Right now in Berlin we are being bombarded with the election campaign but I do not know anybody who looks forward to voting come September. I cannot vote but if I were allowed I would also face a tough choice. None of the options are appealing and what we will get seems so certain and terrible that potential alternatives pale. Germany being as it is the election focuses on the heartland and there isn’t that much being discussed that people living in a city can relate to.
This particular city, Berlin, is doing better than it has in ages but is still in terrible shape. What it is sorely missing is the idea that it can be better and that we can make it so. To offer a start on that path I have drafted a list of ten points that should be improved. By now I’m sick of complaining and I imagine that I’m not the only one. I will be putting my weight and any weight I can borrow behind changing —initially— some of these things.
The points are not meant to be taken literally. In some cases they are more provocations than implementation plans, but in all cases they highlight a need and a way forward. I may have missed lots of things and the points below may not be perfect, but this list, like this city, is in beta.
Some points are already being executed by people and organisations on the ground. I want to draw attention to their good work and support them where we can. People working for the benefit of the greater good can use all the help we can give them.
Politicians are not the focus of this initiative but I do think they benefit from people who hold them to a higher standard. This is a list of things that need doing. I don’t care who gets it done.
1. World class bike paths
Berlin should have some of the best bicycle paths in the world. It deserves better than it has right now. If you want to see what I mean by this, go take a look at Copenhagen or Amsterdam.
This is not a pure matter of creating infrastructure, since most infrastructure will fail if the social conventions don’t support it. The city needs to start taking cyclists seriously if any of this is supposed to work.
Some targets to strive for:
- at least 40% of all personal transport should take place on a bicycle
- at least 20% of commutes over 5km should be done by bike
- at least 50% of all motorized traffic should be done with non-personally owned vehicles
- lorries entering the city should be taxed, older lorries should be taxed more heavily
Public transportation in Berlin is on the point of falling apart. All stations should be renovated and expanded to a point beyond just keeping them running. Most U- and S-Bahn carriages should be replaced and they should all go faster.
2. Fiber to the home available everywhere
The lack of serious broadband in Berlin is ridiculous. Fiber should be laid up to each building to facilitate fiber to the home everywhere in the next 5-10 years. All non-local fiber optic lines should be public property.
3. Better Public Space
The Spree is a dead river running through Berlin on which you can see the occasional boat. Swimming in the Spree should be made possible. Public space around the riverside should be improved into a coherent whole.
Tempelhofer Park should remain as empty as it is right now.
4. Fully digital government services
Berlin’s bureaucracies are maddening, unnecessary and they waste an incredible amount of time. All government services should be receivable online with only those services that include a proof of identity or notarisation to require a visit to a physical office.
Payment and identity for government services should be fully digital.
5. Food independence
Berlin (with the addition of Brandenburg) should be a net producer of food. Berlin should allow for more urban gardening to happen within the city.
6. Energy independence
Berlin (with the addition of Brandenburg) should be able to fulfil all of its energy requirements itself. Grid infrastructure should be public property.
7. All government data and documents public
The public should have direct access to all documents and data that the city government creates and stores.
8. A functioning hub airport
Berlin needs to have a proper connection to the rest of the world and the BER airport should be completed quickly.
9. Balanced property market
Improving the quality of life in the city will make the city more unaffordable than it already is. This cannot be remedied wholly, but the increase in property values can be put to better use than to supply investment funds with a predictable return. The improvements above need to be paid and money from overvalued parts of the city can be used to prop up the underdeveloped parts.
The best option would be to institute a hereditary tenure like we have in Amsterdam (with home owners leasing the land from the city in 10-50 increments) but people might object if we suddenly nationalise all land in Berlin. In any case Berlin should not sell any land it still has but lease it out instead.
Instead I propose instituting a very progressive property tax on both land and buildings.
10. Not a single sub quality school
I don’t know why there would be a debate about this point.