The master plan has failed. Based on a concept of the city as a sharply defined and well enclosed entity, with a strong preference for the plan view with a top-down approach, and preoccupied with the notion of a final state that the city is to achieve for it to be completed, the master plan has become a fragile Fata Morgana, unable to show a direction in the contemporary world and ever endangered by the multiple voices and actors impeding the city’s development. Today, as the future of cities is still decided by choosing zones on scaled maps, and as the destiny of an urban region is marked in colored patches on paper, corresponding to static use patterns, favoring the conventional, politely respecting existing street patterns, and slowly bringing the city to a grinding halt, the question arises whether fundamentally different approaches and tools should not be developed if the profession still wants to be taken seriously.
The region of MetroBasel is the region around the core city of Basel, including its suburbs, the urbanized agglomeration in the valleys to the south and the north, as well as more rural areas in its sphere of influence. It is perhaps in this metropolitan region of Basel that this failure becomes most apparent. The city and its thoroughly urbanized surrounding area of 800.000 inhabitants in total constitutes a hub of international acclaim, being one of the global leaders in the fields of art, the chemical industry, and the life sciences. On the other hand, for a region spanning across three countries, spread over nine cantons or administrative regions and consisting of more than 200 communities, each having their own regulations, planning guidelines, and, at times conflicting, development aims, any coordinated effort for a regional plan and concerted urban development seems futile and is quickly dissolved in an intricate web of administrative obstacles and organizational incompatibilities.
In spite of the geographical location and the international character of the region, urban master plans are still developed in a traditional fashion with little coordination between neighboring communities, triggering few, if any, cross-border visions of how the region should develop. While the planning department of the canton of Basel-City is currently working on formulating a new zoning plan – the first major revision of the city’s primary master plan in more than 30 years– ETH Studio Basel perceives this as an opportunity to develop an alternative proposal and to suggest a different methodology of how the city should develop in the future.