The Old Barracks of Blankefelde-Mahlow Are Being Reinvented by a Multidimensional Participatory Process

Repurposing outdated industrial sites, logistic hubs and military sites have been at the center of urban planning strategies in the postmodern era. These locations offer great opportunity to add new housing or other amenities to improve the quality of living in cities.

This is also the case in the municipality of Blankenfelde-Mahlow in the greater Berlin area. A sizeable piece of land at the edge of the town was used for military purposes until 2002. In 2016, the municipality acquired the barracks to implement a vision for turning the site into a nature experience space where valuable biotopes and people’s recreational needs can meet.

To identify what this could mean in practice, the municipality commissioned gruppe F, a Berlin-based landscape architecture office, to open and implement a public participation process that would lead to the drafting of a concept for the area.

We talked to Bettina Walther from gruppe F to learn more about their work with the barracks. This blog continues our series of interviews with people working with participatory mapping.

Bettina Walther, please tell us a bit about gruppe F.

“Our office has been around since 1992 and is home to a diverse team of landscape architects and planners, ecologists, geographers, urban planners, and sociologists. We work not only with the many fields in the planning of open spaces, but also develop strategies and plans ranging from the very detailed to the large scale. The inclusion of the user is one of our passions in the work we do.”

You used Maptionnaire in your work with the reuse concept for the barracks in Blankenfelde-Mahlow. Can you elaborate on the participatory process you designed for the project?

“As the basis of everything, we considered various engagement formats to reach different target groups. We planned workshops with institutions, site walks, open world cafés, as well as low-threshold offers such as going around on our information bikes to strike sidewalk discussions.

Based on experience, we knew that many resident groups, especially young people, can’t easily be reached using these methods. Therefore, we also began looking for a digital solution that could complement the other ways of doing participation. Maptionnaire came into the picture after I became curious about the service at a conference on e-participation. We eventually made use of it in Blankenfelde-Mahlow.”

How did you use Maptionnaire in your project?

“As said, we wanted to use the tool to complement the face-to-face participation work we were doing. To offer an alternative you could just participate from home with, if you will. But we actually also used it to support the sidewalk discussions. We had tablets to record the ideas of those conversations directly into the online map survey. This made it easier for us to evaluate the interview results because we didn't have to digitize the input from paper questionnaires and then merge everything together.”

Did this all work out in your favor?

“Yes, indeed. We were able to reach many citizens with the online survey whom we probably would not have been able to involve in our face-to-face participation work. These included young people, parents of small children, people with reduced mobility, and groups who tend to stay silent.

Furthermore, we had some doubts with how smooth things would go as many online participation tools can lead to a pile of unrelated and sometimes even insulting contributions. In this scenario, intensive moderation is necessary. But this wasn’t the case with Maptionnaire due to the input being made directly on a map.

Overall, our experience was that Maptionnaire is a great tool. It doesn’t replace the need to do face-to-face interaction with residents but can complement it meaningfully.“