GreenBuzz Sustainability Lab Neukölln – Clean Air, City Compost and Vertical Gardens

Editor’s Note: This article was first published by GreenBuzz, an association that supports sustainability on regional and international levels through research, education and networking. The article was authored by Marco Blumendorf and originally appeared here.


What is a Sustainability Lab?

In our Sustainability Labs event series, GreenBuzz Berlin e.V. connects citizens and initiatives, which operate on neighbourhood level to develop innovative, realistic and sustainable solutions which protect the climate in the neighbourhood. After defining and kick-starting your solution in one of the three Sustainability Labs, GreenBuzz Berlin will support and fund the next steps to bring your idea to life!

On July 1st 2018, about 20 people came together for the second GreenBuzz Berlin Sustainability Lab at CRCLR in Neukölln. The team worked on three challenges that have been proposed by active members of the GreenBuzz community in Berlin:

Challenge 1 – Hydroponic Vertical Garden. There are a lot of bare walls in Berlin, mostly four stories high with no windows. They represent vast useless space. Until now. Let us use this space to automatically grow plants in vertical gardens, absorb CO2, clean our breathing air and create a canvas for natures wonders. Can Hydroponics (water bath instead of soil) ease the environmental control and enable us to create new concepts of vertical gardens? This challenge had five participants. It was run by Felix Hofmann from ImagineCargo and facilitated by Aurélie Ferron from Protellus.

Challenge 2 – Saubere Luft e.V. There is going to be a community platform to support specific local actions and goals in reducing air pollution in Neukölln. The air on many of our streets is heavily polluted and hazardous for health and wellbeing. The goal of this challenge is to bring the value of clean air to the forefront of everyone’s mind. We seek to brand “saubere Luft” (clean air) as a human right by founding Saubere Luft e.V., as well as by taking actions to create more space for bicycles and pedestrians, and increasing the number of electric busses, cars and bikes. This challenge had 5 participants. It was run by Frederik Henn and facilitated by Fenja Jensen.

Challenge 3 – Zoo Compost Stations. An experimental station is transforming food waste into high-quality bio-eggs, protein and compost. This pioneering initiative in Europe is able to manage 50 percent of the total municipal waste in the same neighbourhood where it is produced. No trucks, no incinerators, no CO2. In this challenge, we want to find out how this system could be utilised in Neukölln to support a Zero Waste lifestyle in the city and to exchange waste for eggs. This challenge had 4 participants. It was run by Ricardo Beck and facilitated by Amy Buer.

The process and results for each challenge are described below.

Hydroponic Vertical Gardens

In the Hydroponic Vertical Gardens workgroup, the team started with a discussion of the positive effects of plants in the city: noise-reduction, shadow-generation, fine-particle reduction, evaporation chill and CO2 reduction at the place of birth.

Many ideas like vertical gardens on the windowless parts of houses or other unused city parts were evaluated and brought together with construction requirements, needed permits, financing and, most importantly, maintenance costs and efforts towards a continuously working system. Interviewing people on the streets brought the insight that environmental issues are second class, while social concerns are currently the most important ones to address in Neukölln. Steadily rising rents, displacement pressure and more tourists, as well as short-term citizens, have created a situation in which the neighbourhood is highly dysfunctional, leading to emotions of fear and impotence. Therefore, the original idea was adapted to a green social hotspot, enriching the quality of  life and enabling social interaction: a low-cost, low-maintenance vertical park for a community suffering from bad air quality.

The proposed solution is Kiez Park (Small Convention Green-Spot Modules). A bench with a roof is the central place. A moss wall will shield the passer-by and create some sort of peace island where (elderly) people can take a break, the busy mother can relax and where people can meet.  For a setup like this, green moss is ideal, providing a fine-particle filter, being low maintenance and surviving even cold winters. Solar powered charging stations (like also proposed in the last sustainability lab) allow people to bring their laptops, charge their smartphones and get involved in social interaction while waiting (charging). For this reason, free Wifi was identified as another key aspect of the concept.

Ideally, a Kiez Park will be sponsored by a company which may use it for communication with the local people (via touchscreen, product placements etc). They can also customize the plants on the “green wall” and – in case of local businesses – incorporate the park into their daily business.

Action Plan

As a next step, the team now aims to build a functional prototype. A marketing and financing plan are crucial for the project, as is further research regarding similar projects. For instance, “mobiles grünes Zimmer” already does something similar (in Darmstadt) or “GreenCity Solutions”, which is a Berlin-based startup producing moss walls.

Saubere Luft e.V.

Based on the idea to create awareness of clean air in Neukölln, this group discussed the need for awareness in the general population. People do not know that the air is polluted, which means that education is required to bring their attention to the issue. Do you know how bad the air pollution in your neighborhood really is? We rely on expert advice, which is scarce. Collaboration with other groups who share similar goals is key to learn best practices, be it in Neukölln or worldwide.

According to the feedback collected from locals in the neighborhood, most people are somewhat fed up with dirty/polluted environment but are not aware about the scale of the problem. Exhaust fumes from cars and trucks are perceived as a major annoyance and health risk when cycling the city, which has also been recognised by others like Netzwerk Fahrradfreundliches Neukölln.

Action Plan

With those findings in mind, the group decided to take action by forming an initiative to promote “Saubere Luft in Neukölln”. As first steps, an award will be given to the most polluted street in Berlin, with an open invitation to press and other activist groups. Furthermore, signs reporting the current level of air pollution will be put up at central spots in Neukölln.

Through the heightened awareness, the initiative will motivate people to use bikes instead of cars. We also hope to increase pressure on decision makers for greater bicycle lanes and less traffic to reduce the amount of emitted CO2.

Zoo Compost Stations

In the starting phase, Ricardo Beck explained the idea and an already existing prototype in Prenzlauer Berg in detail. He focused on the benefits it has in relation to traditional waste management systems. The following brainstorming session explored the questions of the current status of the project and especially how to engage citizens and neighbors to participate in the donation of their waste, as the group decided this was the most important aspect for the long-term success of a Zoo Compost Station.

After brainstorming, the team took out the key questions to be answered by two possible target groups: citizens and local food shops (cafeteria and restaurants) and went to the street for interviews. In summary, there was a general interest from all interview participants, but feedback varied depending on the knowledge and background. In conclusion, it was estimated that 1~5% of the population will value the project by understanding and caring about the environmental benefits that are involved.

With respect to the CO2 reduction goal of the Sustainability Lab, the reduction of carbon emissions into the atmosphere is not the only significant environmental benefit of the project. Soil nutrient balance, fertility, anti-desertification and community resilience are other benefits. The project also contributes by developing cleaner composting processes (less methane) and by reducing truck travel, as less waste is generated in the neighbourhood.

Action Plan

As a next step, an information campaign will be developed, starting with an invitation to a community party for the residents of the garden where the Zoo Compost Station. This allows the demonstration of the prototype and the processes behind it, as well as the benefits of the concept. They will also be invited to participate, either by donating their waste or by volunteering to maintain the station. By finding a sustainable system for participation in the area around the existing Zoo Compost Station, they will be able to build more Zoo Compost stations in other locations and use the best-practice insights they have gained to easily foster community participation in new areas.

The event was on July 19th at 7 pm in Peace of Land. Communication material was given out to ensure that no one would leave the party without fully understanding how the station works.

What’s Next?

Based on these results, we are now working on the first prototypes together. We continue to support the three groups throughout the process. Involving and informing the public about these projects, as well as additional projects, is a core responsibility of GreenBuzz Berlin in that regard.

Sounds like something you want to do as well? Take the sustainability labs to your country and city, empower initiatives and citizens and help save CO2 on a local level!

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