Tag Archives: city planning

Alternative Tour of Berlin: City Planning Thoughts

Walking tour focusing on culture and creativity in Berlin

Today we took a tour of alternative Berlin. We had taken a historical tour of Berlin on the 13th but today’s walking tour focused on sources of innovation and creativity in Berlin. The tour focused on art and graffiti, urban culture, alternative lifestyles, cultural icons like the YAAM Beach Bar, and artists’ squats. Themes that ran through these sights were significance of the areas and current city planning problems including the tension between preservation of Berlin’s history and modernization initiatives that might spur economic growth.

The alternative tour focused on many aspects, including the graffiti culture in Berlin. Although this tag does not look that impressive, there is a large fine since this is a very public area under the Berlin train station. Graffiti artists often gain credibility for the measures they took to tag the area and this tag becomes arguably a bit more impressive when considering the likelihood of a big fine.

We started our tour at Alexanderplatz, one of the best-known public squares in Berlin. It was a central meeting place during communist rule in East Germany. It has the iconic Fernsehturm television tower and the surrounding shops are very commercialized—including a Starbucks and other shopping chains. Like much more of what we would see, Alexanderplatz demonstrated the tension between history and modernization are affecting Berlin’s growth and redevelopment.

We saw quite a bit of street art on the alternative tour and this sculpture spoke to the theme of an increasingly commercialized world. The Native American is wearing the cliche I

Another aspect of alternative Berlin relating to city planning that we saw was in the Hackescher Markt area, specifically the Spandauer Vorstadt area. A number of artists’ squats, workshops and galleries sprang up here in the early 1990s. The area we walked through was a former artists’ squat and now has a flea market, a beer garden, the Anne Frank Zentrum (home of the Anne Frank: Here and Now Exhibition), and the Monster Kabinett (part art gallery, part haunted house holding massive robotic creatures, metal sculptures, and insect-looking beasts). This former art squat describes the action of artists to occupy (squat) in abandoned buildings and using these to create art. The concept of art squats, some of which are still open, really spoke to the alternative culture of Berlin and how different conceptions of housing are in the United States as opposed to in Berlin. Art squats in Berlin seemed to be much more accepted in Berlin than squatting would be in the United States.

Hackescher Markt had a really great market with jewelry, produce, coffee, spices, and lots of food.
This is the former artists’ squat that now has two beer gardens, the Anne Frank exhibit, the small flea market, and graffiti and art on the walls

My favorite part of the tour was when our guide mentioned YAAM Beach Bar, which our group went to after the tour ended. YAAM is an acronym for “Young African Art Market” and is located on the River Spree. YAAM is a cultural hotspot and has a club, beachbar, and gallery, complete with sand, hammocks, and picnic tables. YAAM is incredibly laidback and although it’s really close to some of the main attractions in Berlin, namely the East Side Gallery (the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall), it is not face paced and is a really unique area.

Mediaspree is one of the largest property investment projects in Berlin and aims to establish telecomm and media companies along the section of the banks of the River Spree where YAAM is located. Unused or temporary occupied real estate is to be converted into office buildings, lofts, hotels, and other new structures. Our guide said that YAAM’s current location is its third location due to these Mediaspree plans. YAAM is temporarily thriving in its current location, but only time will tell whether it will be able to survive the increasing commercialization of Berlin.

To the right of YAAM we saw the Mercedes-Benz arena being built which to me really embodied the increasing commercialization of Berlin. The arena is being built right by the East Side Gallery and Mercedes-Benz. That is the type of mix between history and modern initiatives that this alternative tour and all of our time in Berlin kept demonstrating. We can debate the merits of this commercialization and the Mediaspree plans, but it will likely take active citizens to keep places like YAAM from being bought up by larger corporations. This alternative tour demonstrated all of the careful planning that must go into city planning initiatives in a city that will likely keep growing for quite some time.

-Jennifer Craft

Urban Renewal in Rotterdam

A new approach to the urban farm

In the morning we walked to the station and caught a train to Rotterdam. We had a meeting with at an urban farm called Op Het Dak, but we took our time walking there. Along the way we passed some architecturally unique houses called Urban Treetops, which appeared to be slanting down toward the street. These houses were built in the 1970s in an effort to liven up the city center with “playful architecture”. Then we meandered through the Market Hall, which was held in the center of a huge ring-shaped residential building. I bought a bizarre-looking fruit called a crazy melon and enjoyed it as we walked. As we approached the building we passed through an area that has experienced tremendous urban renewal. In order to make the area more accessable, a massive pedestrian bridge was built out of wood and painted yellow. The bridge passed by a small community garden, made in a former deposit for building supplies. The bridge continued up to a train station that is in the process of becoming the Dutch equivalent of the New York Highline. This trio of inviting refurbishments is meant to encourage people to spend time outdoors and encourage pride and commitment to the surrounding community.

Inside the Rotterdam market hall visitors can pick up spices, produce, meats, cheeses, or enjoy a warm meal with a view of the Pencil, a neighboring landmark.
The slanted Urban Treetop homes require some creativity to live in and make the center of Rotterdam appear more playful and lively.

Upon arriving at Op Het Dak, we took the elevator up to the top floor and were greeted by Wouter Bauman. He explained that in 2012, the building was scheduled for demolish, but the architect stepped in and proposed a plan to give it new life by inviting creative companies to move into the builder. Bauman explained that the bottom floor was home to a popular Biergarten, and the other floors of the building housed other community-oriented organizations. Then he presented his personal project; the urban rooftop garden, overlooking the center of Rotterdam. The city offers a hefty subsidy for people starting rooftop gardens because they minimize the heat-island effect in cities, increase biodiversity, and work to prevent runoff and flooding. The garden produces a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even honey to be sold and served at the charming restaurant that shared the roof. Bauman explained that the biggest challenge with rooftop gardening was distributing and managing weight in a way that the roof could support. The edges could support more weight, so were fitted with polystyrene planters where deeply-rooted fauna could be grown. The rest of the roof was covered by several layers of plastic, film and soil in order to prevent damage to the roof. Because of the limited amount of soil that could be used, the garden was mainly comprised of plants with shallow roots. However, this didn’t seem to present a large obstacle for the garden; ruby raspberries could be seen warming in the sun, the vines of bean plants bowed under their heavy pods, and pollinators (including bees from Op Het Dak’s own hive) buzzed lazily around the rooftop. In addition to being exceedingly fruitful, the garden has received much media attention and is even listed on travel website Lonely Planet as one of the top attractions of Rotterdam. Although the garden does not use any pesticides, its produce is not considered organic because the soil used is not natural. Nevertheless, Bauman explained that the compost, which was comprised of food and plant scraps, provided some of the fertilizer used to nurse nutrients into the soil. After a few minutes of wandering around the garden and grazing on the fruits and vegetables, we settled down at the small rooftop restaurant and were treated to a healthy, wholesome lunch.

With the long hours of intense summer sun, Op Het Dak’s garden is thriving.
The compost pile in the corner of the garden is a step in the company’s effort to be sustainable.
The yellow pedestrian bridge, which passes over a major road, makes the area around Op Het Dak more inviting and accessible.

After lunch we left Op Het Dak and moved in the direction of the harbor. Along the way we passed a few large regions of pavement sunk below the level of the ground. These pits contained steps and jumps for a skate park, but during heavy rains a series of gutters would direct the water into them to form ponds and alleviate flooding. Upon reaching the harbor, we split up into groups and took our time returning to our hotel in The Hague.

Because of its low altitude and rainy climate, Rotterdam has been forced to get creative about managing water. This recreational area doubles as a pond during times of heavy rainfall.

-Ayla Gizlice

Smart Approach

A look at urban farming, sustainability, and standardization

The day started with a visit to a one year old urban farm called The New Farm centered in The Hague, Netherlands. This urban farm is located atop a six story building used for housing different office spaces. The rooftop and top floor were completely converted into a large aquaponic system containing both a greenhouse and fish tanks. By allowing the plants above to use the nutrients found in fish waste, aquaponics combines two different ecosystems into one to create an efficient use of resources. Thousands of tilapia were grown in the tanks and their waste water was taken through a large filter which then feeds into tubes to be taken to plant soil. The rooftop contained many different kinds of produce such as basil, cilantro, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce, and many other leafy greens, all fueled by the nutrients of fish waste. The entire aquaponic system recycled around 90 percent of its water. This resource efficient farm can be seen as an example for future food initiatives in urban areas. As the global population grows, more and more people need food and gravitate towards cities. This leads to questions of space and food production, which are both answered by urban farms. The only drawbacks are that they require a lot of money and energy to start. This urban farm combines agricultural and fish production to efficiently feed the planet as the population grows.

Rows of leafy greens at the entrance to the rooftop greenhouse at The New Farm. This was one of two sides. The other side contained tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants.
Water filtration system used to extract useful nutrients and water from fish waste to be used for produce. Water enters through the black box and then a series of open containers. Ammonia is the main nutrient extracted which is the converted into nitrates by small bacteria in each open container.
The irrigation system for all of the plants in the greenhouse. The system runs nutrients from fish waste and water from below directly to plant roots in a controlled amount. Yellow tape is suspended above the produce to control pest contamination in an organic way.

To finish the day we stopped by NEN, which is a company centered around standardization. Although it seems complicated, standardization is basically agreements among many parties affiliated in producing a product, idea, or system. The goal is to minimize conflict when developing ideas and allow for the acceptance of these new products in different areas, whether its regions, countries, or continents. Some examples are bolt sizes or USB ports on computers. In talking personally with a NEN employee, we learned that the most complicated part of standardization is making all parties agree on an outcome in a timely manner. This process can be difficult but it is necessary for allowing cities to replicate systems that are known to be successful in other smart cities.

An interesting entrance to the standardization building at NEN. Here many parties are worked with to come up with agreements that lead to a higher quality of life.
Rooftop and solar panels of the university. Under the parking lot there are thermal collectors which allow for the transfer of energy and aid in heating the building. The solar panels also acquire energy and produce heat.
The heat pump located inside the university. The structure looks as complicated as the processes that occur inside it. Its main purpose is to minimize energy use when heating and cooling the building.

When moving towards a smart city it important to take steps that enhance the quality of life for its inhabitants. We saw three examples of this in food production, sustainable building use, and standardization practices.

-Charlie Garnett