As has been my habit in the past weeks of semi-seclusion, I went running again in the park today. I am lucky enough to be living in a city, Berlin, where getting on a bicycle and going to the next park is not a luxury, but part of people’s everyday life. I was shocked to find out that in other cities where green in the city centre comes at a premium, such as Paris or my home city, Athens, the authorities decided to close down public gardens and parks, adding a further burden to people’s confinement. Now, I don’t pretend to know anything about public health, so it is not possible for me to judge the decision on such grounds. I do wonder, however, whether controlling the use of public spaces, making sure for example that people don’t gather in groups, wouldn’t have been a more sensible measure, in terms of both mental and physical health. Indeed, urban green in the 20th century was planned having people’s health in mind (s. blog posts about epidemics and the history of urban planning in the 19th and 20th century here for part 1 and here for part 2).
Berlin is in a very privileged position with about 41% of its total surface green (forests, urban green and agriculture) and water. The city has 2,500 designated green areas, comprehensive landscape and biodiversity plans, and a recently adopted “Charter for Urban Green” – all contributing to a high quality of life for the city’s residents. The protection, maintenance and further development of the urban green is responsibility of the twelve boroughs and the city-state administration (Senatsverwaltung für Umwelt, Verkehr und Klimaschutz or Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection).
This is the second and last part of the blog post on the epidemics behind urban planning, Part 1 examined the origins of urban planning in the 19th century, and how the fear of epidemics and the social unrest which would ensue from them, shaped cities in Western Europe and North America. You can read Part 1 following this link.
By the early twentieth century, housing conditions for people of the working classes had once again become appalling in most cities of the industrialized north. In 1902 the Dutch government decided to pass a housing act containing several provisions to address this crisis. Among others, city authorities were to develop building codes setting quality standards for construction, while cities with over 10,000 inhabitants were to develop an expansion plan indicating different housing zones. In terms of housing provision, the act gave municipalities the right to provide financial support to non-for-profit housing associations that worked in the field of public housing. Following the act, Amsterdam’s social-democratic government commissioned the architect Hendrik Berlage with the design for an expansion plan of Amsterdam’s South (Amsterdam Zuid) and provided subsidies to housing associations even into World War I, when private construction had come to a halt. The plan for Amsterdam Zuid is for a city where green permeates everything, the vast courtyards, the streets and squares. Housing and retail are largely separated and – underpinning the form – there is a political conviction that even lower classes deserve adequate, affordable housing and the role of the state is to provide it.
In 1862 in Berlin, the building
engineer James Hobrecht undertook the design of a ‘development plan for
Berlin’s surroundings,’ today known simply as the ‘Hobrecht Plan’. Hobrecht was
part of a broader Berlin movement, which, starting in the mid-nineteenth century
and following several epidemics of cholera, believed in the role of central planning
in sustaining and improving public health. Politicians such as medical doctor Rudolf
Virchow (1821–1902) considered contemporary sewerage, like that already seen in
parts of England, to be indispensable for the improvement of public health in
the capital. Whereas Hobrecht is mostly remembered for the 1862 Berlin
development plan, undoubtedly one of his major contributions is the
modernization of the sewerage system.
The ‘Hobrecht Plan’ provided the
outline for the development of a big part of Berlin and it is still visible
today in large areas of the inner city. It was the first complete street plan
for an expansion of the built-up area inside the municipal borders, with the
main goal to provide a street pattern for predominantly agricultural areas
around the existing city that were to be designated for construction, providing
housing for Berlin’s exploding population.
I have been researching Citizen Participation in urban development in Berlin, since 2016, when the new Berlin state government coalition signed a contract, introducing participation as one of its leading principles. When I started, I was trying to understand what the provisions of the contract were and how that could be conceptualized. Conceptualization is not just an intellectual exercise (although it is that, too): it implicitly or explicitly guides the way we think, talk and act – and also the way we design policy.
A discussion about citizen participation is nothing less than a discussion about democracy. Whatever we do, no matter how closely we try to focus and frame the issue, we come back to our basic understanding of democracy: What are the mechanisms through which citizens shape political decisions that concern them?
In the history of urban planning, we have seen regular paradigm shifts that often reflect broader societal developments as much as disciplinary trends and fashions. Few feuds in the discipline have reached the emblematic status that had the one between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs about the future of New York city in the 1960s: Moses, the powerful planner, on the one hand, who believed that only a destruction of the existing structures could lead to better city, and Jacobs, the journalist-turned-activist, on the other, who wanted to protect precisely what the first one sought to extinguish. Jacobs firmly believed that it was the lively streets of her beloved Greenwich Village, the mix of cultures and lifestyles and the animated grittiness of the public space that made cities worth living in.
Journal of Place Management and Development, Volume 11, Issue 2: Special Issue: “Participatory placemaking: concepts, methods and practice”. Editor: Ares Kalandides
Members of the IPM can download the articles for free here.
I recently had the opportunity to coordinate two workshops that included participation in urban development one in the town of Agios Nikolaos (Crete, Greece) and only a week later in the district of Wedding in Berlin, Germany. The details were indeed rather different, but the basic idea very much the same. In Crete the goal was to think about the town’s identity and to formulate some visions for its future. In Berlin it was about the future of the place: “What do we imagine our neighbourhood to be in 2020”. Both workshops were thoroughly enjoyable, as I always find working with people on the future of their places a very rewarding process. Continue reading “The problem with participation in urban development”→
This image, which appeared on TIP’s (Berlin city magazine) Facebook page on 29th July 2016, depicts a map of Berlin, where boroughs have been replaced by types of fast food. I find the map very funny, but also an interesting case to think about place-related connotations. Before I get into that, let me explain what is what (starting from the outer left and then moving clockwise). Spandau: “SPANDAU”; Reinickendorf: “Currywurst (West)”; Pankow: “Vegetarian Spring Roll”; Lichtenberg: “Nr 131”; Marzahn-Hellersdorf: “Pelmeni”; Treptow-Köpenick: “Currywurst (East)”; Neukölln: “Döner & Schawarma”; Tempelhof-Schöneberg: “Foccacia & Co”; Steglitz-Zehlendorf: “We don’t serve fast food”; Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf: “Crunchy rolls with Tête de moine from Butter Lindner”; Mitte: “Sushi & Sashimi”; Mitte: “Bio-Burger”. Continue reading “Places and figures of speech: metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche”→
Reading the multiple stories that have been praising Berlin with its youth culture and creative scene as the rising star among European cities, it is easy to forget how recent this development actually is. The 2015 Spielberg film “Bridge of Spies” reminds us of what Berlin was mostly about until the fall of the Wall in 1989: World War II (and the Nazis) and the Cold War (and the spies). These two images are still deeply woven into the city’s fabric, although today they’ve become a kind of spectacle for thrill-seeking tourists. (There is a third one, but I’ll come to that later). In this short article I’m offering a personal account of how this passage from one narrative – the dark one – to the other – the playful one – took place. Of course memories cannot always be trusted. Although I was in Berlin on and off since the mid 1980s and permanently since the fall of the Wall, I’m sure my mind has put order and continuity into a much more chaotic and heterogeneous development.