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A conversation about sustainable and urban quality of life.

Urban design architect Po-Chun Hsieh on Berlins new transportation vision

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The #KIEZBLOCKS initiative is committed to traffic-calmed and sustainable urban planning in Berlin. Through the cooperation of citizens, politicians and planners, the neighborhoods should become livable again.

In an exclusive interview, we talk to architect Po-Chun Hsieh, the creative mind behind the redesign of Bergmannstrasse and project manager at GEWERS PUDEWILL. Find out how traffic calming and citizen participation are set to create a new urban quality of life. Po-Chun Hsieh shares his experiences, challenges and visions for Berlin's future and shows how the capital can be made more sustainable and liveable.

More information about the Berlin KIEZBLOCKS? - Click here for our article

Sample view of a neighborhood block

┬ę Po-Chun Hsieh

Mr. Hsieh, what motivated you to redesign Bergmannstrasse as an ecological pedestrian zone?

The Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district office has launched the Bergmannstra├če project to strengthen the "Kiezblock" concept. The concept aims to reduce through traffic in individual neighborhoods and make the street space accessible as green and recreational areas for residents. Interestingly, there are very few pedestrian zones in Berlin, even though people greatly appreciate outdoor activities. The existing squares, such as Alexanderplatz, are completely paved and hardly offer visitors any added value that invites them to linger and enjoy.

Bergmannstra├če is the heart of the Bergmannkiez in Kreuzberg. It offers the residents of the neighborhood a variety of grocery stores, drugstores and the popular Marheineke market hall. At the same time, it attracts many visitors with its numerous specialized stores and a wide selection of restaurants. For this reason, we want to further develop the concept of a pedestrian zone and offer users a new, park-like experience. Our aim is to create a street where shopping and eating is not just about efficiency, but also about relaxation and the feeling of being part of nature in the middle of the city. Bergmannstrasse should be a pedestrian-friendly street that both meets the needs of the neighborhood and enhances the charm for visitors.

Please tell us more about the central elements and features of your design for Bergmannstrasse. What makes it an attractive and sustainable public space?

The design is based on ideas that were previously developed in several public workshops and further developed by the street and green space department. The focus is on three main elements: green, unsealed areas that meander through the street with gentle elevations and are the main feature of the design. The road surface is designed to be permeable and extends the greenery to the sidewalk. On the one hand, this green band frames the pedestrian zone and forms a gentle barrier to the adjacent cycle path. On the other hand, it drains rainwater and provides a home for insects.

The green ribbon is accompanied by water channels. This is the second element. The channels use the natural gradient of the different sections, which means that the water flows faster in Schenkendorfstra├če and slower in Bergmannstra├če. This creates a kind of water playground and the fountains at the beginning and the pools at the end can serve as meeting points. This also contributes to the climate-resilient design of the city, as evaporative cooling in public spaces is becoming increasingly important in a heated city.

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Bicycle lanes are another key element. In order to create a lively neighborhood without car traffic, the bicycle is the essential means of transport. By staggering the cycle lanes laterally, a safe cycle lane can be created on the one hand and a large area for greenery and outdoor catering on the other. The bicycle lanes are also connected to the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district's bicycle road network.

What challenges did you identify when developing your concept for Bergmannstrasse, particularly with regard to the integration of pedestrians, cyclists and other road users?

The biggest challenge was to create enough space for delivery traffic without changing the width of the sidewalks. Even if vehicle traffic is restricted to the morning and evening hours in future, this requires a stable, predominantly paved surface. However, this restricts the width of the unsealed areas.

How have you incorporated the needs and concerns of the local community and other stakeholders into your design - particularly in relation to the creation of green spaces, safe play areas for children and social meeting places?

That is the crucial question. The planning of Bergmannstrasse actually works like a network plan. As mentioned at the beginning, the project is not just about creating a single active street. It is a gateway to the neighborhood and at the same time its - future greener - center.

Bergmannstrasse is the first level, heavily frequented by stores and bicycles: this is where people meet, surrounded by greenery, to eat and shop. The side streets such as Schenkendorfstra├če and Solmsstra├če form the second level of traffic. Bicycles ride less frequently and more slowly here. Children can play carefree in these areas without having to be supervised. The third level is formed by the streets that lead into the actual parks and existing playgrounds, such as Marheinekeplatz and Chamissoplatz.

How would an ecological pedestrian zone in Bergmannstra├če affect neighborhood residents, the real estate industry and the environment? What advantages and long-term consequences do you see?

To achieve this, it is important to understand that the Bergmannstrasse project is part of a concept for a neighborhood relieved of through traffic. Together with an ecological pedestrian zone, this new planning increases the green space and creates an uninterrupted green space in the center of the neighborhood. The streets will be transformed from a car-centered design into a pedestrian-friendly, safe and pleasant living environment. As extreme climates become the norm, a greener and more water-permeable streetscape is essential for cities.

Where does your concept reach its limits in reality?

The Bergmannstrasse project is still in an interim phase. The district office has already started to implement the traffic control concept by limiting through traffic with temporary signs and planters. However, without an integrated redesign, the new system is still being ignored. A lot of money is needed for a permanent transformation, but not all of it is currently available. The actual redesign of Bergmannstrasse could be years away. That is why it is important to implement at least parts of the concept - even with provisional means.

How did citizens react to your concept as part of the public participation process? Was there praise or criticism?

Representatives of local businesses fear that a car-free street could attract fewer customers. However, this concern is unfounded, as experience from other traffic calming concepts shows. Moreover, most visitors to Bergmannstrasse do not come by car anyway. Caf├ęs and stores that offer a view of an open green space and a playground have a special charm and will certainly attract more potential visitors in the long term. It is important to communicate these arguments and objectively dispel people's concerns. So there is still some convincing to be done here.

Thank you very much for the exciting insights into the project!

In conversation were Janina Zogass (polisMOBILTIY) and Po-Chun Hsieh, Project Manager GEWERS PUDEWILL. You can find more information about Berlin KIEZBLOCKS in our article

About the architect Po-Chun Hsieh

Po-Chun Hsieh lives and works as an architect in Berlin. He was born in Taipei, Taiwan; after graduating from Harvard University, he has worked in New York and Taipei for the past 17 years and finally settled in Berlin.from skyscrapers to small social housing, the experience he has gained on the three culturally different continents has given him the opportunity to explore the creativity of architecture at very different scales. His motto: architecture is fun when it can help users realize a dream.

Authors

Janina Zogass (polisMOBILITY) & Po-Chun Hsieh (Architekt, GEWERS PUDEWILL)

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