Umweltgerechtigkeitskarte, environmental justice map,

Showing where several negative factors bear consequences

Livable cities 

To design a sustainable urban environment, it is important to broaden the scope and consider more possibilities regarding how to improve the quality of life for city dwellers in general. An important indicator where climate adaptation measures are concerned is in regards to the environmental justice map „Umweltgerechtigkeitskarte“. Millions of data points were collated to create this detailed map. The map illustrates not only average temperatures recorded at noon and at night in Berlin but also how within neighbourhoods many negative factors bear consequences such as heat, air pollution, noise pollution, fewer access to green areas and a low social status index. (fig. SenStadtUm 2015) 

This is an especially valuable insight as cooling green spaces is particularly important where the city is dense and the inhabitants are less able to escape the heat. This sits in comparison to wealthier urban dwellers and conjures financial and social disparities as for example, swimming pool prices rise or spending holidays and making trips outside the city demands resources. Awareness of personal health also plays a key role. Several areas in Wedding, as well as Donaustraße in Neukölln or Karl Marx Allee can be regarded as such formerly described neighbourhoods, where four or five low-rated quashing factors come together. However, nearly every other neighbourhood is at risk too, with at least two or three negative factors rated as poor or extremely poor. When examining the different factors, one can get a clearer picture of how they relate to one another. Bad air quality and noise pollution are mainly caused by car traffic yet cars and motor vehicle infrastructure takes up a vast amount of public space and is the major need for sealed surfaces in cities. All of Berlin‘s parked cars combined cover an area as big as Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, while streets make up to 22% of the Berlins surface area (Opitz 2018).

Forms of protest like “Parking Day” or “Critical Mass”, taking place all over the city, push the idea of an alternate purpose if these public spaces were not occupied by vehicles. For “Parking Day” the activists made gardens, miniature golf courses, yoga sessions, pop up beaches, community dinners and so forth. The movement intended to show a glimpse of how a city without cars could look like. Berlin has already taken steps to become more bicycle-friendly from June 2018, through the new mobility law “Mobilitätsgesetz”. This was a result of the people‘s vote “Fahrrad-Volksentscheid” for a bicycle-friendly city. The mobility law shifts the focus to public transportation, bicycle infrastructure and pedestrians, as it aims for a speed limit of 30km/h on main roads for motorized traffic. In addition, due to the excessively high nitrogen dioxide levels in some areas, a ban on driving pollutant-rich diesel vehicles was introduced recently on at least eight roads in the centre of Berlin.

Critical mass movement in Berlin, summer 2018

The bicycle infrastructure is ideally supposed to catch up with Copenhagen’s level of traffic share for bicycles by 2030 (SenUVK 2018). But the implementation is in the hands of the authority of each district, thus the progress is slow and critics say that the mobility law is not reaching far enough to meet the global sustainability goals. In Kreuzberg a group of activists named “Autofreier Wrangelkiez” (eng: Kiez = quarter) came up with a vision for a car-free Wrangelkiez. It’s planned that within this neighbourhood, goods are delivered by carrier bicycle, the cycle paths are wider and benches and gardens replace the existing parking lots. For senior citizens bicycle taxis guarantee equal freedom of movement. As a concomitant a feasibility study was commissioned by the district government (Stangenberg et al. 2018). Other cities like Madrid, Oslo and Seoul are role models and give hope for future developments. In Madrid‘s old town, only cars from residents are permitted, while in Oslo by the beginning of this year parking spaces will be closed down and by 2022 no private cars will be permitted in the centre anymore. This will be compensated by additional bike paths. In Seoul a riverbed, previously sealed beneath a highway, was dug out and restored to a now famous river promenade. In an interview by Zitty magazine with Andreas Knie, sociologist and a professor researching mobility at TU Berlin, he states that due to the current rapid growth of Berlin there is less potential for environmentally friendly mobility than 50 years ago (Opitz 2018). 

The bicycle infrastructure is ideally supposed to catch up with Copenhagen’s level of traffic share for bicycles by 2030 (SenUVK 2018). But the implementation is in the hands of the authority of each district, thus the progress is slow and critics say that the mobility law is not reaching far enough to meet the global sustainability goals. In Kreuzberg a group of activists named “Autofreier Wrangelkiez” (eng: Kiez = quarter) came up with a vision for a car-free Wrangelkiez. It’s planned that within this neighbourhood, goods are delivered by carrier bicycle, the cycle paths are wider and benches and gardens replace the existing parking lots. For senior citizens bicycle taxis guarantee equal freedom of movement. As a concomitant a feasibility study was commissioned by the district government (Stangenberg et al. 2018). Other cities like Madrid, Oslo and Seoul are role models and give hope for future developments. In Madrid‘s old town, only cars from residents are permitted, while in Oslo by the beginning of this year parking spaces will be closed down and by 2022 no private cars will be permitted in the centre anymore.

Park(ing) Day, Sendlingerstraße, green city project

The bicycle infrastructure is ideally supposed to catch up with Copenhagen’s level of traffic share for bicycles by 2030 (SenUVK 2018). But the implementation is in the hands of the authority of each district, thus the progress is slow and critics say that the mobility law is not reaching far enough to meet the global sustainability goals. In Kreuzberg a group of activists named “Autofreier Wrangelkiez” (eng: Kiez = quarter) came up with a vision for a car-free Wrangelkiez. It’s planned that within this neighbourhood, goods are delivered by carrier bicycle, the cycle paths are wider and benches and gardens replace the existing parking lots. For senior citizens bicycle taxis guarantee equal freedom of movement. As a concomitant a feasibility study was commissioned by the district government (Stangenberg et al. 2018). Other cities like Madrid, Oslo and Seoul are role models and give hope for future developments. In Madrid‘s old town, only cars from residents are permitted, while in Oslo by the beginning of this year parking spaces will be closed down and by 2022 no private cars will be permitted in the centre anymore. This will be compensated by additional bike paths. In Seoul a riverbed, previously sealed beneath a highway, was dug out and restored to a now famous river promenade. In an interview by Zitty magazine with Andreas Knie, sociologist and a professor researching mobility at TU Berlin, he states that due to the current rapid growth of Berlin there is less potential for environmentally friendly mobility than 50 years ago (Opitz 2018). 

Examining Kottbusser Damm, he questions the possibility of implementing a bicycle path, as the parking spaces would have to be removed to gain enough space. But Knie is certain that the civilian population is open to the subject. No cars in a city would mean no engines, no horns, cleaner air and silence at night. Less asphalt would result in more evaporation, a cooler city and more space for people and greenery. For now, this is only a vision and cars are not being banned yet, however in a pilot project in Bergmannstraße cars are given less space and less rights by means of a designated “meeting zone” for the neighbourhood, as parking lots are used for greenery, bicycle racks and benches. The street has been narrowed and vehicles must keep to 20km/h. But while inner city Berlin tries to take action realizing visions for future mobility, the extension of the motorway A100 is being built alongside the S-Bahn ring, accompanied by ongoing public protests against the project (Opitz 2018). 

This downton space in Seoul was once a looming, congested and elevated freeway. 

photo: Kyle Nishioka

Again it is worth noting that areas which are prone to air pollution and noise also battle with heat, low access to green recreational areas and low social status. Inhabitants affected by all of these factors have an increased health risk during heat waves as despite Berlin’s free of charge swimming lakes, these are all on the outskirts of the city and for some difficult to get to due to limited financial, organizational or time-dependent resources. The project Flussbad Berlin aims to tackle this with the vision of a river bath in the middle of the city. Jan and Tim Edler came up with the idea already 20 years ago, but only recently did they gain the political support from the Berlin government. Katrin Lombscher, the current urban development senator, publicly stated that the leading coalition is committed to providing assistance to initiatives that aim to make swimming in the rivers possible (Lompscher 2018). The Flussbad’s effort is to clean the water from the mixed sewer overflows with a 400m long natural filter in an unused channel at the Museumsinsel. The filter follows an 800m canal designed for swimming. In the Flussbad’s third year book Dr.Silvia Metz, a member of the Flussbad association, describes the health benefits of swimming and states that “open and freely accessible areas for sport and recreation within the city are not a luxury but a needed investment for a healthy community” (translated by author: Metz 2018: 23-24) Everyone should have the possibility to engage in outdoor activities, sport and recreation, no matter who they are and what their social status is.

To work toward this the UN is considering incorporating the right to a healthy environment in the charter of human rights (CSR news 2017), while the World Health Organization supports urban development plans that enhance health and mitigate the danger of disease with their „Urban health initiative”. The WHO does not only consider the influence of urbanisation on our physical health but states, that „green spaces also are important to mental health. Having access to green spaces can reduce health inequalities, improve well-being and aid in the treatment of mental illness. Some analysis suggests that physical activity in a natural environment can help remedy mild depression and reduce physiological stress indicators“ (World Health Organization 2019). 

Yearly Flussbad Pokal summer 2016 © Anette Hauschild

The connection between mental and physical health and urban life is all the more important considering ongoing urbanization, densification and the loss of open spaces. The rapidly rising rents are pushing the growth of gentrification and hence a further segregation of the society. Consequently not only the individual suffers, but according to Priv.-Doz Dr. Mazda Adli, psychiatrist and leader of the research field of affective disorders at Charité Berlin, segregation nurtures social isolation, which increases social stress for the whole society. In his interdisciplinary forum “Neurourbanistic” they follow a social stress hypothesis, which means that stress in cities, that effects our health, is a sum of social density and social isolation, especially when is becomes routine. Public spaces occupy a singular role and when designed and governed in the right way they can prevent isolation and enhance social diversification, as they allow various social classes to come into contact with each other. Attractive public spaces can work as a social glue and heighten the social capital of a city (Adli 2018: 59).

Vision of the Flussbad Berlin, 

Jan and Tim Elder, Realities:united

Paulina Grebenstein 2019 

grebenstein@urbanedenlab.com 

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