Less motorised through traffic, more footpaths and cycle paths as well as green spaces and public areas for neighbourhoods to come together - these are the defining characteristics of the so-called "Kiezblocks". The concept was developed by civil society initiatives in Berlin and is inspired by the "Superblocks" of Barcelona, "Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods" in England and the "Woonerf" concepts pioneered in the Netherlands. Along with the Supergrätzel in Vienna, Berlin's Kiezblocks aim to make residential neighbourhoods more people-friendly, resilient, and sustainable. Some districts in Berlin are already beginning to implement this model, and more plan to follow suit. Researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) are studying these frontrunners to support the development of strategies to foster participation and implementation.
It's not just Berlin and Vienna that stand to gain from this research: the findings are highly relevant for the transformation of urban spaces across Europe. With far-off destinations beyond reach since the outbreak of the pandemic, many Europeans have rediscovered their neighbourhoods and cities. This shift in focus has highlighted the importance of public space, especially in inner-city neighbourhoods, and how much space is taken up on city streets by private motor vehicles.
The superblocks concept was developed in Barcelona years ago as a solution to meet changing demands on the urban environment and create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and pursue diverse activities. Similar to the traffic diversion concepts implemented in Dutch cities such as Groningen in the 1970s or over the last decade in Ghent, the superblock concept carves out car-free zones in residential neighbourhoods, establishing urban islands in which pedestrians and cyclists have priority. Places to meet with neighbours and additional green spaces can be created within these zones, helping to improve the air quality and microclimate in residential areas.
IASS researchers are working alongside research and practice partners from Berlin, Austria, and Slovenia to investigate the potential of these urban design concepts for German and European cities and developing implementation and participation strategies. These will subsequently be trialled in living laboratories in Berlin and Vienna that will form the core of this project. In Berlin, the IASS, together with the German Institute of Urbanism (DifU) and the initiative Changing Cities (e. V.), is supporting the realisation of two Kiezblocks. Drawing on analyses of Barcelona's superblocks and similar planning approaches in European cities, as well as insights gained through the two living labs, the project will then develop actionable recommendations for both civil society and local government actors.