Heiner Monheim is a geographer, urban planner, traffic expert, professor of applied geography, border crosser between science and practice, utopian and fighter for more liveable cities.
Mr Monheim, you have long been committed to livable cities: What can we do today to live in them tomorrow?
Above all, develop more imagination! In doing so, we have to change our extremely car-fixed laws in building and planning law as well as tax law. In addition, a new financing instrument for climate-friendly construction and planning must be developed.
How could such a financial instrument be designed?
With a vehicle toll for all roads based on mileage and emissions! The proceeds would be made available primarily to local authorities in order to establish new climate-oriented financing systems.
Why is this not happening – what is preventing us from implementing it?
The power of habit and the inertia of the systems, as well as the unchanged belief of the elites in the future of mass car traffic, is holding us back. It is the mistaken belief that the imbalance can be brought under control with a little e-car and autonomous applications.
The introduction of electric cars is not the solution for you?
Correct – only the departure from the car itself makes modern mobility possible! Of course, this is a gigantic transformation task that transport policy is still shirking.
Why is transport policy shirking this task?
Because you can make so much money by exporting traffic jams and SUVs. Besides, the car industry is allowed to produce increasingly inefficient cars. The few alibi activities in car sharing and autonomous driving are of little consolation. Fewer cars and better mobility must become top political objectives. The only way out of the traffic jam is to say goodbye to mass motorization.
How can individual citizens make their contribution to a city worth living in – how can the economy and trade do so?
This can be achieved through consistent switching. For this we must above all reduce our prejudices. All of them have a longing for urban structures and intact public spaces – and this longing must be satisfied. This requires a great commitment to urban living.
How exactly do you mean a “great commitment to urban living”?
I see this as a renaissance of quality public housing with mixed private investment. To this end, we should consistently mobilise building land.
Where will the building land in the conurbations come from?
We have a lot of space in the form of large car parks, streets that are far too wide and intersections. Since these areas are already municipal land, construction could be carried out there particularly cheaply. Furthermore, the superfluous car development saves increased construction costs. Living in the city would finally become affordable again. This also requires that people abandon distance-intensive shopping and leisure activities and instead rediscover the value of proximity.
Keyword e-Government: What do you think of the idea of involving citizens in urban planning – as is the case in Scandinavia, for example?
I think that although modern, digital forms of participation are an important option, they are of only limited help when it comes to getting “into the blue”.
Qualified input is required for a successful implementation of the participation. Possible visions of the future, utopias and wishes must be “fed” with serious building blocks. This is somewhat comparable to the planning cell and the citizens’ report. This will produce results that can be easily exploited.
Which technologies for tomorrow’s traffic would you particularly promote?
First of all, of course, foot and bicycle traffic would have priority! The neighbourhoods should be dominated by local mobility with a peaceful coexistence of walking and cycling, with minimal and slow car traffic. Instead of individual passenger cars, I advocate autonomous minibuses and midibuses that stop “on demand”. The tram should experience its renaissance everywhere. Low-floor networks should grow, mainly with grass tracks and tramways. Such new trams should also be able to travel far into the surrounding regions as urban and suburban trains. In addition to this, I believe that many new urban cableways are useful, which above all close the gaps in the conventional rail network. These are particularly suitable because of their short construction times and minimally invasive design. In addition, there would have to be numerous traditional public transport stops as well as mobile stations with car and optional ride sharing.
What concepts are there for integrating the surrounding area into the infrastructure of the cities?
For sparsely populated areas, there should be dense networks of rural buses linked to urban rail transport. Public transport should regulate regional freight transport, with KombiBUS and KombiBAHN. The old freight ramps were to be reactivated, as were many disused railway lines. The bicycle traffic should get parallel routes along the railway tracks.
What does the “perfect city of the future” look like for you – your urban utopia?
My utopian city is compact: inside and outside! Where the cities are still badly urbanised today, the “lowland desert” is being increased. Wide streets and crossroads are narrowed and partly built over, for new apartments. There is no serious separation of use – but rather a mixture of living space and trade. To this end, the decentralised supply was strengthened by setting maximum limits for retail space and by taxing ground-level, large-scale retail space and parking spaces. In my utopia there is a balanced regional development in favour of the many small and medium-sized towns. And of course: Car traffic plays only a small role and moves on mixed traffic areas with a maximum speed of 20 km/h. Streets have become multifunctional public spaces.
Thank you for the interview!