Greener Living – Vote for Your Favorite Urban Oases


By Marianne Wellershoff

How do we want to live in the future? The Social Design Award has selected a shortlist of urban development projects focusing on plants in the city. Now it’s your turn to decide which finalist will receive the 2,500-euro audience award.

Bringing more green to cities and imbuing green areas with more life — these are the goals of the Social Design Award, sponsored by SPIEGEL ONLINE und SPIEGEL WISSEN, which is being held for the fourth time this year. The event has attracted roughly 150 submissions from Germany and countries like South Africa and Britain. Our jury of experts has compiled a short list of the 10 best projects, which we present to you here.

Now, dear readers, it’s your turn: Choose your favorites for the audience award. Cast your vote by Oct. 26. You’ll find your ballot below this text. The audience award comes with a 2,500 euro ($3,000) purse. The winner, along with the winner of the jury prize, will be announced on Nov. 14 on SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Banana Republic

“Ask not what your city can do for you, ask what you can do for your city” — that’s the motto adopted by Michael Kiefer, better known in Cologne as “President of the Banana Republic.” His country, located in the Südstadt district of Cologne, is a formerly neglected, 226 square meters (2,400 square feet) traffic island. In 2009, Kiefer made the first plantings, illegally, entirely on his own. In 2014, the guerilla gardener finally received a lease agreement with the city and support from locals who have been helping him care for the palm trees, wildflowers and, of course, banana plants ever since. Watering cans have been hung up to encourage neighbors to water the plants. The unconventional greenery was chosen in order to make passersby, tourists and newcomers to the neighborhood stop and wonder, offering an opportunity to break the ice with the locals. Now Kiefer is considering establishing a bee colony on the traffic island.

Gartenpaten – Find a Garden To Adopt

“Anyone can garden,” according to Leonie Culmann and Veronika Wendt, but unfortunately not everyone has a garden or the time and energy to commit to it. And those who do have a garden, green urban lot or planter box sometimes lack the time to look after their green plot. This inspired the two women from Freiburg to launch the website with some help from crowdfunding. On the site, budding gardeners can search for garden-sharing opportunities and offer space for others. It also allows local communities to make vacant lots available for urban gardening. The idea is to apply the notion of the sharing economy to the precious greenery in our cities and create a forum for people to meet and share their enthusiasm for gardening, along with many other interests. For instance, older people with urban gardens can look after the children of their garden subtenants, and refugees can make new friends in community gardens.

Humboldt Volcano

What if a waterfall were to come tumbling down next to the reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace? What if huge trees and exotic plants grew there? In their Berlin Hybrid Space Lab, professors Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar have developed a utopian annex to the Humboldt Forum: a vertical jungle consisting of forested terraces, a rooftop garden and a conservatory reminiscent of the travels of the intrepid naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. “As a stacked ‘oasis’ that integrates vegetation into built-up surroundings, the Humboldt Volcano presents approaches for assimilating greenery into highly dense urban settings.” Sikiaridi and Vogelaar see their idea as part of an “urban forestation” that paves the way for establishing unconventional green areas within the limited confines of the public space in today’s cities.

Käthe’s Garden

Getting together with neighbors to plant flowerbeds and vegetable patches in a nearby vacant lot has become the standard model of urban gardening. These types of projects are usually launched in areas where there is already a strong sense of community. But what about neighborhoods where such connections simply don’t exist? Berlin housing developer Degewo seized the initiative in 2015 and created a 500 sq. meter (5,400 sq. ft.) community garden in an inner courtyard surrounded by high buildings in the Gropiusstadt development in the German capital. Thirty tenants were involved in the project right from the beginning. They came up with plans in workshops, decided on the name Käthe’s Garden, planted flowerbeds, created vegetable plots and organized parties. And the community gardeners will receive assistance from the Himmelbeet gardening project for five years. Based on this positive experience, Degewo has expanded the concept to three additional Berlin neighborhoods.

Loud Shadows / Liquid Events

“Loud Shadows” looks like a large transparent UFO, or huge soap bubble, that has landed in the middle of the forest, perforated by a tree. This mobile space was placed in the woods as part of the Oerol Festival in the Netherlands by the Plastique Fantastique platform for contemporary architecture. The bubble served as a venue for music and dance performances. “The main idea was to create an architecture that blends into the forest.” The Berlin-based international architectural and design group has been creating inflatable sculptures and spaces for many years now. According to Plastique Fantastique, one of the aims of the “Loud Shadows” bubble in the woods was to “intensify the relationship between people and nature.”


A centrally located, unused lawn that no one is using offers plenty of potential. At least that’s what a group of students from the Burg Giebichenstein Art Academy in Leipzig believed the city’s Johannisplatz was begging to be brought to life. From May to July 2017, the students created the “meyouwedo” installation, consisting of six mobile cubes and a wooden deck. This became a venue for workshops, language courses, concerts, film screenings and a self-help bicycle repair shop. The goal was “to contribute to a multifaceted and trans-cultural society,” which essentially means that “meyouwedo” offered an opportunity for local residents and refugees living in Leipzig to get to know each other. “Urban green areas have always been intended to serve as meeting places and enjoyed great popularity,” according to the project description, which adds that “these spaces offer a relaxed, semi-private yet protected setting to enter into an easy-going dialogue.”

Mobile Forage and Field Yield Kitchen

In community gardens, people share the tasks of planting, watering, weeding and harvesting. The harvest is usually not eaten together, though, instead usually ending up in a cooking pot at home. It’s a shame because communal meals are a great way of bringing people together. Now the designers at Berlin’s Ellery Studio have come up with a solution. Since built-in kitchens are impractical for urban gardening areas, they have created a mobile, collapsible kitchen. Such kitchens already exist, of course, but the Ellery Studio model has solar panels, a pedal-driven generator, water tank, stove and oven. Teaching materials about fruits and vegetables, and recipes to prepare them, introduce a didactic element to the kitchen. By jointly cooking and eating the bountiful harvest, the designers hope that “immigrants, teenagers and other underrepresented groups” will be attracted to the communal gardens.

Mobile Parking Place Gardens

Where in today’s dense inner cities is there room for honey-bee meadows and wild plants? Everywhere! At least that’s what the project by Hamburg’s “gray meets green” garden group intends to show the world. Wildflowers have been planted in niches near St. Petri Church, located on the city’s bustling shopping street, Mönckebergstrasse. A paved courtyard near the church that is open to the public during the day has been enhanced with a naturalistic strip of greenery and a garden corner with plant tubs. The project shows that new urban greenery projects do not require astronomical investments — just plenty of commitment and a willingness to start small. Materials like scrap wood and old construction mats were used. The digging and building work was done by people with and without severe disabilities because the garden group is a project launched by the Arinet integration service. These days the garden corner is a favorite spot for officer workers during their breaks and the honey-bee meadow has become a popular meeting place for insects.

A Garden, a Former Church and a Sense of Community

It all began in 2010 with a small herb garden. This was followed by vegetable plots. Today, the Island Garden at the Diaconic Church (formally known as Cross Church) in Wuppertal, Germany, supplies many ingredients for the hot lunches served in the church. It’s the fruit of an initiative by a group of seven volunteers involved in urban gardening and the local mission. They say, “We experience how isolated people come together, observe what is happening and then decide to take on small jobs that are fitting for them.” Now the diaconia wants to sell the church and the activists would like to purchase it. That would give them an opportunity during the winter to integrate people in the neighborhood who are not easily brought into a community. The plan is to use mobile furnishings for sleeping, working and playing to create “an open, multi-functional space for events” and a “social hotel”.

Vertical Breathing Room

Space is limited, and the more people move to the city, the greater the competition for control of the remaining open spaces. This has inspired architect and landscape designer Isabel Zintl to develop the idea of a vertical park that can be created in vacant lots. “Making use of vertical breathing room makes unused space available for residents in densely populated city districts,” says Zintl, “and this creates a green meeting place for local neighbors.” A vertical garden is a place where people can barbecue, while away the hours, drink coffee together, read, gaze across the rooftops, plant crops and harvest vegetables. The design and use of vacant lot parks is done together with the subsequent users, says Zintl, so the process engenders a sense of community among local residents.




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