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Retail in transition in Berlin: similar developments, a different understanding of tasks

Similar to Zurich, Berlin has experienced strong growth in population and employees in recent years. This led to brisk construction activity and an expansion of retail space. In the two cities, however, there is a different understanding of tasks for the public sector. That is why Berlin has different planning instruments for urban development than Zurich. One such concept is the center concept with which the city of Berlin reacts to the growth of the city and the change in trade, as Ms. Elke Plate from the Department of Urban Development Planning outlines in the guest article below.

The Berlin Centers

Berlin is growing with great dynamism. Since 2005, the city has gained more than 331,000 new employees and the population has increased by more than 330,000 people to 3.67 million people by the end of 2016. In this dynamic, Berlin's centers are a constant and the backbone of the growing city. Retail is the guiding function in the centres, but the centres are much more than trade. They are places of work and errands, mobility, tourist visits, culture and leisure as well as living. In public space, the big city life crystallizes here in all its diversity. The positive development of Berlin is reflected in the centers in a differentiated way.

What Berliners don't say is this: "Let's meet in the city center." Because there is no single city center. Centers are both the City West and the old center of Berlin, the old towns of Spandau and Köpenick as well as many other old city or village centers.

In view of the manifold changes that the centers in Berlin have been confronted with for years, urban development planning goals include:

-       To strengthen Berlin as a (shopping) metropolis

-       to secure and develop the polycentrality of the city

-       to strengthen the functional mix in the centers

-       Integrate large-scale retail facilities in a city-friendly manner

-       to secure local supply

Securing and developing polycentrality

In the city as a whole, more than 80 centres are the subject of urban development planning, in addition to the local supply centres, which are secured and developed by the districts in terms of planning. This polycentric structure offers many advantages, including short distances for supply, differentiated offers with goods of all kinds, grown local identities. The high quality of care is also reflected in the fact that 70 percent of all supply routes in Berlin are made by public transport, bicycle or on foot. Between 2010 and 2016, the sales area in Berlin increased by about 4 percent and today comprises 4.5 million square meters of sales space. [1] In the future, however , retail space growth is expected to decline and retail competition to intensify.


Promote functional mixing

Center Hierarchy Source: Cordelia Polinna, Urban Catalyst

Berlin's centers face a variety of challenges. In particular, the district and district centres can, if they are not well positioned, get into a "sandwich position", i.e. come under greater pressure. With the growing importance of multi-channel retail, retail itself is creating a new dimension in structural change. Above all, the grown, linear shopping streets and smaller centers face special, not only urban development, tasks in view of changing consumption patterns and the public resource situation. As centre-supporting functions, not only the retail trade, but also services and shop-crafts required for everyday life, cultural and social infrastructure facilities are relevant here.

City-friendly integration of large retail formats

At the same time, large-scale retail facilities such as shopping centers are still being built or existing shopping centers in a number of centers are being modernized in order to respond to the challenges of digitization and consumer change on the retail side. Large areas are often (still) rated as advantageous by the real estate industry and retail.

Berlin's urban development policy goal is to strengthen and develop the existing centers. With its steering principles, urban development planning creates a reliable framework that offers planning and investment security. Retail functions, including the large-scale, city- and center-compatible in the sense of traffic avoidance, securing the (local) supply and profiting for the quality of stay in public space, is an essential goal of the city-wide planning. [1] With the Implementing Regulations on Large-Scale Retail Establishments for the State of Berlin, relevant regulations for uniform administrative action are in place. [2]

Get local supply

District centre and retail concepts and concrete urban land-use planning are the basis for securing local supply. The basis for these district concepts are, among other things, the Handbook Retail Survey[3], which includes a uniform method for the inventory of sales areas, as well as – relevant from the administrative side – implementing regulations for the structure and content of district centre and retail concepts. [4]

Using networks

Event Berlins Hollywood 2016 Weissensee
Berlin's Hollywood 2016 Weissensee, Photo: B. Pritzkuleit

Beyond planning, public funds are used to strengthen the centres. Many of the urban centres are located in the areas of urban development promotion. The Active Centres programme has been supporting nine areas since 2008. Quality of life, social and ethnic integration, access to education, a lively cultural life and an attractive public space are just as much a focus as on supporting structural change in the retail sector with new potential through local partnerships. [1] After eight years, the first programme areas are now being dismissed from funding.

As a public-private partnership of the state of Berlin in cooperation with the Berlin economy, the competition "MittendrIn Berlin! Projects in Berlin centres»[2] aims to strengthen voluntary, private commitment in Berlin's business streets and centres. Local networking and actions in public space are aimed at increasing the perception of the locations and contributing to their profiling. Since its launch in 2005, more than 110 initiatives have participated, more than 150 concepts have been developed and 26 projects have been selected for implementation by a jury.  

Keeping conceptual foundations à jour

In view of the challenges outlined, the overall urban planning, the Urban Development Plan Centres, will be updated. The proven goals are to be pursued further and new developments are to be taken up in planning. The aim is to secure and strengthen the good mix of functions and uses in the centres in order to maintain the high quality of life that Berlin offers. In the sense of integrated urban development, strengthening the environmental network in the diversity of means of transport is not only a key to a climate-neutral city, but also to an improved quality of stay in public spaces.

Berlin's centres benefit from close cooperation between the various actors. The above-mentioned programmes to strengthen the centres therefore focus in particular on the cooperation between the public and private sectors, who as owners, as entrepreneurs and residents are important for the profiling of the location. Designing and strengthening Berlin's centres and business streets is and remains a joint task of many actors.

[1] Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment: Urban Development Plan Centers 3, Status Report, Berlin 2016, p. 12. Access: 20.10.17

[2] Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung: Stadtentwicklungsplan Zentren 3, Berlin 2011, p. 13 ff. Access: 20.10.17

[3] access: 20.10.17

[4], accessed: 20.10.17


[6] s.a., accessed: 20.10.17

[7], accessed: 20.10.17


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