Two Weeks in Nuremberg's Bärenschanze Neighborhood

Two Weeks in Nuremberg's Bärenschanze Neighborhood
A living street is a street designed primarily with the interests of pedestrians and cyclists in mind and as a social space where people can meet and where children may also be able to play legally and safely.


Bärenschanze is an up-and-coming neighborhood a bit west of the city center.  It is mostly low-rise residential with some commercial and office space, including the infamous government complex Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) where the Nuremberg Trials took place in the 1940s.  Despite being so close to the city core and being split by the major thoroughfare Fürther Straße, I found the neighborhood to be surprisingly quiet and full of surprises.  While the whole city makes a great case study in traffic calming and reduction, Bärenschanze in particular has many worthy examples of good urban planning.  From living streets to accessible transit options to traffic calming measures, I'm going to point out my experience in this post.

A German study says that Nuremberg is a popular destination for immigrants, so popular that 37% of residents have an immigrant background.  I couldn't find anything specific on diversity in the Bärenschanze neighborhood (apart from this), but there was definitely a diverse ethnic makeup of residents and businesses.  Despite reading many accounts of immigrant-related tension spreading throughout Europe, I honestly believe that by planning for people and neighborhoods instead of for cars, urban planners have created a sense of community and social connections that otherwise wouldn't exist.  It runs parallel to what Jane Jacobs noted in her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities:  "The first thing to understand is that the public peace of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.  No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down."

Bärenschanze is the pink area to the left, with Nuremberg's old town to the right

Bärenschanze is the pink area to the left, with Nuremberg's old town to the right


Around the neighborhood

Around Bärenschanze there were lots of trendy new cafes, family businesses, local markets, green spaces, and historic buildings.  There was plenty of activity on the streets, although I'm sure the warmer months bring even more activity.  I stayed in an Airbnb down a quiet street next to the cozy bar Grosse Freiheit, and I always felt safe walking around alone.  (Once I accidentally left my front door cracked open all day to anyone passing by on the sidewalk, and nothing happened.)  In talking with some of the locals, gentrification is a rising concern.


Re-balancing the relationship between people and the movement of vehicles

Looking at Bärenschanze's main throroughfare Fürther Straße and its side streets from an urban planning perspective is fascinating.  According to an urban planning case study of Nuremberg, the city was one of the first in the country to enact large-scale pedestrianization plans ("schemes").  At the time, critics predicted chaos and were met with the unthinkable:  Pedestrianized areas had suddenly become pleasant places to stroll along and enjoy street cafés free from pollution and congestion.  

Notes on the pedestrianization of Nuremberg by KonSULT, the Knowledgebase on Sustainable Urban Land use and Transport

Notes on the pedestrianization of Nuremberg by KonSULT, the Knowledgebase on Sustainable Urban Land use and Transport

Specifically, Nuremberg's program started in 1972 and resulted in an 80% reduction of the motor vehicle traffic in the applied area with only 20% going to parallel streets.  The program expanded in 1988 to close much of the city center to cars, resulting in calmer roads and a 72% reduction in vehicular traffic, with only 28% going to parallel streets.  Wildly enough, it was still possible to drive across the center by car from east to west, and citizens considered the positive changes to outweigh the bad.  Despite its many critics, the city of Nuremberg knew that a substantial reduction in cars in the city center was the right way forward.

In the subsequent 1991 plan, a plan component to eliminate cars in the city center was approved but never acted on.  Significant other changes were implemented, though, such as reduced car parking spaces for non-residents, increased parking for residents, enforced 30km/h speed limit in the city center, and increased parking fees from 1DM to 5DM per hour (or $1 to $5 in today's dollars).  All of these policies have contributed to a more balanced environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers in Nuremberg.

Through these plans, Nuremberg, especially Bärenschanze, demonstrates that road closures reduce city traffic and providing bike/ped amenities increases cycling and walking.  In fact, the 1992 plan goal for a modal split for all motor vehicle trips from 70% private vehicles/30% public transport ratio to 50% each was quickly realized within 12 years: A 2004 study shows a modal split of 52% private vehicles/30% public transport (with the remaining 28% walking and cycling, or 11% and 7% respectively).  This reduction, which may be even greater after 13 years, is commendable, considering that the modal split for most large U.S. cities today averages 90% private vehicles/10% public transport/walking/cycling.

Along Fürther Straße, and as you can see in the images below, the city must have pedestrianized the thoroughfare in the 1970s/1980s (judging by the bulky design of some of the street furniture).  The main road was formerly your typical, busy 4-lane city street and is now a 2-lane road with intermittent and prolonged bump outs.  In keeping with the principles of living streets, or spielstraße, these significant design changes to Fürther Straße have made lower speeds natural to drivers while also generously providing for walkers and cyclists.

In the quiet side streets along Fürther Straße, including the one where I stayed, the city has formally designated many sections as a spielstraße.  Specifically, the concept of spielstraße is to encourage traffic-calming and community-building measures by allowing the following:

  • Pedestrians may use the road in their entire width
  • Children's games are allowed everywhere (with some common sense guidelines)
  • Vehicle traffic, including bicycles, must be at a speed of 15 mph (about 5 km/h)
  • The drivers shall neither endanger or hinder the pedestrians; if necessary, they have to wait

(It is worth quickly noting that eliminating clearly-defined boundaries between vehicles and pedestrians, such as sidewalks, can negatively affect walkability for the visually-impaired.)

So there you have it: Bärenschanze, a treasure trove of lessons in effective urban planning.


Green space along Pegnitz river

Along the northern edge of the neighborhood and parallel to Fürther Straße is this lovely bike/pedestrian trail and lots of recreational green space.