Berlin neighbourhood to experiment with eliminating parking spaces

By Olivia Rosane, Ecowatch | February 27, 2023

For at least three months beginning this coming summer, a south Berlin neighborhood will embark on a novel experiment: eliminating parking spaces.

The idea behind the project is to devote the space usually reserved for cars to other uses like growing plants or providing recreation.

“The idea we are pursuing is whether public spaces can be experienced and used in more efficient ways than keeping them reserved for parked cars,” Green council member for Berlin’s Kreuzberg district Annika Gerold, who heads transport affairs, said, as The Guardian reported.

Reducing or eliminating car use in cities is seen as a climate solution that has other benefits for public health and urban life. In its Sixth Assessment Report “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argued that, while cities are currently responsible for around 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, their density could pave the way for more climate friendly living if certain changes were made, as AFP reported at the time.

One of those changes was to end the urban reliance on cars by designing neighborhoods that accommodated residents’ basic needs within walking distance and then connecting those neighborhoods with affordable public transportation.

“Larger cities around smaller communities,” Diana Reckien of Utwente University in the Netherlands, who was not involved with the IPCC report, explained to AFP. “A community is really four-by-four blocks, with only small streets, either a playground or a market square, mostly in the middle, and all basic services (grocery stores, stationery, doctors, hairdresser).”

Berlin is attempting to mold itself according to this vision. While it is considered one of the world’s greenest cities and has a reputation for good public transit, safe cycling and walkability, the number of cars on its streets has actually increased in recent years even as it has fallen in other major European cities.

“Five years ago, we were top of the pops,” Professor Andreas Knie, a mobility researcher at the WZB Social Science Center, said, as The Guardian reported. “Now London and Paris have overtaken us.”

In an attempt to catch up, Berlin will trial an elimination of parking spaces in the neighborhood of Gräfekiez, which is located south of the city center. Car owners in the area will be able to park their cars in a nearby garage for 30 euros a month, according to NZZ. However, there are concerns that there will not be enough spaces in the fewer-than-700-lot garage. The Green Party is hoping that the experience will persuade Berliners to get rid of their cars altogether.

Around two-thirds of residents approve of the experiment, according to a survey from the Social Science Research Center Berlin. However, a local business owner said an informal survey of his neighbors and customers turned up different results.

“I’d say it’s 30% in favour to 70% against,” Hawaiian poké bowl lunchenette owner Florian Eicker said, as The Guardian reported. “And those people aren’t especially wedded to car ownership on principle.”

For Eicker, the problem is the lack of clarity as to how the pilot will operate. For example, it isn’t clear how many streets will be included or whether the parking spots will be used for plants, ping-pong tables, outdoor restaurant tables or something else. This is partly because the council refused to disclose too many details ahead of the Berlin state election Sunday.

In that election, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which opposes the parking space trial, won the most votes at more than 28 percent, according to DW. However, the current ruling coalition of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the socialist Left Party still has a majority of seats in the state parliament, so it’s not clear if the CDU will be able to form a government or if the current coalition will remain in power. Further, people in the city center voted predominately for the Greens.

Still, the question of what to do about cars in Berlin could emerge as a politically contentious one.

“Traffic plays a large part in emissions, and there is an objective need for something to be done, but it is highly controversial, especially in major cities,” Rheinische Friedrichs Wilhelms University political scientist Frank Decker said, as DW reported. “It is very difficult to reduce traffic, and likely to cause many conflicts, and the federal coalition is going to have to address this issue too.”

This article was first published here.

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