'Urban green space' Category

Former Berlin planning commissioner sees “a new low for city planning in Berlin” as city turns national meeting point over to car traffic

After 26 years of hemming and hawing, the city of Berlin recently decided for good that the central focal point of the federal government district, where a “citizens’ forum” was supposed to be built, will remain a street with car traffic and an empty span of concrete and lawn on either side. The original plans from the time of Germany’s reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall called for public spaces and buildings where citizens and government would interact, the governed and the governors, a democracy lab. This is a “new low for city planning in Berlin”, said a former Berlin Planning Commissioner in an interview. Innumerable media reports – I was unable to find even one in support of abandoning the forum – talk about betrayal of the people and abdication of responsibility. I will argue that the decision has the hallmarks of being fuel for hard-right racist populism.

The outlined square is the Berlin city council's idea of a cheerful and internationally-recognized icon of German democracy

The outlined square is the Berlin city council’s idea of a cheerful and internationally-recognized icon of German democracy

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In Indianpolis, inspired public art once connected the public to their overlooked waterways. Then they turned the art museum into an Instagram playground.

The Indianapolis Art Museum once had a fine reputation for challenging and praiseworthy exhibits. Last year they threw it overboard in favor of marketing gimmicks, yoga, craft beer, and the “greatest travesty in the art world in 2017”.

 

FLOW 19L

 

Two of the most compelling and pioneering works of site-specific environmental art of recent decades – as much community engagement as art per se – took place in Indianapolis in the mid 2010s. Although they were the work of one of the most important living creators of public and “land” art, little record of them remains online (the most significant source is here) and they have disappeared from the online presence of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which commissioned it. You won’t find them on the website of this once-esteemed institution ever since its highly controversial rebranding last year, which has been described as “walking away from their mission” and “the greatest travesty in the art world in 2017“, resulting in an “Instagram playground” with “fairgrounds-style attractions”.

The two works, called FLOW – Can You See The River? (2011) and StreamLines (2015), consisted of over 100 outdoor interactive installations along the city’s White River and in a park next to the museum, created in collaboration with ecologists at Butler University and Reconnecting Our Waterways, a local environmental organization. along with commissions for dance, music, and poetry works, other public events, and online tools for encouraging connection to and reflection upon local waterways and aquatic ecosystems among the general public.

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A rare heath ecosystem just outside Berlin

I recently visited the Döberitzer Heath, a twenty-square-mile nature reserve on a former military training ground outside of Berlin. Like many military bases, it served as an unintended nature reserve for many decades before decommissioning because manoeuvres don’t disturb the ecosystem all that much – you need a lot of empty space for firing weapons – and the land was strictly off-limits to visitors and every other possible use. (Click to enlarge)

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The Great Urban Tree Map Showdown

Berlin’s map is for pros, New York City’s is for the masses.

 

I have noticed the online tree maps from the Berlin and New York City parks departments are very different and decided to compare them. Both cities have mapped their street trees – allegedly all of them – and made interactive maps and data publicly available but they have interesting differences.

normal map w one tree's data file narrow

Berlin

Battery Park w overall city stats narrow

New York City

 

 

 

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Taking a page from Robert Moses’s playbook: Is Berlin de-greening?

Berlin is bucking global greening trends by building a new highway through its urban core and loosening environmental protections. Officials say there are no other options.

 

Berlin is the last city you’d expect to repeat history’s mistakes. Yet many observers feel the city has recently been doing just that by weakening its environmental protection laws, violating EU environmental regulations, and reopening one of the darkest chapters in 20th-century urban planning history: building a new freeway through the urban core along the lines of those commonly – but far from exclusively – associated with Robert Moses’ notorious 30-year reign as New York City’s omnipotent post-WWII chief planner. There and in countless other places, freeways in the middle of cities were promised to be essential components of “urban renewal”, a term that is now generally agreed upon to refer to the precise opposite of its intended meaning.

Both the freeway and rollback of environmental protections reverse the direction taken by livable cities over the last few decades. Planners, historians and city-dwellers are in agreement that virtually every freeway ever built in an urban core has been an unqualified disaster for the overall integrity of urban life, which is why no truly livable city has built one in the last 30, perhaps 50, years. Similarly, it seemed the matter was settled on the many values of urban green space.There’s no need to go into the how and why here, as mountains of research and inquiry have covered the topic.

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Leipzig’s prodigious green turnaround

Stream daylighting on a possibly unprecedented scale

 

The city of Leipzig, once home to Bach, Wagner and Mendelssohn and in 1989 a crucible of sorts for the Peaceful Revolution that led to the reunification of East and West Germany, has made itself a world leader in urban stream restoration over the last two decades, very much under the radar. Since the late 1990s the city has been systematically reviving streams and canals that have been buried in underground pipes and paved over for the last 50 years, or simply silted up with mud, both in the city center and surrounding countryside. The massive turnaround from sooty, crumbling city core and toxic, industry-scarred countryside to lush green and blue 21st-century urban region is on a scale hard for us Americans to comprehend.

Outside the city, no less than 26 lakes created by the closure of all but one of the area’s open-pit coal mines are being natur-ized (it’s not restoration per se because they were never natural lakes) and connected by natural and artificial waterways and locks to create a region-wide network entirely passable by small boats and, it is hoped, fish.

Elstermühlgraben von Friedrich-Ebert-Str(Westbrücke) auf Carl-Maria-von-Weber-Str 14 d

Elstermühlgraben Carl-Maria-von-Weber-Straße 5 09 85pt

Elstermühlgraben Stadthafen 1 10 aElstermühlgraben Stadthafen 4 Vom Blüthnersteg 13a

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Berlin hints at private development in largest park, bypassing landslide referendum

“The law’s construction ban won’t be overturned, only the paragraph that contains it.”

 

In a controversial move that stunned Berlin’s park users and fans of its abundant green space, the Berlin city council recently announced it is free to ignore at will a construction ban in its largest park which was formally enacted by a citizen referendum that won by a landslide less than two years ago. The park, Tempelhofer Feld, is a former airport with an airfield the size of Central Park, one and a half times the size of Berlin’s next-largest park, the centuries-old Tiergarten, and the referendum – which was not merely advisory but understood to have the force of law –  dictates that it remain in its current state, an undeveloped airfield crossed by two mile-long runways, with a ban on landscaping and permanent structures except for a handful of restrooms and kiosks around the perimeter.

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The airport closed in 2008 and lay in a state of limbo for 6 years, its airfield open to visitors as a provisional park devoid of any facilities and its terminal – built in the 1903s by Hitler and for decades the world’s largest building – largely empty although occasionally rented for trade fairs and corporate events. Citizens undertook the city’s arduous referendum process (petition, then an entire second petition, then vote) to save the field and runway as a park, enact an inviolable 10-year construction ban and rescue the site from its likely fate – backed by the mayor, the city government and deep-pocketed developers – as a residential /office/ retail complex with golf courses, with non-binding promises of unspecified amounts of “affordable” housing. Some renderings showed a heavily landscaped, resort-style park in the middle. The ensuing voter referendum won 64 – 36 %(I covered the story here).

Then in December 2015, the city decided it needed some area within the park boundaries for refugee camps (yes, they call them camps; more on that below) and stated its legal right to ignore the referendum which virtually all parties agree has the force of law. Citizens were outraged.

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Berliners, taking on City Hall and big business, rescue its largest park from commercial development

Locals fought back against gentrification and saved a beloved yet stark, almost ascetic park. Outrage over the country’s flood of colossal public works boondoggles probably helped.

 

Tempelhof pano 1 wide
In 2014 Berliners fought for, and won, the preservation of the airfield of Tempelhof, the decommissioned main airport near the city center, as an extraordinary and striking park instead of turning it over to developers for housing-retail-office complexes. I was in the fall and loved the sweeping uninterrupted emptiness which in good weather fills with people doing everything people do in parks.

It’s more an un-park than a park as we know it. They didn’t just vote to keep it as green space, they voted in a law to preserve the airfield untouched and completely ban alterations and permanent structures of any kind. There will be no landscaping, no trees, no sports fields or playgrounds. Just one flat featureless grass expanse the size of Central Park, crossed, of course, by runways. In my hour or two there I saw no benches or rest rooms. (I later learned there are four of the latter, on the the outer perimeter. Central Park has 16 scattered throughout.) But that hasn’t stopped the park from becoming enormously popular.

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Landscape with Sheep and Stadium, Munich

Rare heathland habitats thirty minutes from city center

 

Froettmaninger Heide - urban nature reserve at Munich Arena  03

 

Recently I saw in a documentary these sheep next to the high-tech Herzog & de Meuron starchitect stadium in Munich (about twice the size of New York’s Citi Field) and had to find out what was going on.  It turns out the area is a nature preserve consisting of rare chalk heathland remnants and it is indeed adjacent to the stadium. Nothing in English has been written about the site, to my knowledge. The stadium by the way is as futuristic as it looks and I will write about it soon.

This type of heathland was once more common in Europe, although never greatly widespread. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or bad thing that the stadium is right alongside. On the one hand it’s great to protect nature so close to busy places. On the other, since they were building on a site where there wasn’t a stadium previously, you’d think they could have found someplace less environmentally important and fragile.

The site, the Fröttmaninger Heath, is one of a handful of similar small patches in a mosaic of villages, outer suburbs, small farms and former artillery ranges traversed by highways on the city’s northern fringe. The North Munich Heathlands Association, a partnership of local towns, vigorously protects them by means of an exhaustive ecological planning, research, and restoration program along with recreation management and a supermodern visitors center. And yet the combined size of the eight sites covers less area than JKF airport. I don’t recall ever seeing a comparable depth of documentation online for a US nature reserve except the very largest, such as Yosemite. It is publicly funded and not a private non-profit organization relying on donations.

Nature in Europe is interesting because their conservation works the opposite of ours. While we promote biodiversity by keeping people out of wild places and letting nature run its course, they do the opposite: promoting biodiversity by letting people in. When I first learned this it took me a while to wrap my head around the concept because we are so used to the idea of wilderness and wild places.

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St. Louis – The Largest Collection of Original Victorian Pavilions Outside of Kew Gardens

St. Louis’ Tower Grove Park is said to have the largest intact collection of Victorian-era park pavilions – a dozen or so – outside of London’s Kew Gardens. Also, there is  abundant evidence of St. Louis’ once-large German population, long since dispersed and assimilated nearly without a trace. The zinc stag came from Berlin; there are statues of Alexander von Humboldt and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (sometimes called “father of the American military” for his essential service in the American Revolution and who was trailed by rumors and public accusations of homosexuality), and others by a German sculptor.