Monday, June 8, 2009

Governance: The politics of transportation

"Two cheers for the market. Not three."*

Günter Blobel is one Nobel Prize winner who is not resting on his laurels. Friday's New York Times published an Op-Ed piece which goes right to the heart of the concerns and priorities of World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda - the politics of sustainable transportation and the need for wise governance to provide the dynamic frame that is needed for the energies of democracy to work. We thank Dr. Blobel for agreeing to share his thoughts with World Streets.

Eyes on the street in Dresden:

Save the Dresden Elbe Valley
- By Günter Blobel
Published: June 4, 2009, International Herald Tribune

The Dresden Elbe Valley is likely to be deleted from the list of World Cultural Heritage sites at the annual meeting of the World Cultural Heritage Committee of Unesco on June 23.

This is due to the construction of a huge four-lane highway bridge that bisects the Elbe Valley site at its most sensitive position, thereby destroying one of Europe’s last river landscapes.

Ultimately responsible for this impending calamity is Chancellor Angela Merkel herself. As chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union she failed to correct the misguided politics of her party colleagues in Dresden, the capital of the federal state of Saxony. She did not publicly oppose their numerous provocations of Unesco. And with her assertion that this is a “regional” problem, she has ignored Germany’s contractual obligations to Unesco.

-> The full text of this article is available from the NYT on-line by clicking here.
- Günter Blobel, professor at Rockefeller University in New York City, was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He is founder of the nonprofit Friends of Dresden, to whom he presented the lion's share of his million dollar 1999 Nobel award.

Here is some first background on this important project and clash from Unesco World Heritage Website at

Dresden Elbe Valley

Brief Description

The 18th- and 19th-century cultural landscape of Dresden Elbe Valley extends some 18 km along the river from Übigau Palace and Ostragehege fields in the north-west to the Pillnitz Palace and the Elbe River Island in the south-east. It features low meadows, and is crowned by the Pillnitz Palace and the centre of Dresden with its numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to 20th centuries. The landscape also features 19th- and 20th-century suburban villas and gardens and valuable natural features. Some terraced slopes along the river are still used for viticulture and some old villages have retained their historic structure and elements from the industrial revolution, notably the 147-m Blue Wonder steel bridge (1891–93), the single-rail suspension cable railway (1898–1901), and the funicular (1894–95). The passenger steamships (the oldest from 1879) and shipyard (c. 1900) are still in use.

* For full text of article click here.

And from a Unesco report of 04.07.2008.

Dresden's status was called into question in 2006 because the Waldschloesschen bridge now under construction was viewed as a threat to the valuable cultural landscape. UNESCO has recommended the bridge be replaced with a tunnel.

Voters approved the bridge construction in 2005, however UNESCO offered a grace period last year so alternatives could be evaluated.

* For full text of article click here.


Editor's comment: From a New Mobility perspective.

Here we have a perfect microcosm of the kinds of conflicts we face every day and in every corner of this beleaguered planet in the struggle for sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives. On the one side, unexamined inertial attitudes reinforced by a broadly shared failure to recognize the imperatives of this very different new century. And on the other hand, a failure of the proponents for preservation to reach deeply enough into the issues and choices to convince.

I would like to think that it is not too late to band together to encourage an immediate halt to construction subsequent to an independent review of the bridge options, of which there are surely a number which can be packaged in such a way as to deal with the concerns of those who need to get from A to B in their city. There are organizations and groups in Germany, and internationally, who can work with the city and key actors on all sides to help sort this out in a way that deal with the concerns of the public while at the same time preserving their magnificent heritage.

It would seem to me that the strong push to the Green parties across Europe in the just-concluded European elections, and in Germany, signal that the time is right for this kind of review and rethink. It is not just a matter of one bridge and one city, but of the future of the planet. No less!

We intend to keep on with this governance dialogue, which to our minds is not getting nearly enough attention. It is of course deeply political, and that is the one area in which progress is most needed. How to get a strong majority of citizens behind the sustainability agenda? Stay tuned.

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  1. What really did impress me was the fact, that the majority of Dresden inhabitants later still voted for the bridge, after all endless discussions on risk of the world heritage status, environmental effects like induced traffic and so forth, all that. Needless to say, that the bridge is completely useless, even if you look only at it from the vantage of car traffic ...

    And this sad bridge story is not the only example of this car-centered ideology. A few weeks ago there was a discussion in Dresden on a small pedestrian project (Kesselsdorfer Street), and again, they voted for the cars. Seems it`s helpless.

    So the lesson learned is this: cars are still the most important thing to the majority of these East-German Dresden people. My explanation is: In communistic times, people waited 10-12 years for a car (watch this funny video: - no, it`s real !). Those who got one finally where the kings on the roads (which had nearly no cars on it). In Germany, one still can see the difference in car driving behaviour, the western car drivers are a little bit more civilized, the eastern don`t care on pedestrians and cyclists.

    Markus Heller, Berlin/Germany
    Carfree Living Berlin Collaborative

  2. "What really did impress me was the fact, that the majority of Dresden inhabitants later still voted for the bridge, after all endless discussions on risk of the world heritage status..."
    There was no vote over the bridge after it was placed on the red list. The inital referendum was in 2005, the placement on the red list in 2006. There were two attempts to allow people to vote - one in 2006 and one in 2008. In 2006 the city council needed a 67% of all votes to held a new referendum - but the minority beeing for the building of the bridge prevented the referendum. An attempt to held a referendum about the construction of a tunnel failed too.
    So the bridge is build due to a referendum held in 2005 where people voted under the assumption that the bridge was approved by the UNESCO as advertised during the campaign for the bridge ...


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