Tempelhof Field: Dialogue instead of dispute

30. April 2024
A.Savin, Wikipedia

The use of Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field) in Berlin has long been controversial. Now, on 26 April 2024, a randomly selected public consultation process on the future of the site has begun. 20,000 randomly selected Berliners have been invited to take part in the dialogue process.

In the next stage, up to 275 people will be randomly selected from the group of interested parties to take part in a dialogue workshop on Tempelhofer Feld. Over three weekends from September 2024, they will draw up theses for the future development of Tempelhofer Feld.

How to deal with Tempelhofer Feld?

This will take into account how it has been used to date and how the anticipated demand for housing will develop. Other aspects include the participants' utilisation wishes and the significance of the historic airport building with regard to the consequences for the development and utilisation of the site. The results are to be incorporated into the terms of reference for the subsequent international planning ideas competition.

Christian Gaebler, Senator for Urban Development, explained: "The participants in the dialogue workshop will not decide whether or not Tempelhofer Feld will be built on at the edges. The dialogue workshop is intended to make an open and appreciative contribution to the question of how Berlin should deal with Tempelhofer Feld in the future. It is therefore all the more important that the people who have now been contacted are involved in the dialogue workshop and can contribute their ideas and visions."

Referendum 2014

Tempelhofer Feld is the former airfield of the former Tempelhof Airport. The site, which is now used as a park and leisure area, has a total area of around 304 hectares. Around 90 per cent belongs to the Tempelhof-Schöneberg district and around 10 per cent to the Neukölln district.

On 25 May 2014, Berliners decided to completely ban construction on the former airfield in a referendum on the "100% Tempelhofer Feld" popular initiative. 68.2 per cent of those who voted were in favour. The proposal put forward by the Berlin House of Representatives as an alternative envisaged moderate peripheral development and the protection of the 230-hectare central green areas of the inner field. However, only 44.3 per cent of voters voted in favour of this proposal. The turnout was 46.1 per cent.

Longer history

However, the debate about the (re)utilisation of the field has a longer history. It has been going on since the political decision by the states of Berlin, Brandenburg and the federal government in 1996 to close the two inner-city airports Tempelhof and Tegel in favour of Willy Brandt Airport (BER) in Schönefeld.

While the airport building, as a World Heritage-listed monument with an eventful past, offers only limited possibilities for use and change due to the existing building structure and monument protection, the situation is different for Tempelhof Field. Consequently, many of the debates on urban development policy have centred on the question of the use of the field. The ideas put forward differed widely in some cases and the public debate was repeatedly characterised by strong polarisation.

"A new debate is needed"

The governing coalition of CDU and SPD elected in the repeat election in 2023 agreed on the future of Tempelhofer Feld in its "Government Policy Guidelines 2023 - 2026":

"In view of the exacerbated housing shortage since the 2014 referendum, a new debate on the future of Tempelhofer Feld is needed. With an international urban planning competition, the Senate will explore the possibilities of careful peripheral development in limited parts of the site. The vast majority of the open space will remain protected for recreation, leisure, sport and culture with a climate-friendly overall design. The field is intended to make an important contribution to Berlin's net zero aim.

"Reassessment by Berliners in a decisive way"

The peripheral development is intended to create residential neighbourhoods with a wide range of social amenities for the new residents and the urban community. The housing construction is to be reserved for the state-owned housing association LWU as well as cooperatives oriented towards the common good and will be climate-neutral in operation. The use of decentralised and city-compatible renewable energies and greening will make an additional contribution to climate neutrality. The reassessment by Berliners is decisive for the Senate on this issue of city-wide importance."

The Berlin House of Representatives approved the government policy guidelines presented at its meeting on 25 May 2023.

Dialogue instead of confrontation

In view of the complexity of the issue, but also the potential for conflict, the Senate Department for Urban Development, Building and Housing would like to initiate public understanding with a "dialogue workshop". Instead of allowing the various interest groups to clash in a public debate about "the right solution", a group of around 250 randomly selected residents will initially express their expectations and ideas for Tempelhofer Feld. The various stakeholders involved in Tempelhofer Feld will be invited to contribute to this process by sharing their knowledge and experience.

It is planned to carry out the dialogue process with the integrated international urban and open space planning ideas competition and an accompanying public participation in the period from May 2024 to mid/end 2025, subject to political decisions. The aim is to use a city-wide dialogue process to approach a qualified reassessment of Tempelhofer Feld and a possible amendment to the law on Tempelhofer Feld.

"Plans jeopardising democracy"

The "100 Prozent Tempelhofer Feld" (100 percent Tempelhofer Feld) initiative has criticised the entire project. Spokesperson Anita Möller says: "The Senate's plans are pretence, dishonest and a threat to democracy." All the more so as the question of whether the field should be built on or not is not even on the agenda of the dialogue workshops.

The Left Party criticises the fact that neither the ideas competition nor the public dialogue are open-ended. Urban development politician Katalin Gennburg spoke of "fake participation", as it had long been clear to the coalition that it wanted to push through the development in the end and create facts by the end of the legislative period.

Contradiction with participation guidelines

Hendrikje Klein, spokesperson for citizen participation for the left-wing parliamentary group in the House of Representatives, sees a contradiction with the city's citizen participation guidelines: "By limiting the discussion to one aspect, namely the how of a peripheral development, the guidelines are being reduced to absurdity."

The Greens speak of a smokescreen. In view of the areas already designated for almost 250,000 flats, the planned 5,000 units at Tempelhofer Feld are not even necessary, said Green urban development expert Julian Schwarze. Due to the long planning period, they would not be able to alleviate the housing shortage for at least ten years.

"Development not justifiable"

For BUND, "there is demonstrably no place on the field where development would be justifiable". In the climate crisis, the field is an increasingly important cold air production area for the densely built-up neighbourhood. If you only consider this perspective, there should be no development on the edges, there should be development in the centre. For reasons of species protection, this would be fatal and only peripheral development could be considered. For these two reasons alone, any development would be prohibited.

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