11.–12.06.2025 #polismobility

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Visions for ecological neighborhood blocks in Berlin

TRAFFIC TURNAROUND FROM BELOW

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The Changing Cities association has big plans for the German capital. With #KIEZBLOCKS, it has launched an initiative that is committed to traffic calming. Through civic engagement and political will, the long-term aim is to institutionalize revolutionary urban planning that puts people's needs first again.

Rendering einer Bergmannstraße ohne Autos, dafür mit Radweg, Fußgängerweg, Grünflächen und Wasser. Spielende Kinder, Radfahrende und Fußgänger

Two new neighbourhood blocks per district per year, two municipal employees per district, the creation of guidelines for the construction of traffic-calmed areas and the recognition of the concept as a target image for sustainable urban development: the demands of the #KIEZBLOCKS initiative, prominently placed on the website, leave no questions unanswered about its stance. The name already gives an indication that the vision is based on the idea of superblocks, which has kept the political landscape of the Catalan capital Barcelona on its toes for many years. In very simplified terms, this is a concept of traffic calming in urban spaces; the neighborhood - the Kiez - is to be given back to its residents by closing off thoroughfares, reducing streets, creating green spaces and providing recreational opportunities.

The cover of this issue illustrates what this could look like. The visualization of a future scenario of Berlin's Bergmannstraße by architect Po-Chun Hsieh shows relaxed bicycle traffic, strolling pedestrians, children playing, lively outdoor restaurants, healthy vegetation - and not a single car. What seems like a fantasy when looking at the current shape of major German cities is not so far removed from reality: the first phase of citizen participation for the “Bergmannstraße meeting zone” pilot project began back in 2015, and four years later the findings gathered in the meantime were put into practice for one day as part of a real-life laboratory. At the end of 2019, the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district council passed a resolution to develop a model project for traffic calming in the Bergmannkiez district. Mr. Hsieh will tell us more about this in the next section.

The idea is spreading far and wide in the capital

In fact, Bergmannstrasse is not an isolated case in Berlin: according to the initiative's website, seventy neighborhood blocks have either already been partially implemented, politically decided or at least explicitly demanded by activists. These are mainly concentrated in the popular residential areas of Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg. In Neukölln's Schillerkiez district, for example, the traffic calming measures planned by #KIEZBLOCKS have been able to pass through the political and administrative mill and are about to be implemented. Here, too, the cooperation between planning offices, civil society, the district office and local politicians led to success: a catalog of measures was jointly developed that translates the results of comprehensive participation processes into concrete solutions.

In general, the participation of neighborhood residents throughout the entire process is of enormous importance, especially in view of the loud voices of opposition that transport projects have always generated. For this reason, the #KIEZBLOCKS initiative's website features a fact check that collects, takes seriously, discusses - and ultimately refutes - common counter-arguments. Because as justified as the fears of the population about the loss of parking facilities and an increase in traffic on the surrounding main roads are, they are not tenable when viewed holistically.

Avoid the mistakes of the role model

Barcelona has been showing for years that Kiez superblocks can work. However, the Catalan metropolis is also exemplary for a partially inadequate type of mediation, so that the (mainly political) resistance did not fall silent even when the positive effects of traffic calming had long been proven. The future of the superblocks is now uncertain, partly due to a complaint from the conservative camp. The accusation is that the town hall did not communicate its plans adequately.

If capital mistakes like these are avoided, the capital can overtake its role model. In any case, the formulated goal is ambitious: 180 Kiezblocks are to be established in the coming years. If Berlin stays on course until then, it may well succeed.