Consequences of environmental pollution
nces of italisation at
decentralised office work
Elimination of entire
Desire for new
Possibilities for decentralised
Changes in consumer behaviour
through online trade
and mobility hubs
New jobs in the transformation
Seasonal and local
food cultivation and
New forms of
Wild and diverse
High air and
Unsealing of traffic areas
for microclimate and
Creating a strong identity
and barrier-free urban
design for more colourful
Extreme weather conditions:
heavy rain and heat waves
Expansion of sustainable
and multifaceted transport
infrastructure with major
restrictions on cars
shared habitats for
humans and animals
Older and more diverse
Crop failures and supply shortages
Consequences of climatechange
industries through automation
Growing social inequality
Consequences of social inequality
Because our future’s at stake!
We’ve got a lot on our plate for the years and decades ahead: the climate crisis
caused by us humans, demographic change and growing social inequality, as
well as fast-paced developments in a digitalised and competitive world. As a
group of researchers, planners and creatives, we’ve been looking at ways to help
us shape our realities and our lives for the better. In doing so, we’ve focused on
a part of urban space that barely gets a mention but where we all live—a space
that belongs to all of us, namely the street.
In an entirely inefficient use of urban space, streets today are clogged with
private vehicles. This valuable space has the potential, when freed up, to provide
society with more social, ecological and healthy areas to live, move and work.
Thank you for your interest in the Free Street Manifesto. Visit our website
www.strassen-befreien.de to find out more and get in touch with us.
Free Street Alliance
Why this Manifesto?
The street as a place for chance encounters.
Changing streets to change societies.
The use of urban space as a car park is a fundamental error of judgement.
Real freedom goes well beyond our private cars. It’s time to free
ourselves of them!
The free street: lifeline for progress.
For more reliable supplies and new spaces for creativity and innovation.
The free street: a charm offensive.
Here, everyone can feel safe, stay healthy and move about freely.
The free street: protecting our lives and those of future generations.
Helping communities cope with extreme weather conditions.
It takes political will to free the streets.
Try new things, keep what works and embrace conflicts.
It takes pioneers to free the streets.
We can all play our part to make the change.
AS A PLACE
WITHOUT A TERRITORY
Public streets and squares are the great common spaces of any town or city. A place
for everyone regardless of age, views, or skin colour. Economic status shouldn’t
matter. Yes, the street’s always been the place to be for thousands of years—at least
For as long as we can remember, the
space outside of our homes and dwellings
(whether tent, hut or house) has been a
place for neighbourly exchange. A place
where people have celebrated and shared
things. To a greater or lesser extent, it’s
always been a public space that’s followed
the fashions and customs of the times.
Since the middle of the 20th century, however,
public space has become less and less
important. The motorisation of the masses
on the one hand and the modern separation
of different spheres of life on the other
have changed urban public spaces into
places where the only thing that matters is
getting from A to B as quickly as possible.
There are good reasons for why things developed
the way they did. Modern humans
can easily get overwhelmed by living and
working in such close quarters. In turn, this
can often lead to people avoiding anything
new or unknown. It’s simply easier to live in
one’s own little bubble. After all, who wants
to rely solely on the neighbours for the
latest in politics? And, while it’s true that
modern technology has made it possible
to be connected 24/7, it’s also clear that
the everyday gossip and chit-chat on the
street have all but disappeared. The same
goes for the loss of neighbourly help with
the little things in life—something that we
once all used to take for granted.
People don’t really know each other any
more, and even people-watching has become
obsolete. The triumph of the automobile
meant less space on the streets for
people whose lives, as a result, took place
behind vast glass and metal constructions
instead. It’s a palpable shift that’s rippled
through society and changed us—as individuals
and as a whole.
Social cohesion suffers when life happens
behind closed doors or in only partially
public spaces and when we miss out on
experiencing other ways of life. Ambivalence
tolerance, that is, the ability to not
only recognise and experience completely
different ways of life, but also to understand
them to be equal, is by no means
a given. It has to be learned. How streets
are planned is pivotal in opening up these
learning opportunities. And so, in the spirit
of a liberal and heterogeneous society and
with the Free Street Manifesto, we’re calling
for more space and a place for everyday
encounters, because streets free of cars
promote neighbourly coexistence.
The function of the street
in towns and cities has
fundamentally changed in
recent decades. Streets have
increasingly become a space
for cars and a means to get
from A to B. Social interaction
with others has decreased as
Sports activities such as ping-pong tables,
boules courts, street chess or mobile street
furniture encourage neighbourly interaction.
Experience also shows that in an increasingly
diverse society, neighbourhood gardens are
particularly well suited to overcoming linguistic
and cultural barriers among neighbours. Joint
work creates informal and relaxed situations, in
turn giving rise to common topics of interest (cf.
Haarmann & Lemke, 2021).
Communal life on communal grounds won’t
organise itself. Certain rules and tasks have to
be distributed. New communal infrastructures
or temporary licences for use might be taken
over by sponsors or patrons, for example. A
‘street concierge’ might also assume the role
of caretaker on the one hand, ensuring that all
interests get taken into consideration, while
supporting people in need of help with daily
tasks as and when on the other.
Inviting places of communication
Not all benches are made equal! A welldesigned
meeting place on the street follows
certain parameters. Jan Gehl, a Danish urban
planner, has extensively analysed these patterns
(cf. Gehl, 1986). How inviting people find a
place to be depends largely on its green spaces,
pleasant materials and surfaces, but also the
right balance of protection from the elements
and surroundings and a feeling of openness and
freedom. At best, an urban space offers different
seating options for different needs—from individual
and isolated to grouped and conducive to
conversation; with and without tables, with and
without recliners, and with features for people
with special requirements, such as expectant
women, children or people with mobility issues.
Culture as an initial spark
Shared experiences can become the initial spark
for a stronger sense of neighbourliness: be it
street flea markets, an event such as Lichterwege
(city light installations) in Wuppertal,
wandering installations such as the Pop-Up
Wald Berlin (a moving forest) or cultural events
such as open-air cinema or stage
In high-density, expensive urban areas, heated
and lockable pavilions for common use can
also be built on former car parking spaces.
These common spaces could be used for a
variety of purposes at various times of the day
(for example, as a kindergarten playroom in
the morning, homework supervision midday,
senior citizens’ teatime in the afternoon and
rehearsal room for the neighbourhood choir in
the evening). Use should be free of charge or for
a small fee, and the allocation system should be
transparent and based on previously set criteria.
A prerequisite for active neighbourly coexistence
is to blur the boundaries between the private
and public domain. Creating such soft edges
provides better opportunities for socialising—
residential streets, front gardens, driveways
and verandas make ideal convivial spaces to
promote neighbourly interaction.
Shelters or pergolas offer loosely-connected
neighbourhood communities a place to meet
even when the weather conditions are not
ideal (intense heat, rain, etc.). Young people in
particular, but also senior citizens, depend on
informal meeting places where they can meet
THE USE OF
URBAN SPACE AS
A CAR PARK IS
REAL FREEDOM GOES
OUR PRIVATE CARS.
IT’S TIME TO FREE
OURSELVES OF THEM!
Multi-modal: the right vehicle for every journey
For many people, a life without their own car is virtually impossible
to imagine. Despite this, our mobility needs can already be met
today in a multimodal way by combining different means of
transport, for example. Pioneers out there who are living their lives
multi-modally are already proving that it works! Unfortunately,
the absolute freedom to choose the means of transport is still too
expensive. This must change quickly!
What would it be like to always have the
right means of transport available? What
would it be like to be able to quickly and
reliably switch from one mode of transport
to another? To make hiring any
vehicle both straightforward and inexpensive?
On free streets, the combination of
different mobility options is simple and
affordable. With best-price procedures
and flat-rate schemes or even individual
mobility budgets, multi-modal transport/mobility
will become the norm.
Just a few steps from home: I
spend a little time tending our
street garden every morning.
In a neighbourhood just around
the corner: I hop onto a small
e-bus and head to the office—
it’s always on time.
I take a bike, as it’s the
To my favourite snack bar:
no problem—e-scooter to the
heavy: no worries,
I can grab a cargo bike.
Picking up the kids:
I take the bus back
to our neighbourhood.
After dinner: I’m happy to
spend some time on the free
Aslan, a family man, works for
a large insurance company. He
commutes 2 x 15 kilometres every
day. With regular city traffic,
the one-way journey takes him 45
Since Aslan likes to number-crunch, he works
out that on average he works 206 days a year
(minus holidays and sick leave) which costs him
310.5 hours commute time spent in his car.
That’s almost 13
full days and
nights per year
and 1.42 years of
working life …
At a gross
annual salary of
he and the
economy lose a
total of 129,513
euro and just
under 70 cents -
petrol and car
Affordable public street
offices have sprung up all
over the city on former car
parks since the streets
were freed. Working from
home isn’t really an option
for Aslan and his family, so
he uses local street coworking
spaces almost daily
- plus, he likes to get out
of the house sometimes. He
now only ever goes to his
company’s headquarters for
important team meetings.
The good thing about the
‘street office’ is that it’s
within walking distance
and great for regular
with people from all
professions and walks of
life. It’s not uncommon
for great opportunities
to pop up again and again
alongside work that call
for Aslan’s expertise,
which he enjoys very
Plus, he now has more
time for his family and his
A SICK CITY
Polluted air, constraints on space, and a lack of identity: as big and as interesting as
our towns and cities are, in many ways, they’re just not a healthy place for humans.
The amount of traffic on public roads has
a direct impact on people’s health and
quality of life. German cities with their busy
streets full of parked cars affect people’s
health and quality of life—no thanks to
air pollution, noise, accident risks, and
restrictions on mobility and visibility. It’s
the people living, walking and cycling in
these towns and cities that are affected
the most, including more vulnerable road
users such as expectant women, children,
the elderly and people with disabilities.
Here, health is to be understood both from
a medical and socio-ecological standpoint
that includes taking economic, social,
spatial and traffic conditions into account
(cf. Wolf, 2022). How road traffic influences
health is also a matter of equal health
opportunities. People who live near busy
roads simply have a higher risk of getting
from A to B
(National workday average)
When we free streets, they can be transformed
from health-threatening to
health-promoting streets. Health is a
fundamental right, making it a state and
societal obligation to promote and maintain
health. This can be done in part by creating
or changing living conditions and environments
such as urban neighbourhoods and
streets so that they promote health and
quality of life. Since the 1970s, the World
Health Organisation (WHO) and the Healthy
Cities Network—to which many cities in
Germany belong—have been calling for the
health of the population to be improved
through appropriate urban development
and transport policies.
It’s time that more is done to address this.
A street is attractive and health-promoting
if it has the following: few to no cars meaning
better air quality, low noise levels and
safety for all road users.
Towns and cities can be a healthier place
for us and remain attractive in the long
term if we follow the WHO guidelines. This
is also highly desirable from an economic
and ecological point of view because highdensity
living forms an ideal foundation for
achieving greater resource efficiency. It’s
time to share and keep each other warm in
Getting around, but not really moving
Graphic page 74
Own representation according
to Froböse & Wallmann-
Sperlich, 2021, p. 30.
Most people say that the main
reason for their physical inactivity
is that everyday distances
are too long to cover on foot or
by bike. A perceived lack of time
in everyday life is also a frequently
cited reason (Voermans
et al. 2016, p. 15ff.).
The division of towns and cities into functionally
separate spaces for living, working,
shopping and recreation is the reason
why we have no choice but to spend a lot
of time on the move. The problem is that
although we’re going from A to B to C, we’re
still not getting enough physical exercise.
In Germany alone, more than two thirds of
all people in paid jobs commuted to work by
car in 2020. What’s more, plenty of people
use their car even when their route to
work is less than ten kilometres (DESTATIS,
Around 80 per cent of commuters get little
or no exercise on their way to work, whether
that’s by car or public transport. The
problem isn’t the commute alone though;
working from home more, too, isn’t helping
the fact that we simply aren’t physically
moving enough throughout the day (DAK,
The less we move, the more we’re at risk of
heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure,
diabetes, cancer, dementia and depression,
leading to shorter life expectancy. Worldwide,
around seven per cent of all deaths
from cardiovascular diseases are attributed
to physical inactivity (cf. WHO, 2020;
Katzmarzyk et al., 2022).
A lack of physical activity also increases
the risk of a severe case of COVID-19 or even
a fatal outcome (cf. Sallis et al., 2021).
To start with, 57 per cent of those surveyed
in Germany about their physical and sedentary
behaviours sit for at least 8 hours
a day. People who sit for long amounts
of time with little to no physical activity
during the course of a day have a much
higher mortality rate (cf. Froböse & Wallmann-Sperlich,
2021, p. 31).
‘Whether we add more physical activity
to our daily lives depends, among other
things, on our surroundings, in other words,
on the constructed and natural environment
in which we live.’ This means that
street design as well as traffic and spatial
planning can promote or hinder physical
activity (cf. Edwards and Tsouros, 2006).
Additionally, a person’s social environment
as well as gender, age, individual abilities
and motivation all influence how physically
active a person is. On average, people in
Germany are physically active for less than
one hour per day—and that includes everyday
commutes, errands or the like on foot
or by bike (Voermans et al., 2016, p. 15).
The distances Die Wege are sind oft
often simply einfach too zu long lang
Lack of Zeitmangel
Illness, Krankheit, physical körperliche
limitations Einschränkungen or overweight oder
When you ask Germans why
they exercise so little, these
are the most frequent answers
given. Own representation
according to Voermans et al.,
2016, p. 15ff.
lack of motivation,
can't get kann myself mich together nicht aufraffen
I just don‘t ich bewege like to mich einfach
be on the nicht move gerne
COPE WITH EXTREME
FROM BEING THE CAUSE
TO BECOMING THE VICTIM-
CAN WE COPE?
We have made our homes in medium-sized and large cities and in megacities. In fact,
in Germany, almost 80 percent of the population live in cities and metropolitan areas.
These abundant city dwellers consume a large part of the available resources and
are the main cause of climate-damaging carbon dioxide emissions (CO 2
). They heat,
they travel and they consume. Does this mean that more people should move to the
countryside? Absolutely not! We need to make sure that cities keep their appeal even
in decades of climate change, because they offer a great opportunity in their very
density of coexistence.
In the coming years, more extreme
weather is to be expected in Germany due
to man-made climate change. Heat waves
will become more frequent and life-giving
rain showers rarer; groundwater levels will
drop; soils will become drier and harvests
uncertain. At the same time, the risk of
heavy rainfall and flooding will increase,
especially in heavily surface-sealed areas.
As city dwellers, we must now recognise
that we are both the cause and the victims
of climate change. But we also have
options—we can choose to take action to
change this situation. We can protect ourselves
and future generations in our towns
and cities and maintain—or perhaps even
improve—our quality of life.
We can drastically reduce the amount of
individual private transport means used.
It’s even conceivable that a sustainable and
decentralised economic system can be established
on the basis of free streets. There
are resource-saving solutions for cities
that wouldn’t work in less densely populated
rural areas. Everything from mobility
to office space can be shared. Changing
behaviour and consumption patterns can
be quickly scaled to many users and reduce
millions of carbon footprints at once. Now
all we have to do is to make sure that urban
settlement remains an attractive option.
We need to make Germany’s larger cities
fit for climate change. Let’s start with the
communal commons of the street!
Human-induced climate change
increases the risk of devastating
floods after heavy rainfall.
© Hans Braxmeier / pixabay.com
To reduce or prevent climate impacts such as floods, droughts, heat waves and the
extinction of species, we need to free streets and make them more resilient.
It would all begin with the passing of a
moratorium: as of day x, no new surfaces
are allowed to be sealed, and if in exceptional
cases they are, you’d be obliged to
re-move surfaces on twice the amount
of land elsewhere. This law would see the
transport revolution bring about a soil revolution
of sorts, too. But it wouldn’t just be
the complex and time-consuming removal
of surfaces from major roads across the
cities that would expose valuable green
corridors; drainage ditches that would
be constructed quickly and with less CO 2
would also be created everywhere on a
smaller scale. They would ensure that rain
could seep into every street to cool the air
through evaporation when the temperatures
The transformation of towns and cities
would do everyone good, but for no-one
more so than children. They would benefit
from the variety of play and retreat options
available. Both streets and infrastructure,
as well as the thriving forest strips on former
major roads, would encourage them to
move about more and explore their creativity.
From an early age, they would learn
to navigate the outdoors on their own and
to be more self-confident and independent.
Vast public spaces would be varied and full
of life. Nature would entice people out of
their homes every day because there is so
much to go and experience within walking
distance: trees, animals, outstanding
architecture and encounters with neighbours.
People would be proud of this rediscovered
spacious common ‘living room’.
Today, roads take up massive
amounts of space in our cities.
In the future, many streets
will have to have sealed surfaces
removed so that city life
remains bearable in times of
Visualisation: Stefano Tiracchia as part of the Experiencing the Transport Revolution project.
TRY NEW THINGS,
KEEP WHAT WORKS
‘Only the rich can afford to live on free streets anyway!’
Many people are concerned that neighbourhood
means that rents will go up, that current
incomes won’t be able to cover costs and
that a move out of the town or city is inevitable.
This development, also known as
gentrification, has indeed been observed
in some towns and cities in recent years.
However, correlation is not causation. While
it’s true that street beautification can
result in higher rents, it’s also true that
the effects are minimal in many places (cf.
Buchanan et al., 2007). Instead, fundamental
factors such as market fluctuations or
new transport infrastructure in the vicinity
seem to have a much bigger effect on rent
prices (cf. Carmona et al., 2018).
It’s also questionable whether traffic calming
measures should really be done away
with in order to exclude potential gentrification
effects. This would require the effective
protection of tenants and a housing
policy oriented towards social goals.
It makes sense not to focus exclusively on
well-off inner-city neighbourhoods for
traffic calming projects, but to deliberately
make socially weaker areas more attractive
through redesign. This can reduce social
segregation. After all, free streets should
lead to a better life for everyone—especially
the less well-off because they’re the
ones currently living in less attractive
places with a lot more traffic.
‘Free streets only attract tourists and they’re a nuisance for residents.’
Residents on recently freed streets, including
in Copenhagen (cf. Andersen, 2020)
and Madrid (cf. Conquero & Ruiz, 2019), are
reporting that they attract a lot of tourists.
The positive effects are hard for residents
to see because of the popularity of the
streets and the resulting noise. It’s a point
of criticism that’s very understandable,
since one of the ideas behind free streets is
less noise and more peace and quiet. Even
though the background noise that comes
from people and not from engines is all part
of living on a free street, it can become a
problem when too many people get together
in spaces that are too small. This is, of
course, also indicative of there being too
few free streets. The solution to the problem
‘After all, cars are the best indicator of thriving social interaction!’
After decades of cars dominating our roads
and our streets, it might be hard to believe,
but study results from the USA and the UK
are surprisingly clear: in both San Francisco
(Appleyard & Lintell, 1972) and Bristol (Hart
& Parkhurst, 2011), it has been shown that
the number of social contacts between
residents on a street is strongly related to
the daily volume of private motorised traffic.
On busy streets, residents have at least
one third fewer friends and acquaintances
than on streets with less traffic.
‘So, what about people who are dependent on their cars for health reasons?’
As an ageing society on the one hand, there
are a growing number of people who really
need a car for health reasons. Many people
can only cover longer distances by car. On
the other hand, these people also need
assistance with wheelchairs or walkers in
any given immediate vicinity. Free streets
offer a clear advantage to these people in
their need as it’s easier and safer to move
around closer to one’s home—but accessibility’s
a prerequisite for this. Then there’s
always also the option to use a car to get
you to your front door, provided you drive
safely and slowly, of course. After all, those
who truly need their car should still be able
to use it. If people that didn’t really need
their cars stopped using them, there’d be
enough space for those that depend on
Gardening can be a political act
Planting, tending and caring for greenery in
public spaces is more than just about creating
a beautiful space or being good for nature. It
shows that you care about your neighbourhood,
your town and the world, and it might even
encourage people to join in.
Another interesting campaign is Gieß den Kiez
(Water Your Neighbourhood). There’s an online
platform that provides an interactive map of
Berlin’s urban trees that you can take responsibility
for on a coordinated basis.
Living together responsibly
We all play a role in the transport system—we
can shape it for the better or for the worse.
However, car drivers have a special responsibility
towards more vulnerable road users. A
car’s heavy body may well help to protect its
occupants, but it can often prove to be a serious
health hazard or even fatal for pedestrians and
cyclists. This means that it‘s the really cool ones
who are travelling around relaxed and behaving
Taking up political office
Transport and building issues are decided in
municipal committees. Those who get involved
in local politics have a direct influence on the
shaping of urban life.
Self-appropriation of public space
Vibrant public spaces are not created by special
decree. Instead, action is what’s needed, and
that action can be taken without any additional
rules and regulations. Citizens who use pavements
and parking spaces for their temporary,
social and neighbourly get-togethers breathe
life into the very concept of freeing the streets.
Car-free installations and events
Car-free school and play streets and special
events such as Park(ing) Day or the Tag des
guten Lebens (Day of the Good Life like in Cologne)
can be initiated or officially requested by
citizens/neighbours. Experiencing the changes
to the urban space often generates stimulating
debates on the perpetuation of such concepts.
Free Street Alliance
Paper Planes e.V.
paper planes e.V. came up with the
project idea and holds responsibility
for the conceptual work, the images
of the future, and the communications
around the project. The thinkand-do
tank is known for its radical
proposals for sustainable city planning,
ruffling feathers with projects
like Radbahn Berlin and morgenfarm
Berlin Social Science Center
The Research Group Digital Mobility
of the Berlin Social Science Center
(WZB) is a leading force in the area of
Research on Mobility Practices. The
team enriches the project with their
academic expertise and ample experience
with transitional processes in
sustainable city planning.
Technische Universität Berlin
The Department of Work/Technology
and Participation at the Technische
Universität Berlin (TU Berlin) specialises
in participation processes
in the context of research projects.
The team fosters the involvement of
citizens in the project and ensures
their contributions are reflected in its
The project is funded by the
Initiative and project management
Jonas Marx (project impetus)
Matthias Heskamp | paper planes e.V.
Stefano Tiracchia | paper planes e.V.
Perttu Ratilainen | paper planes e.V.
Simon Wöhr | paper planes e.V.
Dr. Birgit Böhm | TU Berlin
Dr. Weert Canzler | WZB
Prof. Dr. Andreas Knie | WZB
Simon Wöhr | paper planes e.V.
Jasmijn Lodder | paper planes e.V.
Tobias Biehle | TU Berlin
Dr. Birgit Böhm | TU Berlin
Dr. Weert Canzler | WZB
Dr. Juliane Haus | WZB
Theresa Pfaff | WZB
Giulia Pozzi | Fabulism
Marco Piazza | Freelance Architect
Arne Janssen | paper planes e.V.
Kristin Karig | paper planes e.V.
Mathilde Kærgaard Skaaning | paper
Dr. Francesca Weber-Newth | paper
Friederike Tautz | TU Berlin
Sophie Persigehl | Urban Impact
Jonas Schorr | Urban Impact
Dr. Martin Gegner | WZB
Lara Meyer | WZB
Franziska Zehl | WZB
Translation from German
Jasmijn Lodder | paper planes e.V.
Giulia Maniscalco | paper planes e.V.
Jonas Marx | Reindeer Renderings
Carlo Miatello (artwork) |
Stefano Tiracchia (ideation & storyboarding)
| paper planes e.V.
Simon Wöhr (ideation & texts) |
paper planes e.V.
Illustration of infographics
Kristin Karig | paper planes e.V.
Stefano Tiracchia | paper planes e.V.
Matthias Heskamp | paper planes e.V.
Jonas Marx | Reindeer Renderings
Bild1Druck | Berlin
Printed in the European Union
Citation suggestion: Free Street
Alliance (ed.) (2022). Free Street
Manifesto. Berlin: JOVIS.