Our predictions for Berlin in 2016
The start of a new year is a time in many cultures for the setting of New Year resolutions and for making predictions about the year to come. In that spirit we have identified five hot topics for Berlin in 2016.
The hottest issue will be the integration of refugees given 2015 saw 80,000 of the more than 1 million refugees coming to Germany being welcomed by Berlin. The difficult search for short term accommodation will have to continue and major urban projects such as the reinvention of the disused Tempelhof Airport will be affected by its alternative temporary use as refugee accommodation. Authorities were stretched to their limits in 2015 and it was the efforts of thousands of volunteers that allowed the country to provide for the thousands at a satisfactory level. This significant achievement positively surprised the global community, and probably Germany itself.
It is likely that 2016 will continue to see large numbers of refugees, but with the first wave accommodated in temporary housing we see new challenges and opportunities, including a sharply increasing demand for affordable housing. In addition, schools and universities will have to play a key role to foster the quick integration of refugees into society and the economy, including their ability to accommodate for more and differently qualified students. The Berlin Cities team is excited to be able to participate in this discussion, as both the Happold Foundation and the BuroHappold Sharing Our Skills Programme have allocated funds to foster the discussion about the integration of refugees on a city scale.
Berlin will continue to be one of the most successful global startup locations in both Germany and Europe. The city ranks highly as an attractive location for global young talent, thanks to the combination of its cultural diversity and its affordability (when compared to cities such as London, Paris, New York). While this has been ongoing for some years, we foresee existing and new “Zukunftsorte” gaining critical mass, helping the city to pursue a more polycentric strategy, and thus easing the pressure on the city’s infrastructure systems. For instance, 2016 will see the biggest German publishing company Axel Springer breaking ground for a new revolutionary OMA designed flagship facility, enabling their fundamental change from a print business towards a fully digital company. In addition, TXL, The Urban Tech Republic (www.berlintxl.de) is ploughing ahead so as to be ready to convert Tegel Airport into a leading university and urban technology cluster once the new airport is opens in 2017. This startup scene will be the breeding ground to turn Berlin from a service focused urban economy towards an innovation hub of international importance.
Even without the refugees housing was going to be a major issue in 2016, and the race to ramp up the planning and implementation to provide significantly higher levels of new housing, including affordable housing, will continue. There is significant growth anticipated for the city (4m by 2030) and the provision of new housing units is currently not keeping up. The problem has been further exacerbated by foreign investment in real estate in Berlin as a safe and profitable investment. While most feel Berlin doesn’t suffer from a housing bubble, associated debt is still reasonably high, and housing will be a very hot potato in the run towards the elections in September 2016.
Another consequence of Berlin’s growth is that mobility systems are under strain. Compared to Copenhagen and Amsterdam the cycle infrastructure is still in its infancy. This is regrettable as low car ownership provides the potential to make the city more bicycle friendly. 2016 will see increasing discussions around projects such as the Radbahn Berlin (www.radbahn.berlin) and Germany’s first Bicycle Autobahn (http://www.emo-berlin.de/de/schaufenster/projekte/personenverkehr/ebikependeln/). However we also expect more discussion around improving the existing bicycle network as this is currently often disturbed and disconnected by motorised traffic and illegal parking.
Finally, 2016 will also see a continuing discussion around major projects. The new Museum of Modern Art next to Mies van der Rohe’s iconic National Gallery will be just starting. Others, such as the new airport, the Staatsopera, and the rebuilt City Palace, will now race for the finishing line. Following significant troubles with some major projects the authorities initiated a discussion about rethinking the planning system, and we hope 2016 will see the implementation of changes to the system. However, assuming no new budget problems, we anticipate a greater focus on less shiny, yet more essential, social and built infrastructure to maintain and improve Berlin’s unique quality of life, attracting visitors and talent from across the planet.