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Berlin Has Made Its Choice: Former Airport Grounds to Remain Undeveloped

On 25 May, the residents of Berlin cast their ballot to decide the future of Tempelhofer Feld, the grounds of former airport Berlin-Tempelhof. As it happens, the majority voted against any sort of development of Tempelhofer Feld. One of the reason explaining the outcome is perhaps the collective wish to retain the space for sports and leisure activities. Another reason is probably the distrust felt by the body politic vis-à-vis the incumbent Lord Mayor and the Senate of Berlin. Having voted against development, however, Berlin also rejected a golden opportunity to overcome one of its most pressing problems – the creation of affordable housing.

Dealing a Blow to City Hall

To succeed, a referendum on a draft bill in Berlin must be approved by a majority of votes and by a quorum of no less than 25 percent of the total electorate. Last Sunday, 64.3 percent of the voters cast their ballot in favour of the draft bill proposed by the public advocacy group and thus in favour of preserving Tempelhofer Feld as is. Given a voter turnout of 46.1 percent, this vote represented 29.6 percent of the city's electorate. Thus, it far exceeded the required quorum of 25 percent of the votes. Only 40.8 percent of the voters, or 18.8 percent of the total electorate, opted for the Senate's proposal of “gentle frontage development.”

Election Results with Side Effects

Berlin's Senate had planned to raise 4,700 flats and some commercial units on the grounds of the airport, which was decommissioned in 2008. The contemplated rent rate of six to eight euros per square metres for half of the flats could have noticeably mitigated the shortage in affordable housing in Berlin, and could actually have had a pride-retarding effect for the city as a whole. Something needs to be done soon to ease the strain on Berlin's housing market. Between early 2005 and mid-2013, rents in the German capital rose at an average of nearly 25 percent, as the IW Economic Institute in Cologne reported.

The decision made by Berlin's electorate has fanned fears that the housing market situation in the nation's capital could deteriorate even further. According to a forecast by Berlin's Senate Department for Urban Development and Environment, the city's population will grow by another 250,000 residents between now and 2025. This implies a need for 14,000 new flats annually to accommodate the influx of people. But Berlin is a far cry from meeting this target. Figures released by the Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office show that 6,641 flats were completed in the city in 2013.

City Residents the True Losers

In the medium term, Berlin's residents will pay dearly for the outcome of the referendum on Tempelhofer Feld. For the persistent shortage of affordable housing will keep driving up prices in the inner city. The liberty to use the former airport grounds for leisure purposes will thus be paid for in rising square-metre prices and rents. Private investors who own condominiums in Berlin stand to benefit from the fact more than anyone else. Because the value of their properties is likely to soar in the coming years.