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Annika Levels


Research Assistant at the Department for Historical Research/ Scientific Collections for the History of Building and Planning in the GDR, Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS), Erkner (near Berlin).


Rethinking the Street!? The Politics of Cycling and Walking in Berlin and New York

My dissertation project started off the observation that urban streetscapes are changing in many cities across the world: pedestrian zones, newly designed public spaces, bike lanes and increasing numbers of cyclists, car and bike share systems and expanding networks of public transit are some of the new, rapidly expanding features to be found in major metropoles. As part of comprehensive sustainability agendas the processes that have led to these and other initiatives have transformed, so I claim, politics and space of the urban street in regard to its function and character as urban form, transportation infrastructure and public space. In the course of my dissertation, I have traced the how and why of this transformation, particularly in regard to the integration of the “green” transportation modes of walking and cycling in my two case study cities Berlin and New York.

Case Study I: Berlin
In Berlin, the strategic plans for pedestrians (2011) and cyclists (2004) are two separate sub-plans of the city-wide transportation strategy called the Stadtentwicklungsplan Verkehr that was first published in 2003, and its latest follow-up in 2011. It had been developed under the leadership of the Department for City and Transportation Planning of the Berlin Senate through a consensus-oriented, participatory planning process and promised a sustainable mobility vision for Berlin in 2040. Both, the process to negotiate, draft and compile the plan as well as the implementation of projects took a very long time: first trials to draft the plan date back to the early 1990s when the city was just reunified; and the implementation of both bike and pedestrian projects until today remains behind. Nevertheless, the political debate around cycling and adequate urban street design and use has been heating up over the past few years.

Case Study II: New York City
In New York City, a dramatic shift of transportation politics started when Mayor Bloomberg released PlaNYC 2030 in April 2007. A few weeks later, the newly appointed Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan took office and had the Sustainable Streets Plan (2008) developed within her department. This plan featured the department’s new agenda that put a clear emphasis onto both walking and cycling. Within only a few months, the city’s streetscape started changing: new bike lanes, complete street designs and public plazas were appearing all over Manhattan, the most prominent example being the Green Light for Midtown project which transformed Broadway into a multi-modal boulevard, and Herald, Madison, and Times Squares into pedestrian-friendly urban plazas. Spatial evidence of the new political agenda can be found in its many different forms all over the city today.

Global Goals, Local Transformations
The transformation of streets is the localized and spatialized part of a global sustainability agenda to reduce car-dependence and hence to ease the environmental damage caused by motor-vehicle traffic. Therefore, cities and regions are advised to foster public transport and alternative modes of transportation, in particular cycling and walking, and to recreate their streets according to the needs of its diverse users and traffic participants. Despite these common goals and guide lines, the local processes and politics remain particular and distinct: while the municipalities in Berlin and New York have adopted the general goals from the global sustainability paradigm for the development of their streets, the politics, actors, processes, plans, and spatial products involved are fundamentally shaped by local political constellations and produce peculiar urban spaces. Hence, by focusing on these particularities and differences rather than similarities, the comparative analysis of the processes and spaces of ‘rethinking the street’ reveals the connections and relations between the ‘world’ and the ‘city’ that are at once both unifying and diversifying.



05/2012 - 05/2015
DFG Fellow at the International Graduate Research Program Berlin - New York - Toronto, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin

09/2013 – 02/2014
Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP); Columbia University, New York

10/2004 - 02/2012
Study of Landscape Planning, Technical University of Berlin. 
Degree: Dipl.-Ing., Thesis: Rethinking the Street – New Yorks neue Freiräume.


Since 05/2017
Research Assistant and Urban Planner  at Urbanizers Büro für städtische Konzepte, Berlin

12/2014 - 03/2015
Resaerch Assistant at the Department for Historical Research/Scientific Collections for the History of Building and Pöanning in the GDR, Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS), Erkner (near Berlin).

Since 12/2014
Research Assistant at the Department for Historical Research/ Scientific Collections for the History of Building and Planning in the GDR, Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS), Erkner (near Berlin).

Co-worker at bbzl böhm benfer zahiri landschaften städtebau, Berlin


Levels, A. (2017): Radfahren, Zufußgehen und die Politik der Stadtstraße. Planungsprozesse und Räumliche Transformation in New York und Berlin. In: Planerin 5/2017. pp. 17-19

Levels, A. (2017): Across the border. Ties of architects and urban planners between East and West Germany: the case of Egon Hartmann, 1954-1976. In: Planning Perspectives 32 (4), pp. 557-576

Levels, A. (2013): "New York: Planung und Umsetzung des Sustainable Streets Strategic Plan", in: Bodenschatz, H.; Hofmann, A.; Polinna, C. (Eds.) "Radialer Städtebau -- Abschied von der autogerechten Stadtregion", DOM Publishers, Berlin, p. 156 – 163.


“The Politicization of Urban Cycling. Rethinking Streets in 21st Century New York and Berlin”. Symposium “Urban Automobility in Transition – Städtische Automobilität im Wandel”, organized by the IRS Erkner and the Centre for Urban History, Univ. Leicester; Berlin.

"Public Space in the Ideal City: Ambiguous Imaginaries”. RC 21 Conference “The Ideal City: between Myth and Reality”, Urbino, Italy. Session Organizer w/ Christian Haid and Anna Steigemann.

"Towards Sustainable Streets - Transforming Processes and Space in New York and Berlin"
Stadtkolloquium Workshop, University College London

"Urban Streets in Transition - Sustainability, Time and Space in Contemporary Berlin and New York"
IGK Annual Conference "Metropolitan Temporalities", Berlin

"Ambiguous Spaces: Moving beyond Dichotomies of Public Space"
XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology "Facing an Unequal World: Challenges for Global Sociology", Yokohama, Japan. Session organizer w/ Christian Haid and Anna Steigemann.

Straßen für Alle!? -- Räume Urbaner Mobilität im 21. Jahrhundert
Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften, Haus der Stadt, Berlin

Zur Zukunft der (Stadt)Straße - Mobilität und Stadtgestalt
Guest Lecture, Master Course, CMS, Berlin

“Components of Transatlantic Exchange in Graduate Programs – Students’ Reports”, w/ Stefan Höhne.
Transatlantic Co-operation in Graduate Education; German Center for Research and Innovation, New York


10/2014 – 11/2014
New York/ USA
(Archival research; Interviews)

09/2013 – 02/2014
New York/ USA
Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP); Columbia University, New York. Sponsor: Prof. Beauregard 
09/2012 – 11/2012
New York/ USA
(Archival research; Interviews; Spatial Analysis.)

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