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paper presented at the conference Urban Temporalities, Paris 17.- 18.01.1997
Dietrich Henckel

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A Simple Model of Working Time as a Taktgeber

1Even the everyday talking on cities has time connotations. We speak of a metropolis, a harbour city, a commercial city, a university town, an industrial town and the like. All these descriptions indicate different urban rhythms. The most important taktgeber for the rhythm of cities are the primary functions. In effect the working times are the main taktgeber. A simple model of different working time arrangements shows this in a nutshell.

2To illustrate this, two modelcities, based on different patterns of working time, are confronted. Since they are very simplified they might seem somewhat mechanistic, but they help to shed some light on the impact of working hours on urban rhythms. Since in urban areas a wide range of different rhythms is intermingling the relevance of working time rhythms for cities if of greater significance than in rural areas.

3In Germany the 35-hours work week is widely diffused. For reasons of the simplicity of the model it is bases on a 36 hours work week. These 36 hours of individual working time can be distributed over the days of a week in two extreme ways : The working time of an individual worker can last 9 hours a day for four days a week or he or she might work for six hours a day for six days a week.

The 4x9 City

4The 4x9 model is already established in several enterprises or plants. For instance the BMW motorcar factory in Regensburg is working according to this model for several years. Along with the reduction of the individual working time to four days the production time is extended to six days. The result is a more intensive use of the invested capital. It means that every two posts in the factory are occupied by three workers. With some rotation of the working days every several weeks an individual worker has a coherent five day period off.

5This model, even in its two shift version, which has been established a couple of years ago, is very much in accordance with the wishes of the workers. Nearly all surveys show, that workers prefer the reduction of working time in whole extra days off instead of a daily reduction. Only working women with little children prefer a daily reduction of working time. The number of days of work and the structure of time off work are shown in Table 1 and Graphs 1 and 2 respectively.

6The wider diffusion of this model would change the rhythm of the cities quite substantially. Saturday would loose its function as part of the weekend. The weekly rhythm would become more diffuse, because at any day - except Sunday - a third of the workforce would be off work while the majority would work. Some of the more important impacts on urban life would be :

  • Peaks would be reduced, the use of the traffic infrastructure would become more linear, because less people would commute at the same time. Also other public or private infrastructure could be used more evenly. The problem might be that the linearization on a lower level could be only a short term effect, while in the longer run the capacities would create a new demand - as the experiences with the flexitime (Gleitzeit), which was introduced in many German plants during the seventies, demonstrate.

  • The common times of social groups - families, groups of friends, clubs etc. - would be reduced remarkably. Therefore the coordination costs would increase.

  • The tendency towards longer commuting distances would be enforced. A splitting of locations between weekend residences and residences for the working week would become more worthwhile.

  • The use of individual traffic modes, i.e. the car, would be enforced.

  • Urban sprawl would increase along with a high leisure time mobility and an intensive use of even remote recreation areas.

  • People would feel less bound to their cities, because they would spend less time there.

7To sum up : This is a model of acceleration, of high speed, and of linearization. In fact this rhythm is already beginning to diffuse, because it combines the demand of the majority of workers for a high number of days off and the tendency in industry to extend production times. In essence this model fuels the development towards an incessant, a round the clock round the week active society. It is a model of a high power city.

The 6x6 City

8In many respects the effects of the 6x6 model would be the contrary. This model has less real content than the 4x9 model, it runs counter to all recognizable trends. In effect, a city living according to a 6x6 rhythm would look quite differently.

9The number of the days off work and the structure of the leisure time is demonstrated in Table 1 and Graphs 1 and 2 respectively. It is obvious, that the daily leisure time would be the most important part of the overall leisure time while the blocks of two or more days of leisuretime would be of minor importance. The effects would in short be :

  • More daily commuting, because every worker would come to his or her work place every day.

  • Daily commuting makes it less worthwhile to live far away or to split locations ; therefore shorter commuting distances in the long run would be probable.

  • Since there are only few periods of several days of leisure time the amount of leisure time traffic would be reduced.

  • The rhythm of the work force would be quite similar. Therefore there would be more time in common among social groups, the coordination cost would be reduced.

  • With respect to urban development compact urban structures and use of public transport would be fostered.

  • Because of less possibilities to leave the city, the identification with the city or the quarter should be higher, simply because people are there.

10To sum up : This is a model of a less speedy, a more comfortable pace of urban rhythm. It seems plausible, that the higher proportion of commuting would be offset by the reduction of weekend and leisure traffic. It might be a less thrilling city, but it might be more humane and more sustainable.


11The brief description of the two models show, that they differ in quite a few respects :

  • the speed, the pace of the urban rhythm,

  • the use of ressources,

  • the amount of common times,

  • the identification with the city,

  • the local choice of residences,

  • the modal split in transport.

12As indicated above, the 4x9 model seems at present the more realistic one, it seems to represent the direction in which we move. But I think, a closer look at the respective impacts of the two models gives some insight, under what circumstances it might be possible or even necessary to think of alternatives to the main stream of time pattern development.

13In essence the two models describe two extreme timescapes (like landscapes). The 4x9 model represents - with respect to time - a high mountain area, whereas the 6x6 model represents more a hilly landscape. It is obvious that also with respect to time there are different tastes, that different timescapes should be provided for these tastes. But I have got the impression, that we are loosing differentiation - despite the fact that increasing flexibility is the most often used word in debates on changing time patterns - and that we are moving only in a direction of acceleration and a high mountain timescape.

Urban Time Policy

14To get somewhat more down to earth I want to give a rough overview of a project we are working on at The German Institute of Urban Affairs at the moment.

15The starting points of the research were :

  • Many cities get aware of increasing time problems, of problems of coordination of different schedules within the cities due to - among other things - increasing flexibility.

  • The reduction of the work week at Volkswagen to 28 hours raised the question what the effects on the city of Wolfsburg, which is dominates in nearly every respect by the Volkswagen enterprise might be.

  • The idea come up, that an urban time policy might be a necessary new field of local public activity.

  • The project deals with three major questions :

  • How does the local authority as one of the major employers in most cities handle working time arrangements, how do they care for incessant areas of public services ?

  • How does the local authority as a provider of public services cope with or reacts to changes in the working time and production time arrangements of the local private economy ?

  • Are there any forms of cooperation between local public authorities and the enterprises with respect to changes in working time arrangements and times of service provision by the local authorities ?

16To get more insight into these problems we do four case studies in differently structured cities in Germany. Since city rhythms are very complex and the complexity is increasing with city size, we decided to look in the first place at medium size cities. The case study cities are : Bonn (as the former capital), Karlsruhe (as a high-tech, science based city), Munster (as a service and administrative city) and Wolfsburg (as a city dominated by Europes biggest automobile factory).

17Since we are doing the field work at the moment, I want to give only some hints on preliminary results :

  • The working time arrangements in incessant public services (like the police) is not always in accordance with an efficient service provision. E.g. one city has equally staffed shifts (round the clock and round the week), neglecting the fact that the demand for police services differs heavily over time. With respect for efficiency and user friendlyness there could be done a lot.

  • Changing working time arrangements, especially increasing individual flexible arrangements and a vast number of different arrangement act in favour of individual transport. After the temporal restructuring of the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg there are over 100 different working time arrangements. One of the results is that the number of subscribers to public transport has been cut to half.

  • Cooperation between public authorities and private enterprises regarding the coordination of schedules of working and production hours of the private plants and the provision times of public services is practically inexistent.

  • The only recently changed (extended) opening hours of the retail trade show a remarkable influence on public services like public transport, police services, sweeper services and even on the opening hours of public libraries.

  • Changing time arrangements within private enterprises lead to an externalization of costs : One example is the duration of arrangements with suppliers of Volkwagen ; they get only orders for about four to five years, which means that they are not able to invest in own premises. As a result the city of Wolfsburg is preparing investments in unspecified factories.

  • These exemplary results already show, that temporal disruptions and rhythmical disorders are increasing and that there is lot that could be done on the local level to improve the situation with respect to :

  • efficiency and quality of public service provision,

  • coordination of schedules,

  • reduction of rhythmical inconsistencies.

18Paul Virilio put it once that the ministry of spatial planning will be followed by the ministry of time planning. Even if we do not go this far, we are convinced, that time policy on the local level is becoming ever more important, even if it is difficult to implement.

Research Perspectives

19Despite the fact, that ever more local authorities are dealing with time problems, an established urban time research is hardly existing. To get urban time policy grounded more soundly, the information base of “time and the cities” has to be extended. In this respect lot of questions have to be answered, a lot of problems have to be addressed.

20The following topics are some of the - in our view - more important examples :

  • What are the relevant time conflicts in the city ?

  • Who or which functions are “taktgeber” for urban rhythms, who is able to set the standards, who is able to externalize time costs, and who is bearing the costs ?

  • What are interdependencies between different “taktgeber” ? Which are dominant ones, which the recessive ones ?

  • Which functions have to be desynchronized, where is further flexibilization needed ?

  • Where on the other hand more synchronization, more coordination of rhythms is needed ?

  • Which temporalities, which “time philosophy” lies behind different taktgebers ?

  • Which conflicts in cities are essentially time conflicts ?

  • What are the conflicts between entrepreneurial time perspectives and social times ?

  • What are the social costs of time conflicts, the neglection of social times, of biorhythms ?

  • What does the pace of work mean for the pace of life and the pace of urban rhythms ?

  • Which time conflicts come down to gender conflicts, and what does this mean for an urban time policy ?

  • What are the ways and means of an urban time policy ?

  • What are the time characteristics of different cities (nationally, internationally) ? Or to put the question reversely to the title of the book by Kevin Lynch (“What time is this place ?”) : What place is this time ?

  • What kind of insights would a more holistic view of cities render, which integrates the predominant spatial description with temporal, auditive and olfactory aspects ?

  • To sum up : an urban time research has at least four main tasks :

  • Each discipline, which is dealing with urban problems, should consider the new insights a time perspective might render.

  • It has to address the - ever increasing- urban time conflicts, i.e. establish a genuine urban time perspective.

  • It has to develop a conceptualization of an urban time policy.

  • A new holistic view of the city - especially for comparative urban research - should be developed and integrate spatial, temporal, auditive, olfactory and other aspects.

Table 1: Days off

Source : own calculations.

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Dietrich Henckel, « Cityrhythms », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Dossiers, mis en ligne le 12 avril 1996, consulté le 19 février 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.284

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