Before I review this book, I must first mention a short film about Berlin that I saw at the TimesUp movie night. "The Invisible Frame," it is called, where Tilda Swinton cycles around the perimeter of West Berlin, a year before the wall came down. I got the feeling that West Berlin, despite fixed boundaries and being landlocked, was doing quite well for itself. I saw closely-packed homes, parks, gardens, and none of the pinched crowding I expected to see. It was nothing like the old city of Kowloon in Hong Kong.
This unusual book, "Berlin: A Green Archipelago," was written as a pamphlet in 1977, and printed in Ithaca by a German professor working in the USA. It is a manifesto for turning Berlin into a planned community that would accommodate residential, commercial, and open spaces. There would even be areas where Gypsies would be allowed to camp. In the first chapter it says that Berlin has fixed boundaries that can’t expand, so the architects would have to take into account the issue of overcrowding.
Rather than call for demolition and (what Americans call) urban renewal, the manifesto suggests creating a grid that would include existing buildings and make room for new ones. This makes sense because it allows streets large enough for buses to get through, and avoids the creation of enclaves that are badly served by public transit.
Though I love the ideas in the manifesto, a lot of them eventually became unnecessary. The unification of Germany in 1989 eliminated the need for a lot of the space mentioned in here, because the population would shift to where there was employment. After the Berlin Wall came down, the “no man’s land” on the East German side became available, as did previously undesired areas. On the opposite side of the argument are huge apartment blocks that are being demolished because there’s nobody to rent them to; people have abandoned communities where there is no employment.
I would encourage the reading of this book to anybody studying urban planning or architecture. It definitely has some important points about urban living.