This map shows how people used Berlin's U-Bahn in the 1920s

Bulowstrasse station in 1903 - one of the first stations to be built on Berlin's U-Bahn network. Image: Wikimedia Commons

From the saucily snarling chords of Cabaret to the dusky, smoke-filled backrooms of Christopher Isherwood’s novels, 1920s Berlin conjures up certain images in the collective consciousness. And no city could cultivate an image as distinctive as Berlin’s during this period without a solid public transport network.

Yep, you guessed it. We’re here to talk about trains.

First things first, a reasonably brief history of the Berlin U-Bahn.

This map shows it pretty well, but the gist of it is that a very small-scale, east-west network was built by about 1913, running primarily through Schöneberg, Charlottenburg, and Wilmersdorf, all pretty affluent areas as it was thought this would prove more profitable. This wasn’t an entirely underground network, though, and the earliest stretches of track were elevated.

Click to expand. The history of the U-Bahn. Image: Sansculotte.

The second phase of construction, through the 1910s and 1920s, saw the first north-south lines, as the city wanted to bring the benefits of the railway lines to the city’s poorer residents.

Lisa Charlotte Rost, a blogger and data nut (same) living in Berlin, spotted this historical map from 1927 at Uhlandstrasse U-Bahn station in Germany’s capital, and it’s pretty cool.

The caption, written in the beautiful phlegm that is the German language, translates as, roughly: “Strength/density of traffic on the over and underground railway lines in 1927 (numbers given in millions of passengers)”

Click to enlarge. Image: BVG via Lisa Charlotte Rost

The first thing to note is that the lines pictured on the map are rather different to today’s U-Bahn offering.

The stretch from Thielplatz to Nordring is today split between two lines: the U3, from Thielplatz to Nollendorfplatz, and the U2, from there to Nordring, which is today called Schönhauser Allee.

The branch of the same line from Wittenbergplatz to both Stadion and Wilhelmplatz is now split between the U2, which runs from Wittenbergplatz to Olympiastadion (as it is now known) and on further to Ruhleben, and one stop of the U7 from Bismarckstrasse to Richard-Wagner-Platz, which appears on the 1927 map as Wilhelmplatz.

The light green line on the map, from Uhlandstrasse and Hauptstrasse to Warschauer Strasse, is today primarily the U1, which runs from Uhlandstrasse to Warschauer Straße. The spur from Nollendorfplatz south to Hauptstrasse is today the short U4 line, on which many of the station names have changed. Viktoria-Louise Platz and Bayerischer Platz have stayed the same, but Stadtpark has become Rathaus Schöneberg and the terminus, Hauptstrasse, has become Innsbrucker Platz.

The final principal route that this old cartographic wonder shows runs from Seestrasse in the north to Bergstrasse in the south, with a short branch running off to Flughafen (as in, airport) too. Seestrasse is now about one-third of the way along the U6 line, which runs south to Mehringdamm, which on the 1927 map is called Belle-Alliance Strasse. From there, the current U6 continues along the path of the short spur line to Flughafen, where Kreuzberg station is today’s Platz der Luftbrücke and Flughafen – built to serve the old Berlin Tempelhof airport, now used as a recreational park which is today called Paradestrasse.

The main run of the dark green line on the 1927 map, however, meanders on via Hermannplatz and Rathaus Neukölln to its terminus at Bergstrasse, which is today called Karl-Marx-Strasse.

And finally there’s the little, little-used stretch from Kottbusser Tor south to Boddinstrasse, which is just a small chunk of today’s U8.

Berlin in 1932, five years after the passengers recorded on this map. Image: German Federal Archives.

So yes. Lots of differences.

As for the real content of the map, there are lots of very obvious things to say here.

All three main arteries are much busier in their central sections than at their edges fairly predictably.

Transfer stations such as Wittenbergplatz, Nollendorfplatz and Friedrichstadt all see slight reductions in the business of one line as passengers flip over to the other again, standard.


Branch lines of the same route combine to make the central sections busier in terms of passenger numbers: Belle-Alliance Strasse sees 26.1m and 5.6m journeys combine, with a few others who get on at Belle-Alliance Strasse, to make 33.8m journeys from there to Hallesches Tor. This is also obvious.

But you can also pick out two interesting tidbits that reveal the age of this map in an enjoyable way.

The line to Flughafen looks pretty unused, and there are two obvious reasons for this. One is that air travel was nothing like it is today. Deutsche Luft Hansa (as in Lufthansa, but there’s no legal connection) has only started in 1926, and the U-Bahn connection to Tempelhof airport was the first direct connection between a metro system and an airport in the world. Air travel for passenger use was still in its very early days, and was restricted to those who could afford it.

The other important fact here is that the station only opened on 10 September 1927. By that measure, having already seen 2.2m journeys isn’t actually bad work.

The other interesting point on the map is the Stadion station, which only had 600,000 journeys in 1927, according to the map.

There’s no excuse of youth, here: the Stadion U-Bahn station opened on 8 June, 1913, at the same time as the Deutsches Stadion on the site.

An IK-type train testing at Olympiastadion station. Image: Bahnsteigkante.

The whole site was finished in ample time for Berlin’s hosting of the 1916 Summer Olympic Games, but they were cancelled for the obvious and glaring reason of the First World War, and regular train service to the Stadion station did not start until 1922. The surrounding area at that time was hardly (nor is it today) a particularly packed residential area, so it’s understandable that use of the station was a little dwindling.

It was only when Berlin was awarded the 1936 Olympics that the area came back to life. German architect Werner March was originally contracted to restore the 1913 Deutsches Stadion, but when Adolf Hitler came into power and decided to use the games as propaganda, he commissioned March instead to built a totally new stadium.

In 1927, however, the 1936 games hadn’t even been awarded to any city (next up on the horizon were the 1928 games, in Amsterdam).

So there you have it. History, maps and trains, all at the same time. Dont say we never do anything for you.

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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Owning public space is expensive. So why do developers want to do it?

Granary Yard, London. Image: Getty.

A great deal has been written about privately owned public space, or POPS. A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed the proliferation of “pseudo-public spaces”. Tales of people being watched, removed from or told off in POPS have spread online. Activists have taken to monitoring POPS, and politicians on both sides of the pond are calling for reforms in how they are run.

Local authorities’ motives for selling off public spaces are normally simple: getting companies to buy and maintain public space saves precious public pounds. Less straightforward and often overlooked in this debate is why – given the maintenance costs, public safety concerns and increasingly unflattering media attention – developers would actually want to own public space in the first place.

To answer that question it’s important to note that POPS can’t be viewed as isolated places, like parks or other public spaces might be. For the companies that own them, public spaces are bound up in the business that takes place inside their private buildings; POPS are tools that allow them, in one way or another, to boost profits.

Trade-offs

In some cities, such as Hong Kong and New York, ownership of public space is a trade-off for the right to bend the rules in planning and zoning. In 1961 New York introduced a policy that came to be known as ‘incentive zoning’. Developers who took on the provision of some public space could build wider, taller buildings, ignoring restrictions that had previously required staggered vertical growth to let sunlight and air into streets.

Since then, the city has allowed developers to build 20m square feet of private space in exchange for 80 acres of POPS, or 525 individual spaces, according to watchdog Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS).

Several of those spaces lie in Trump Tower. Before the King of the Deal began construction on his new headquarters in 1979, he secured a pretty good deal with the city: Trump Tower would provide two atriums, two gardens, some restrooms and some benches for public use; in exchange 20 floors could be added to the top of the skyscraper. That’s quite a lot of condos.

Shockingly, the current president has not always kept up his end of the bargain and has been fined multiple times for dissuading members of the public from using POPS by doing things like placing flower pots on top of benches – violating a 1975 rule which said that companies had to provide amenities that actually make public spaces useable. The incident might suggest the failure of the ‘honour system’ under which POPS operate day-to-day. Once developers have secured their extra square footage, they might be tempted to undermine, subtly, the ‘public’ nature of their public spaces.

But what about where there aren’t necessarily planning benefits to providing public space? Why would companies go to the trouble of managing spaces that the council would otherwise take care of?


Attracting the ‘right sort’

Granary Square, part of the £5bn redevelopment of London’s Kings Cross, has been open since 2012. It is one of Europe’s largest privately-owned public spaces and has become a focal point for concerns over corporate control of public space. Yet developers of the neighbouring Coal Drop Yards site, due to open in October 2018, are also making their “dynamic new public space” a key point in marketing.

Cushman Wakefield, the real estate company in charge of Coal Drops Yard, says that the vision of the developers, Argent, has been to “retain the historical architecture to create a dramatic environment that will attract visitors to the 100,000 square feet of boutiques”. The key word here is “attract”. By designing and managing POPS, developers can attract the consumers who are essential to the success of their sites and who might be put off by a grubby council-managed square – or by a sterile shopping mall door.

A 2011 London Assembly Report found that the expansion of Canary Wharf in the 1990s was a turning point for developers who now “assume that they themselves will take ownership of an open space, with absolute control, in order to protect the value of the development as a whole”. In many ways this is a win-win situation; who doesn’t appreciate a nice water feature or shrub or whatever else big developer money can buy?

The caveat is, as academic Tridib Banerjee pointed out back in 2001: “The public is welcome as long as they are patrons of shops and restaurants, office workers, or clients of businesses located on the premises. But access to and use of the space is only a privilege and not a right” – hence the stories of security guards removing protesters or homeless people who threaten the aspirational appeal of places like Granary Square.

In the US, developers have taken this kind of space-curation even further, using public spaces as part of their formula for attracting the right kind of worker, as well as consumer, for nearby businesses. In Cincinnati, developer 3CDC transformed the notoriously crime-ridden Over-The-Rhine (OTR) neighbourhood into a young professional paradise. Pouring $47m into an initial make-over in 2010, 3CDC beautified parks and public space as well as private buildings.

To do so, the firm received $50 million  in funding from corporations like Procter and Gamble, whose Cincinnati headquarters sits to the South-West of OTR. This kind of hyper-gentrification has profoundly change the demographics of the neighbourhood – to the anger of many long-term residents – attracting, essentially, the kind of people who work at Procter and Gamble.

Elsewhere, in cities like Alpharetta, Georgia, 3CDC have taken their public space management even further, running events and entertainment designed to attract productive young people to otherwise dull neighbourhoods.

Data pools

The proposed partnership between the city of Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet) has highlighted another motive for companies to own public space: the most modern of all resources, data.

Data collection is at the heart of the ‘smart city’ utopia: the idea that by turning public spaces and the people into them into a vast data pool, tech companies can find ways to improve transport, the environment and urban quality of life. If approved next year, Sidewalk would take over the mostly derelict east waterfront area, developing public and private space filled with sensors.

 Of course, this isn’t altruism. The Globe and Mail describe Sidewalk’s desired role as “the private garbage collectors of data”. It’s an apt phrase that reflects the merging of public service and private opportunity in Toronto’s future public space.

The data that Sidewalk could collect in Toronto would be used by Google in its commercial projects. Indeed, they’ve already done so in New York’s LinkNYC and London’s LinkUK. Kiosks installed around the cities provide the public with wifi and charging points, whilst monitoring traffic and pedestrians and generating data to feed into Google Maps.

The subway station at Hudson Yards, New York City. Image: Getty.

This is all pretty anodyne stuff. Data on how we move around public spaces is probably a small price to pay for more efficient transport information, and of course Sidewalk don’t own the areas around their Link Kiosks. But elsewhere companies’ plans to collect data in their POPS have sparked controversy. In New York’s Hudson Yards development – which Sidewalk also has a stake in – ambiguity over how visitors and residents can opt out of sharing their data when in its public square, have raised concerns over privacy.

In Toronto, Sidewalk have already offered to share their data with the city. However, Martin Kenney, researcher at the University of California at Davis and co-author of 2016’s ‘The Rise of the Platform Economy’, has warned that the potential value of a tech company collecting a community’s data should not be underestimated. “What’s really important is the deals Toronto cuts with Sidewalk may set terms and conditions for the rest of the world," he said after the announcement in October.

The project could crystallise all three motives behind the ownership of POPS. Alongside data collection, Sidewalk will likely have some leeway over planning regulations and will certainly tailor its public spaces to its ideal workers and consumers – Google have already announced that it would move its Canadian headquarters, from their current location in Downton Toronto, into the first pilot phase of the development.

Even if the Sidewalks Lab project never happens, the motives behind companies’ ownership of POPS tell us that cities’ public realms are of increasing interest to private hands.

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