Timber construction, sponge city, urban farming, geothermal energy, district-wide integrated energy concepts – there is no lack of good intentions for the “city of the future”, which Berlin will hardly do. With the Urban Tech Republic and the Schumacher Quarter in the northwest and the Behrensufer in the southeast, two huge transformation spaces have opened up in Berlin that will change the face of the city in terms of urban planning in the coming years. They build on established structures – here the airports Tegel-Süd “Otto Lilienthal” and Tegel-Nord “French-American military airport”, there the historic industrial belt along the Spree with the automobile factory built by Peter Behrens on behalf of AEG. There are concrete plans for both future spaces to create sustainable and mixed-use quarters with thousands of jobs in the next few years.

Both model projects should focus on innovations in urban planning, planning culture and infrastructure. The question is how innovative Berlin’s future will develop in practice beyond the buzzwords.

The development of the “ULAP-Quartier”, so named after the Universum Landes-Ausstellungs-Park in the district of Moabit (Mitte district), is an example of how impossible it can be to realize all urban planning ideals in one area. The final digital presentation of the drafts by several architectural offices for the redesign of the district at Berlin Central Station was four months ago – without an urban planning framework plan having crystallized from the competition process, which is embedded in a public participation process. If you want too much, you won’t achieve anything – that applies in private as well as in politics. “In the first quarter of next year, the planning teams will be asked to submit an offer,” said the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing in December 2021. After that, one of the offices will be commissioned to carry out the framework plan – that was the time perspective. Things turned out differently, as is so often the case in Berlin: “It became apparent that the ideas and planning approaches presented still needed further elaboration,” announced AG.URBAN – an urban planning office – on behalf of the Senate Building Administration at the end of March. She oversees the process: “After intensive consultation, it was therefore decided to hold another round of dialogue with two of the three teams in order to have the unresolved questions of this complex task worked out in the drafts.” Once again, all questions should be answered at the same time. A residential and office location is to be combined in a comparatively small area, with lots of greenery, a grocery store and new rooms for the administration of justice – of course it should be urban and livable here, with lively ground floor zones – without high-rise canyons, but in a dense construction. The city does not seem to have a clear target. Typical?

“The construction of new city districts is very complex,” says Jan Knikker, Partner and Head of Strategy

“Here politics and administration as well as the real estate industry are in demand as enablers to set the course for sustainable quarters,” says a paper (“Six recommendations for successful quarters”) by Daniel Bormann, managing partner of Realace GmbH (Berlin), which is responsible for private and institutional users and investors developed real estate projects. One of Bormann’s tenets is that urban and district development requires a project philosophy that can be reached by consensus. And he describes in a comprehensible way why, for example, the development of the RAW site in Friedrichshain, an alternative (small) commercial district, is progressing slowly but steadily, but not at the main station. In any case, it is undisputed that the image of the city must change in favor of the green in the course of the damage to the environment. But implementing this requires clear guidelines.

“We see again and again that if politicians make really radical decisions and don’t just roll out the red carpet for investors, then investors can really bring innovations,” says Knikker. If these specifications are missing, a quarter like that of Heidestraße is created, which is only partially “jazzed” as particularly livable by the eloquence of PR copywriters: “The viewer encounters an extravagant, almost untreated concrete facade and vertically emphasized window openings”.

Last but not least, it is hardly possible to grasp the extremely dynamic situation of the Ukraine war with its influence on the many parameters and paradigms of urban development, housing and climate protection policy. “We learned with the Ukraine war that we really need better energy sources,” says Knikker: “Yes, the dependence on fossil energy, it also means a geopolitical dependence that is simply not very favorable. That might be the positive incentive to get started.” In the future, integrated and sustainable district development will not only be possible from the perspective of climate change.