New construction project blankenburger suden: for the citizens past the citizens

Senator Katrin Lompscher wants to build 10,000 apartments in Pankow. Residents and district politicians go to the barricades.

The plans meet with resistance Photo: Jorg Carstensen

"A monstrous, completely oversized test-tube city is being planned here, with no regard for what already exists," writes user jsxheinersdorf on the citizen participation portal mein.berlin.de. Another calls for "alternative political forces" that are not concerned with "expropriation and displacement" of the population. It is a small rage citizen uprising, which rages since Saturday. Urban Development Senator Katrin Lompscher (Left Party) had presented development plans for the Blankenburg South in Pankow at a citizens’ meeting.

It is the planning of a small city of its own: about 10,000 apartments for more than 20,000 people, plus an area for commercial space, connected by a streetcar and a freeway feeder road. The presentation of Berlin’s largest new construction project could have been a liberating blow for Lompscher – in the struggle for more and affordable housing. And against the criticism, not only from her coalition partner SPD, that she would neglect new construction.

But instead of finally scoring points as a building senator, Lompscher has since been bombarded with criticism on the subject of public participation, of all things, which she has declared to be her focus like hardly anyone else in the Senate. After the presentation of three alternative but similar development plans (see graphic), a large part of the 700 people present felt that they had not been taken along and invited to participate further, but rather that they had been knocked on their heads. There was talk of a breach of promise and of taking the citizens for a ride.

The Blankenburg South project has been talked about for a long time, with the aim of building 5,000 to a maximum of 6,000 apartments on the undeveloped sewage fields belonging to the city. Development of the 70-hectare site is in the coalition agreement. Residents, organized in the Blankenburg South Forum, have been involved in the planning process for a year and a half, meeting several times with the project manager from the Senate administration.

Surprising for all

But they heard for the first time about the now announced development of both the adjacent golf course and the recreational facilities consisting of about 1,500 plots with garden and single-family houses.

And not just them: SPD constituency representative Dennis Buchner told the taz that the inclusion of these areas came like "wharf out of the box" and would have "completely surprised" him, too. Pankow’s mayor Soren Benn (Left Party) felt similarly: "Like everyone, we assumed that only the core area would be discussed." Benn calls the fact that the recreation area is now also included in the construction planning a "comprehensible idea if you don’t know the situation on site."

Buchner and Benn point to the ownership structure of the gardens. About 40 percent belong to private owners, the rest are leased. The Senate reportedly secured the right of first refusal for the recreational facilities back in June 2017. Benn is calling on the Senate administration to address the fears of those who have property there. "They want to know if it’s worth it to rehab a gutter now," he said.

"I think it’s difficult to expand a village with a current population of 5,000 to 25,000," Buchner says, "to put it cautiously." Also, the connection by a four-lane road, the so-called tangential connection north, and the extended streetcar line M2 is not sufficient.

A signal to the SPD?

Buchner can only speculate about the reasons for the extended planning. Possibly it has to do with the fact that the residents have so far shown "little resistance" to the project. Possibly the new plans are a tactic to ensure that the 5,000 apartments originally planned will be built. Buchner also believes that Lompscher’s offensive could have something to do with the SPD’s ongoing criticism of her unwillingness to build. With the Blankenburger south Lompscher could want to set "a signal".

The senator let it be known on Tuesday that it had "not been communicated clearly enough" that not only the Rieselfelder, but the "complete area" was taken into consideration in the context of the preparatory investigations. She could therefore "understand the displeasure of those present".

To smooth the waters somewhat, Benn points out that the plans describe a period of more than 20 years. The district mayor also does not believe in the implementation on the scale presented. He calls on the Senate to row back: "You should concentrate on the development of the core area and not do too much planning games around it."