7 min read
Making Frankfurt Mainkai
Making Frankfurt at the Mainkai, © Moritz Bernoully

Start of our Green City series: In Frankfurt am Main, „Making Frankfurt“ wants to make the city more liveable, mobility-friendly and climate-friendly – an example for urban development initiatives worldwide.

By Martina Metzner

It all started in 2019/2020 with the closure of the Mainkai to car traffic. Initiated as a traffic trial, the Mainkai was supposed to become car-free for an initial 12 months. However, the city of Frankfurt had not developed a programme for the now vacant street along the Main and the street remained predominantly an empty space that was not converted. Only small things happened, such as the installation of two mobile green rooms – small vertical gardens with benches – a skating rink and the test run for an autonomous bus. 

The prospect of cars and trucks rolling here again from September 2020 brought together a design-savvy group of people who sought to prevent this: Among them Torsten Becker (to be Stadt), Andrea Jürges (Deutsches Architekturmuseum) and Andrea Schwappach (architour) as well as Sabrina Wirtz (Stein Hemmes Wirtz Architekten), Daniel von Bernstorff (Stylepark) and Stefan Weil (Atelier Markgraph). Following on from the existing impulse projects from the neighbourhood and from the makers of the skating rink (bb22 architects and urban planners), who had built flowerbeds and seating areas out of the formwork panels used, the new initiative was also concerned with increasing the quality of stay of the car traffic road that had suddenly become free for pedestrians.

This quickly turned into more. Under the motto that Frankfurt should be made more liveable, the team organised an open air action day on 22 August 2020 in the middle of the Corona pandemic: there was dancing, handicrafts, books were given away, there was cycling and of course drinking and eating.

Green City – the ndion series
We have to rethink the city: housing shortage, expansion of e-mobility, desolation of inner cities – cities are facing great challenges, cities should become greener.
What can urban concepts look like in the future? And where can we already find innovative ideas for rethinking cities? That is what the ndion series “Green City” asks. We take a look back at the past, at tomorrow’s mobility concepts and at the design of inner cities.

A different use of public places

The symbol was a 4-metre by 4-metre yellow square, also made of yellow panels and slightly off-axis, which redefined the street space. Until today, the yellow square is the symbol of “Making Frankfurt” – the name of the initiative. The idea was to make public places better and use them differently than before – including better mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, necessary climate adaptations, the fairer distribution of public space and community-oriented urban redevelopment. The wish of the organisers, who had financed the action day out of their own pockets and with a little support from the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, was that the Mainkai closure project should be extended or continued as an urban space experiment. But unfortunately things turned out differently. The closure was lifted again for the time being.  

Aktionstag Making Frankfurt
New initiatives were present at the second Action Day 2021, © Jonas Schwappach, Kirsten Bucher, Moritz Bernoully

But giving up was not the team’s objective. So, together with the City of Frankfurt and other involved parties, they applied for the nationwide funding programme Post-Corona City of the Federal Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Construction and were selected from 222 applications as one of a total of 17 model projects. From this, they financed the second action day on 18 September 2021, this time at the centrally located squares Hauptwache and Goetheplatz/ Rathenau-Platz. In the meantime, something had also happened in terms of personnel: Co-founder Andrea Schwappach of “Making Frankfurt” is now the project manager for the funding and research project of the “Post-Corona Inner City Frankfurt” at the Frankfurt am Main Urban Planning Office. There were enough ideas, they just had to be further detailed, says Anna Scheuermann, curator and journalist, who is now also on board the team. There were so many actors who needed space and room – and on the other hand, public spaces that were not yet being used properly. 

By means of an announcement with large posters in underground stations and on billboards all over the city, the team wanted to invite everyone who wanted to contribute to the transformation of the city. Many people responded: Among them were the basketball players of the European Central Bank, the Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, various bands that were no longer able to give concerts because of Corona, galleries and even the public library. They multiplied the yellow squares as stages and action platforms. 

Making the city more liveable and sustainable

Elsewhere, urban development initiatives are also trying to make their city more liveable and sustainable. A prototypical example is New York’s Highline: a 1.5-mile-long public park built on a disused elevated railway line that stretches from the Meatpacking District to the Hudson Rail Yards in Manhattan. It was designed by the architectural firm Diller + Scofidio with James Corner Field Operations and Piet Oudolf.

The New York Highline
Superblocks Leipzig Kollektiv Plus X
Kick-off of the Superblocks in Leipzig in May 2022, © Kollektiv Plus X
Kopenhagen Green City
Copenhagen wants to be climate-neutral by 2025 and is relying on cycling to achieve this, © Visit Copenhagen

The Superblocks project in Leipzig is similar to “Making Frankfurt”, which takes over public spaces. For the project – implemented by Superblocks Leipzig e.V., with the scenography of the Kollektiv Plus X – the association and the designer collective close off streets in the east of Leipzig to car traffic at regular intervals and show how the newly gained urban space can be used. The project of the same name in Barcelona has even greater dimensions. Initiated by the city in 2016, a superblock comprises up to nine blocks. Within these superblocks, pedestrians and cyclists have priority. On two-lane streets, one lane is taken away from cars: Children can play here, residents can drink coffee and chat on newly built park benches. The drab grey of the street is replaced by planted raised beds, flower tubs and trees. Car traffic is only allowed on the remaining one-way streets at 10 to 20 km/h, if at all. The result: the streets become an extended living room. Another noble goal of cities worldwide is to make them climate-neutral. Copenhagen wants to be the first city worldwide to achieve this in 2025. To achieve this, the Danes are focusing on three core areas: Energy consumption, energy production and green mobility. For decades, the Danes have relied on cycling to achieve this. Copenhagen has become synonymous with bicycle mobility.

Making Frankfurt – a place that lasts

Back to Frankfurt. When the City of Frankfurt decided to close the Mainkai to motorised traffic again in 2022, the goal of a sustainable project came within reach. With the start of the summer holidays, “Making Frankfurt” set up a workshop for six weeks as part of the “Summer on the Main” urban space festival – in a place that had not been accessible to the public until then: on the derelict Saalhof site between the Historical Museum and the residential development to the east. On two weekends, for example, anyone who dropped by the Mainkai workshop could build stools there. The workshop was led by Jonathan Radetz, a Frankfurt designer who was also responsible for the design of the Making Frankfurt stool in a collaborative process with the Making Frankfurt team. The idea behind it: To create more seating in the city. 

Other initiatives also discovered the closed Mainkai: for example, the artists’ group TAB e.V., under whose leadership the street was painted and turned into an urban sports park. Here you could play basketball or tennis, skate, dance or just lounge around. 

Making Frankfurt Hocker Jonathan Radetz
The yellow stools in the context of “Summer on the Main” were made from yellow boards, Photo: Cornelius Pfannkuch

What is the perspective of “Making Frankfurt”? A place that lasts, according to Anna Scheuermann. They could imagine continuing to use the workshop space. The place is good for reaching many people. The longer it stays, the more people can use it – all the people of this city, also migrants, even tourists. It should be a permanent place that always welcomes people at different times and motivates them to participate and ” do things”. 

More on ndion

More articles on Design.

More articles from our “Green City” series.

Share this page on Social Media:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email