November 12, 2017

Moritz now has added value

Andreas Krüger is a key player in Berlin’s urbanism scene. He is the managing director of Belius GmbH, a strategic consulting agency for spatial development, was also a managing partner at Modulor for a long time, plays a leading role in the StadtNeudenken initiative and plays several other roles. We talked about various methods of cautious and value-driven neighbourhood development and explained them in detail using the example of Moritzplatz, which has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years with the significant involvement of Andreas Krüger.

Viktor Hildebrandt: Mr Krüger, what characterises a good spatial strategy?

Andreas Krüger: Spatial strategies are very comprehensive concepts for the long-term, content-driven use and design of urban spaces. Good spatial strategies are characterised by the fact that they enrich our coexistence in the city, i.e. generate social added value. For this, it is particularly important to focus on the connections between different places instead of thinking about individual addresses in isolation. A spatial strategy in an urban context is always about spaces with different components, for example a square and its surroundings, a neighbourhood or a district. Such spaces are naturally very complex. Different user groups and types of use sometimes fit together well, but often not – at least not easily. So there is a special need for coordination, mediation and clever arrangement. Then there are the mobility, energy and circulation systems. They form the foundations of well-functioning and liveable urban spaces. How do people get from A to B? Where does their electricity come from? How is waste disposed of? How do the sanitary facilities function? These questions are very complex and currently – driven by the energy transition, digitalisation and other processes of social change – our answers are changing.

“Mobility, energy and circulation systems are the foundations of urban spaces.”

Let us examine the process of developing and implementing spatial strategies in more detail using an example from your practice.

Gladly. For example, we were involved in the developments around Berlin’s Moritzplatz. Ten years ago, this square on the edge of Kreuzberg was – to put it slightly exaggeratedly – a dead space. There were numerous industrial buildings there that were mostly or even completely empty. Here an old piano factory, there an old soap factory. Here a closed printing plant, there a former publishing building. Other areas had lain fallow for several decades. There was a lack of ideas and, above all, an overarching vision for the area. Today things look different. Moritzplatz is one of the best-known locations for Berlin’s creative industries.

So how did this change come about?

This development was very complex. An important starting point was certainly the decision of Modulor, a trading company for architectural and artists’ supplies, to move into the former Bechstein piano factory. I myself was managing partner of Modulor at the time and therefore involved in the search for a new location for the company. Modulor’s move to the Bechstein factory had a considerable signalling effect. Suddenly there were other comrades-in-arms from the creative industries who wanted to join us and were also flirting with Moritzplatz. That laid the foundation stone, so to speak.

At first, this sounds more like serendipity than a sophisticated strategy.

Of course, chance always plays a role in such developments. For example, it was also a coincidence that the state of Berlin, of all places, began to really take creative industry players seriously and also support them in the noughties. Ten years earlier, the situation was completely different. But out of these initial coincidences, a strategy for the space around Moritzplatz grew bit by bit. On our own initiative and under our own steam, we newcomers began to approach and interview numerous residents, associations and businesses from the neighbourhood as well as potential future users. We wanted to find out why Moritzplatz seemed so neglected, why hardly anyone got out and stayed there, what people wanted and how future users could work together and support each other. In technical language, this is called stakeholder monitoring.

Moritzplatz Drawing

Why did Modulor initiate this process in the first place? It has nothing whatsoever to do with your core business.

At least not directly. Of course, we ourselves had and have an interest in a lively and well-functioning location, because our business benefits from it. But all of our involvement – not only Modulor’s – went far beyond the immediate self-benefit. Our common goal was to initiate a spatial change that would create social added value. It was clear to us that in order to achieve this, we would have to involve local people and many other stakeholders in the developments and network with each other.

What role did the public institutions play?

From the beginning, we worked very closely with the state of Berlin and the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. But we had no mandate to develop the neighbourhood. In principle, we empowered ourselves to do so. Our work was then gratefully received by the public institutions, because we gave good advice and started to solve real problems and attract new user groups. So suddenly we were “co-makers” of the space. All in all, we benefited greatly from the fact that all the actors involved really wanted it. It is often said about the state of Berlin that urban development projects take forever, political decisions are characterised by vanity, public offices like to be kept waiting and many things simply don’t work as they should. These clichés certainly didn’t just fall from the sky. But the developments around Moritzplatz show quite clearly that things can work differently in Berlin! The basis of the good cooperation between all parties involved was mutual respect and a cooperative basic attitude: the companies did not just hold out their hand. The offices did not see the companies as opponents, but as partners. And above all, the wishes and ideas of the citizens were taken seriously. Together we formulated the goal of bringing Moritzplatz back into Berlin’s collective consciousness and revitalising it.

The development is certainly impressive. But to what extent does it create the social added value you mentioned?

We have particularly sought users from the creative industries. Gathering these actors in one place strengthens their position overall and leads to synergy effects. Moreover, one should not forget that many of these users previously had difficulties finding spaces at all. But today there are not only exhibition and event spaces, clubs, co-working spaces, theatre, dance and music studios, material shops, cafés and various agencies on Moritzplatz, but also an initiative for the qualification of young adults, a kindergarten on the roof of an old industrial building and a city-famous urban gardening initiative. I’m referring, of course, to the Princess Gardens, which have transformed a whole lot of unused, private space into highly frequented, public space. In addition, the traffic infrastructure has also improved. Some changes, such as markings for bicycle lanes, are easy for everyone to see. Other measures, such as improved traffic lights, are invisible but still effective.

“So suddenly we were “co-makers” of the space.”

Constructive cooperation between a large number of different actors is not a foregone conclusion. What do you think is particularly important?

Of course, there are many different methods, procedures and tools that can be used to work well together. However, there is no silver bullet. Basically, you first have to identify all those who want to be involved. One must not forget that different groups with different lifestyles also use different ways to make their voices heard and express their desire for participation. Some write to the authorities, others write letters to the editor. Some spray-paint their statements on the walls of houses and others may even set cars on fire because they feel they will otherwise not be noticed. Once the various stakeholders have been identified, the task is to bring them together at the negotiating table. If ideas, projects or spaces are charged by conflicts, this is usually not an easy task. You then have to somehow get the participants to enter into dialogue with each other and discuss their sometimes opposing wishes, arguments and ideas. Such discussions are often emotional at the beginning. It helps to objectify the individual points and, above all, to write them down. What is written on paper no longer floats vaguely around the room and in people’s heads, but becomes concrete. It takes shape and can therefore be discussed more easily. The process of writing it down forces all participants to deal intensively with their own and others’ demands and ideas. Subsequently, the individual positions, perspectives and arguments must be discussed further with the aim of finding workable and sensible compromises and bringing about decisions. If this does not happen, one remains unable to act, and that means standstill. The whole process benefits enormously from moderators and mediators. These are people who do not represent any direct personal interests and who occupy a special position because of their independence. The more respect and standing these people enjoy among the participants, and the more experienced they are in dealing with conflict-laden interests and arguments, the better. Overall, I would say that we should train and support the role of the mediator even further in Berlin.

Let’s talk about another point: In your view, what role do modern technologies play in participation and planning processes?

Nowadays, technology is always being considered and contributes to the development of spatial strategies in many different ways. For example, vacancy indicators allow you to get an overview of unused spaces at the click of a mouse. There are also other interactive maps that show you the locations of libraries, clubs or letterboxes. Census data, which provide information on housing and income, for example, are also frequently mapped. When it comes to space, maps offer many great possibilities to illustrate certain situations or causalities. And the more freely available data sets there are for a city, the more we experiment with them. In addition, when developing spatial strategies, we also work with applications that graphically represent different development and utilisation scenarios. Today it is even possible to make large building projects, e.g. the development of a new neighbourhood, “walkable” and “experienceable” as a virtual, three-dimensional model before even breaking ground. In addition, online forums and portals are increasingly used for brainstorming, discussion and decision-making, because there are many people who cannot be at a certain place at a certain time but still want to make their opinions known and submit proposals. In short, technical applications are very helpful in developing spatial strategies. Not only can they contribute to good decisions and constructive discussion, but they can also open up a process. Those who use technical possibilities skilfully can involve many citizens in a development process that would otherwise in all likelihood have bypassed them. As applications become more intuitive, this increasingly applies to people who are not digital natives and do not necessarily use technology in their everyday lives. I say this from my own experience: my mother is 77 years old. She only started using a smartphone a year ago and is now simply thrilled with its new possibilities.

“Today you are actually heard in Berlin.”

The more people participate, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile all interests and positions. Don’t too many cooks sometimes spoil the broth?

It is true that with the number of groups and actors involved, the complexity of decision-making also increases. And of course you can never please everyone. But I would not immediately conclude that too many cooks spoil the broth. On the contrary: I think it’s very good that people in Berlin today can express themselves on various urban development processes and are actually heard. That was not a matter of course for a long time. Many citizens of this city want to have a say in their immediate environment and are quite prepared to invest energy and time in this. These people have so-called local layman’s knowledge, i.e. information about the nature and functioning of a particular place. The motto “Nobody knows as much about the square metre around you as you do” applies here. This knowledge is also significant for the development of the respective place and often for larger contexts. In addition, there are also numerous experts among them who can also contribute some expertise. They are especially important as critical voices for urban development. I believe that through these “new” urban actors, we in Berlin can avoid mistakes that many other major European cities have made in recent years.

What mistakes do you mean?

I mean above all over-commercialisation, as we can currently observe in Paris and London, Zurich and Stockholm or even Frankfurt and Munich. Especially in Paris and London, no one can actually live normally any more. People who have to work four jobs at the same time and constantly work overtime to make ends meet have neither the energy nor the time to get involved in community affairs. We see similar tendencies in Berlin, but fortunately the development here is nowhere near as advanced as elsewhere. I hope that through a clever real estate policy and the increased involvement of citizens and organised civil society, we will prevent Berlin from being sold off.

Thank you very much for this interesting conversation.


November 12, 2017

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