoff factory) are unknown.

Public transport: surrounding regions disadvantaged, priority to Vienna

  • Disadvantage to the surrounding region and prioritising of Vienna through the expansion of the public transport network (Westbahn line).
  • This results in a shift of spatial and temporal dimensions. While the periphery, the region, is closer to St. Pölten in terms of distance, it has moved further away in the temporal dimension. In short: Vienna is farther away geographically but is perceived as closer than surrounding towns because it can be reached in a shorter time on the Westbahn line. After a certain time in the evening, peripheral areas can no longer be reached at all. There is no train to Vienna between midnight and 5:00 am.

Roads entering the city are not inviting

  • They have a great influence on how the city is perceived from the outside and should be made more attractive.

Build networks

  • Cultural axis Krems–St. Pölten: tap networks.
  • Maintain and expand existing town partnerships.

Lack of Infrastructure for leisure time

  • Create connections and paths for leisure activities in St. Pölten and tie them to the region.
  • Create infrastructure for new target groups (of tourists), e.g. for equestrians, cyclists. 

St. Pölten has yet to become a tourist destination

  • The range of tourist attractions has yet to be developed and the city’s tourist marketing shows a lack of confidence, referring visitors to other places instead.
  • Besides the application, St. Pölten is marketed as a city of meetings, congresses, seminars and team events as well as a starting point for excursions to other spots.
  • The pub and restaurant scenes are described as a gastronomic wasteland. There is no culture of “going out” after a cultural event, for example. 

2. Places of Culture & Soul

Above-average cultural offerings for a mid-sized city

  • There are numerous associations, cultural institutions and initiatives, but they have little to do with one another.
  • A pro-active cultural mediation strategy is needed.
  • Need to encourage communication, cooperation and coordination of cultural initiatives.
  • The independent scene has the potential to help shape St. Pölten and should be involved more intensively.

St. Pölten is still not a city of culture

  • The population of St. Pölten and the region is not (sufficiently) informed about cultural offerings (or does not seek out information about them). Krems is more strongly identified as a cultural city, though St. Pölten is said to have “caught up” in this respect.
  • Krems has always been the tourist-minded cultural city; St. Pölten is thought to be a workers’ city.

Activate abandoned property

  • The city has several vacant spaces. These could be activated through good vacancy management. Artists and associations could use these spaces temporarily and boost their visibility. This could be a stimulus for further development of these spaces.

The cultural district is separated from the city centre

  • The cultural district is not very lively and cannot be experienced as such.
  • Accessibility needs to be improved, especially for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The “Klangturm” (tower of sounds), a landmark of the city, has fallen silent.

St. Pölten is a multicultural city

  • St. Pölten is home to people from over 100 nations and of all world religions. And yet the city centre reflects almost nothing of this cultural diversity. Where does cultural diversity happen?
  • There is hardly any awareness of the many people with migration/refugee experience in St. Pölten; little work is done with these groups (and the work that happens is usually not visible).
  • This cultural potential should be shown and used. Cross-cultural encounters should be promoted over the long term in a sustainable way.

3. Cityscape & the City as a Stage

KulturFORUM#1-4 © C. Fürthner

Public space is insufficiently used

  • Create spaces for experience.
  • Though there are enough usable spaces in the city districts, there is a lack of accessibility and various concepts for activating them.
  • Make the Traisen river accessible.
  • Create consumption-free spaces and meet-up zones.

Roads fragment the cityscape

  • Mariazellerstrasse and the railway line form large dividing lines in St. Pölten, fragment the cityscape and are difficult to cross on foot or by bike.

No infrastructure for children and young people

  • Playgrounds are missing in the districts. Existing playgrounds are vacant as they are unattractive and poorly maintained.
  • There are hardly any spaces to be used by children or young people for cultural activities.

Improve cycle path network

  • Create safe cycle paths within the city and in surrounding villages (e.g. Waitzendorf).

Encourage coexistence of young and old (projects, housing, …)

  • Use “everyone knows everyone” as a potential.

Create a think tank for social problems

  • Brainstorm projects in advance to create change in the working world and society -> St. Pölten as a think tank and potential model for solutions to social problems in Europe.
  • This knowledge, gathered in the course of intensive discussions, forms a valuable basis for the further development of strategic cultural topics and areas of action. Look for these on pages 10 and 11 of this issue.

KulturFORUM#1-4 © C. Fürthner

18 May 2018

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