Parks and gardens in Berlin as community spaces – Part 1

A tree standing alone in the landscape. At former Tempelhof Airport.

A tree standing alone in the landscape. At former Tempelhof Airport.

by Ares Kalandides and Markus Kather

A. Introduction

In the warmer months of the year Berliners of all ages and backgrounds flow into the squares, parks and gardens of the city. The more adventurous ones are not even discouraged by the bad weather: under rain and snow, sleet and fog, there are children in the playground while adults take longer walks in the woods, crossing frozen lakes and snow-covered fields. Nature is an integral part of the city; for many people it is the quintessence of public space. Its deep roots in German culture – exemplified by German 19th century romanticism – cannot be stressed enough.  Yet, the importance of nature in the city has taken many different forms and there is no doubt that it means very different things to different people. In this article we focus mostly on gardens (and parks) as community spaces, though in order to understand what that means we take a closer look at some of the other functions.

The first part of the article gives the institutional background with information on the German planning system, the position of green planning in it as well as the strategic green planning for Berlin today. Our argument is that, although Berlin institutions have proved to be very flexible in adapting themselves to social change, there is still a highly sophisticated and elaborate legal framework that provides a solid regulatory-normative instrument, inside which urban gardens exist and develop. The second part of the article is a closer, though still superficial, look at five examples of gardens and parks. Using a similar analytical tool for each case (short description, aims, functions, conflicts, institutional interaction) we hope to show similarities and differences that pay some tribute to the vast variety of such spaces. The last part of the article is an attempt to conceptualize the different uses and functions of parks and gardens in Berlin.

An Alottment in Berlin-Spandau. Photo: Nathalie Wachotsch.

An Alottment in Berlin-Spandau. Photo: Nathalie Wachotsch.

Before we enter into the details of the institutional framework, there are several elements that refer to the way that gardens are embedded in the particular Berlin culture, which may not always be familiar to the reader. We can only mention them here in passing: a) The romantic tradition of nature in German culture and its almost spiritual dimension, still quite vivid at a collective level; b) the political tradition of resistance, democratic participation and deliberation in Berlin that has produced local forms of negotiation, association-formation and institutional arrangements; c) the significance of allotments, governed by strong associations, once importance spaces of agricultural subsistence production and still 3,5% of Berlin’s surface; d) the relative low pressure of the real estate sector in the past decade to use derelict and empty spaces. These are just some of a larger number of place-specific conditions that intersect with much broader trends to make Berlin what it is today.

B. The legal and organisational planning framework in Germany

In brief

The highest planning authority in Germany is the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development which sets the general spatial policy framework, but also plans and implements interstate and large scale spatial development projects. This is followed by the State (the Federal Republic of Germany is composed by 16 States) with is own detailed planning and regulatory system. At this level the Senate Department for Urban development and the Environment designs the Land Use Plan, Development Plans, and the Landscape Programme, which form the basis of green planning for the state if Berlin.

These plans constitute long-term planning and are updated at regular intervals, usually every 10 years. At a State level, Federal planning principles serve both as the basis and the limits of local development. Between Berlin and the surrounding State of Brandenburg there is coordinated planning to ensure coherent development at the interface between the two States, something of particular importance for green planning, which transcends State boundaries. Finally, there is also planning at a municipal level (Berlin is formed of 12 municipalities or Districts – “Bezirke”), but this is limited.

At a District level (Berlin is composed of 12 districts, or municipalities), local authorities regulate the urban development in their territories; zoning plans and building permits are their responsibility. Specific goals that serve local needs are set inside the framework of a comprehensive spatial planning. In brief, the German spatial planning system functions at three different levels – Federal, State and Municipality (or District) – each with its own level of detail and specialization. There is also cross-State coordination, which in the case of Berlin and Brandenburg is guaranteed by the Common Planning Authority Berlin-Brandenburg.

Green planning tools in Berlin

There are two planning instruments in Berlin that are particularly relevant to green planning: 1) The Land Use Plan and 2) the Landscape Programme.

The Berlin Land Use Plan

The Berlin Land Use Plan

1. The land Use Plan (“Flächennutzungsplan” or FNP): The Land Use plan oversees an integrated growth of the city within a wider planning framework, merges objectives of urban development with the Landscape Programme (LaPro), integrating areas for conservation among other uses with ecologic relevance, as delimited in the FNP. This plan consists of a zoning map, with graphically represented uses, that delineates and controls land for long-term development. This plan sets the foundation for strategic decisions on land uses, allocation of resources as well as their preservation. The FNP determines transportation areas, open spaces, lakes and other water surfaces, supply and disposal plants, preservation areas according to LaPro, etc., leaving scope for more detailed regulations in particular levels of planning. The Land Use Plan sets out the general requirements and measures needs for Berlin land management, based on the analysis and evaluation of the development objectives for nature and landscape. Explanatory written statements complement the map.

2. The Landscape Programme (“Landschaftsprogramm” or LaPro): This is a city-wide planning instrument, setting policies for nature conservation, environmental and landscape enhancement, also including the programme for the protection of species. This programme delivers the ecological basis for the Land Use Plan (s. FNP above), i.e. areas to be safeguarded in the FNP in case the LaPro establishes them as areas of special protection.  Both policies complement each other. The Landscape Programme, including Nature Conservation, is an instrument for green planning, and is subdivided into thematic programme plans:

a)    The Ecosystem and Environmental Protection

b)    The Protection of Biotopes and Species

c)    The Landscape Scenery

d)    Recreation and the Use of Open Space

e)    General Urban Mitigation Plan

The new Berlin strategy for the urban landscape

Parks as spaces of recreation

Parks as spaces of recreation

Berlin is a city with a built area of 56%. 44% is green open space that includes recreational uses, agriculture, forestland, lakes and waterways. The new Berlin Strategy enhances these spaces and sets the structure for new development. Its concept focuses on three themes for the “Green Vision Berlin”: a) Beautiful city, b) Productive landscape, c) Urban nature

a) Beautiful City

One of the main proposes here is the city’s horticultural heritage. The historic heritage of parks and urban squares combined with the redesigning of streets, creates a huge potential for new open spaces for recreational purposes.

b) Productive landscape

Open spaces are not only beautiful landscapes but can also be economically productive. They can be places for activities such as agriculture, subsistence farming and horticulture. This can create community involvement allowing people to use a common green space made by the citizens and for the citizens, a space that is active and grows.

c) Urban Nature

The existing green spaces of the landscape scenery can develop their potential giving to the inhabitants the experience of living with nature in the middle of the city.  They can provide opportunities to discover nature through regional parks between Brandenburg and Berlin, urban water landscapes or even swimming in the river Spree. The protection of biotopes integrates this experience within nature and strengthens Berlin’s mix of nature and urbanity providing a new quality of life.

About Ares

Ares Kalandides holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Studies from the National Technical University of Athens. He is the founder and CEO of Inpolis, an international consultancy based in Berlin, Germany and has implement several projects around the world. Ares teaches Urban Economics at the Technical University in Berlin and Metropolitan Studies at NYU Berlin.
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2 Responses to Parks and gardens in Berlin as community spaces – Part 1

  1. That is a wonderful plan. It brings people who lives in an urban closer to nature again.

  2. fereshtehhabib says:

    Thanks for sharing!

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