in 2010, along a stretch of the Green Belt of Cologne, designed by urban planner Fritz Schumacher in the 1920s and 1930s, the City of Cologne and its sponsors installed the Waldlabor Köln (Forest Laboratory of Cologne) to test out new forms of urban forestry, greatly inspired by the landscape laboratory in Alnarp, Sweden.

The part that is the most operational, for the moment, is the ‘Energy Forest’, where energy production is part of the recreational landscape, and which is seen as a full-scale experiment. Fast growing species are pruned, cut and trimmed into temporary forest spaces, partly resulting in dynamic and dramatic designs. The Waldlabor has a rotation cycle of only two to five years and, as a result, changes tend to happen quickly. Sculpted landscapes and paths disappear with harvests. through cooperation with RWTH University of Aachen, researchers explore not only the spatial qualities, but also how to best communicate with the public regarding experimentation, process and outcomes.

The other parts of the Waldlabor develop over a longer time span. The People’s Forest aims to introduce experimental compositions to create new experiences in an urban forest open to everyone. Specific seasonal qualities and development stages will be under scrutiny, and the attention of the public will be drawn to experiencing aesthetic aspects such as blossom, fall foliage and leaf shapes. The trees have been sponsored individually by local citizens. The Climate Change Forest allows the study of species resistant to drought. In the face of global warming and the expectation of drought conditions, the Waldlabor mimics Cologne’s urban setting to allow for the evaluation of site-specific species for future use.

The Wilderness Forest is a ‘control group’: What would a forest at this spot become without human influence? Here, one can learn how unstaffed and unmaintained urban forests develop. This area has been left to find its own destiny, with nothing having been added and nothing taken out. This process will show the effects of absentee management, but also highlight the qualities of wilderness.

More information: Factsheet Waldlabor Cologne

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