In 2019, Munich declared a climate emergency. In 2022, a poll found that Germans’ No. 1 worry was climate, even considering the war in Ukraine and sometimes doubling energy prices.
One of the changes accompanying the struggle against CO2 and the greenhouse effect is the islands of green springing up around the city where cars used to own the roads and parking lanes.
In more than 30 Munich neighborhoods, driving lanes have been closed and turned into “play streets” for children or used for tiny parks, band recitals, repair workshops, cargo-bike rental, yoga — whatever residents think of.
Sometimes these “summer streets” are just for the warm months when people want to be outside. In other places, the changes are permanent, reflecting 30% less car traffic during the last 10 years and an 11% increase in biking.
Many squares in Nuremberg are cobblestone “stone deserts” that make too much of the city a “heat island,” a Nuremberg citizens group says. Members want less pollutants and noise. But more importantly, they want to be pragmatic, breaking up these “stone deserts” but doing it quickly and inexpensively.
A 100-page open-space concept was discussed in Munich council last May, and it plainly prioritized people over cars. The goals of the advocates are increasingly ambitious.
Not long ago, council’s majority and minority jousted over the paving of new streets and parking. Now the council discusses unsealing concrete and asphalt spaces.
Lowered bureaucratic hurdles encourage residents to create their own little green areas at street intersections or other public-space opportunities. In Munich, the city has approved standard European cargo pallets as building elements, despite the threat of noise and trash. Residents can get approval from start of April through end of October.
The open-space concept envisions “mini-squares” where neighbors can meet. The squares — trees plus bench, at a minimum — are to serve as “stepping stones” between larger recreation areas.
An emphasis on “boulevards” promises space for pedestrians, the disabled, sidewalk restaurants, more trees and “quality of stay.” Advocates add that boulevards also can help cut CO2 and be developed as “sponges” that release rainwater slowly and help avoid flooding.
Buildings themselves are going green, and cities’ proposals and regulations go in multiple directions.
One is to require that every flat roof greater than 100 square yards be permanently green. The top of one apartment building already is a small meadow with wild roses, herb and vegetable beds, small apple trees and berry bushes.
Garages and entrances to underground car parks haven’t been overlooked. For example, a requirement that at least 30% of large outside structure walls sport perennial vertical gardens.
In summer, the green helps cool the building and surrounding area. In winter, it helps reduce heat loss.
The public discussion around loss of parking spaces or additional noise from children playing can become heated.
Effects such as lost parking seem especially burdensome to residents who spend an extra half hour each workday evening, circling the block, looking for a place to stash the car. At Kolumbusplatz (Columbus Square), more than 40 car-parking spaces were lost to seating, plants in raised beds and a sandbox where toddlers could dig.
Less is allowed now
The case for redistributing public space away from auto use was made persuasively recently in an op ed in the local morning paper. The author was a mother concerned for children who have to squeeze between parked cars and cross a busy street to get to the playground.
Her view mirrored that of some studies: The fewer parking spots, the fewer cars. And she suggested the opposition might be more psychological than practical: “For many, the car is the last relic from the good-old days, when much more was allowed (to individuals).”
Climate is forcing change. In Nuremberg and Munich, the debate is how change is going to happen — how people want to live together and who is going to be inconvenienced.