Think and act local – in our globalized times, grassroots campaigns are increasingly important. To encourage this vital trend, smart urban pioneers supports new urban initiatives. For inspiration, check out these six successful projects!

Our cities keep getting bigger, busier, and more anonymous – including everything else this entails. So, it only makes sense to focus on improving our everyday quality of life. And nobody knows our cities better than their own residents – they are the true experts when it comes to smart urban development.

A lot of the time, the best ideas develop on the ground. We present six former visions that started out as backyard initiatives – and now improve life in their cities.

1. Stadt statt Strand – inspire and activate

“Even tiny environmental interventions have the promise to strengthen a neighborhood’s potential and the way people interact in their quarter – in a lasting and sustainable way”, says Stadt statt Strand founder Laura Bruns. Therefore she presents interesting, autononomous niche projects on their website.. For example, the Boulodrome in Berlin, a privately run boule ground, that had been known only to close residents before. Or a do-it-yourself skatepool in Zurich. Or a privately built garden on a Hamburg sidewalk.

Flanking these online measures, Stadt statt Strand has also published a handy manual (“Stadt selber machen” on the DIY city) with plenty of ways to improve, change, and spruce up the urban environment. And don’t forget to check out the busy team’s excellent blog.

urban projects stadt statt strand berlin boule playing
Boulodrome Berlin, presented by Stadt statt Strand
Photo: Stadt statt Strand
urban projects stadt statt strand berlin sign
Photo: Stadt statt Strand
urban projects stadt statt strand berlin boule
Photo: Stadt statt Strand
urban projects stadt statt strand berlin booklet
Photo: Stadt statt Strand

2. ZwischenZeitZentrale – temporary cultural spaces

Empty offices, unused spaces, and urban wastelands – often in prime locations – define most German cityscapes. In Bremen, however, such “lost” spaces are on the way out. In 2010, the privately owned ZwischenZeitZentrale – short ZZZ – started to broker underused real estate, devising clever concepts for limited intermediary uses like art exhibitions or short-term festival accommodation.
To date, more than 50 such projects have been realized. The ZZZ not only minimizes financial losses (from vacancies), but also encourages creativity, adds scope for culture and participation, and even improves entire districts. This, in turn, benefits the properties’ owners, the city itself, the temporary tenants, and – naturally – all local residents.

urban projects ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen father child tagging
The ZwischenZeitZentrale transformes unused spaces into temporary cultural spaces.
Photo: Daniel Schnier, ZZZ -ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen
urban projects ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen street art
Photo: Daniel Schnier, ZZZ -ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen
urban projects ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen afternoon rave
Photo: Daniel Schnier, ZZZ -ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen
urban projects ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen sound installation
Photo: Daniel Schnier, ZZZ -ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen

3. Radbahn – exploiting unexplored potential

Around the world, cycling is becoming increasingly popular. And while two-wheeled transport is on the up in Berlin, the city still has some way to go before it is as bike-friendly as Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Radbahn aims to change all that with Berlin’s first covered cycle path, crossing almost 9 km of the city. Surprisingly enough, it wouldn’t take much to realize this measure, as 80% of the route already exists – below the tracks of the U1 metro line. The planned route’s cyclability and quality could be improved with measures ranging from bike repair shops to cafes all the way to urban gardening or better integration with Berlin’s public transport network and car sharing companies.

urban projects radbahn berlin u1 railway
The Radbahn project will provide Berlin’s citizens with the first (mostly) covered bike path in the German capital.
Photo: Radbahn

4. Pumpipumpe – rent, don’t buy

Switzerland’s Pumpipumpe pursues a simple, but ingenious idea: Rent, don’t buy. The advantages: While this approach is easy on resources and wallets, it also introduces helpful users to one another. All it takes is a bunch of stickers featuring items people are willing to share, like ladders or power drills. To publicize their participation, users simply attach these stickers to their post box – stickers are available straight from Pumpipumpe for 5 Swiss Francs (or 5 Euros). To simplify matters even further, there’s a digital map of nearby lenders. And the community keeps growing – right now, almost 16,000 households around the world are part of the network and around half of them can be found on the online map.

urban projects pumpipumpe Schwitzerland sharing sticker
For urban item sharing – the Pumpipumpe sticker
Photo: Pumpipumpe
urban projects pumpipumpe Schwitzerland sharing sticker postbox
Photo: Pumpipumpe
urban projects pumpipumpe Schwitzerland sticker postbox
Photo: Pumpipumpe

5. Pfand gehört daneben and Pfandring – putting an end to dumpster diving

In 2011, the graphic designer and art director Matthias Seeba-Gomille spotted a curious situation: One person threw his empty bottle into a garbage can – and another dug it out straight away. While the former didn’t care about the deposit, the latter considered it a vital income. Seeba-Gomille decided to do something about this obvious connection and, the very same day, started a Facebook page and designed a sticker stating “Pfand gehört daneben“ (how to deposit your deposit). With almost 42,000 Facebook followers, the charity campaign keeps going from strength to strength – stickers and posters can be found all across Germany.

Paul Ketz had a similar experience and epiphany. In 2012, the Cologne-based product designer came up with a so-called ”Pfandring“ (deposit ring): The stainless steel design fits snugly around a garbage can, allowing people to leave their bottles and cans for others to reclaim. No more digging through potentially hazardous garbage! These rings, too, prove popular and can be found in the cities of Bamberg, Cologne, Karlsruhe, Bielefeld, and Magdeburg.

urban projects pfandring cologne deposit ring
The “Pfandring” by Cologne-based product designer Paul Ketz fits snugly around a garbage can.
Photo: Pfandring / Paul Ketz und Markus Diefenbacher

Header image: Daniel Schnier, ZZZ -ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen