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Growing cities

A rival for Berlin

Leipzig [SOCIETY]

While everyone debates Berlin’s hipness (as its property prices skyrocket), nearby Leipzig has been slowly but surely increasing its trendiness quotient and quality of life.

“Everything Berliners are complaining about is still possible in Leipzig. It’s still possible to have a nice apartment and studio and there are still empty storefronts to move businesses into,” says Christoph Ruckhäberle, a Bavaria-born painter who is part of the New Leipzig School, runs an art-book publishing house and owns a cinema in the Spinnerei. He’s right. Rents are low despite the fact that things here are booming. Leipzig has rock and classical music scenes to rival Berlin’s, a strong art world and a world-renowned book fair.

The city also has a burgeoning business sector. A major trading centre since the Roman empire, Leipzig was caught in East Germany’s planned economy for most of the second half of the 20th century and was supported by West German subsidies in the years after the wall fell. And much has happened since the millennium turned: a Porsche factory opened here in 2002 and a BMW plant in 2005. Bio City, a centre for biotechnology with more than 60 companies, has been growing steadily since 2003. dhl and Amazon have hubs here. Leipzig even bid for the 2012 Olympics. All of this in the midst of one of Germany’s greenest cities – Leipzig has 763 parks.

People like Ruckhäberle wonder how much of “Hypezig’s” hype is just that; unemployment sits at 11.5 per cent. But he will stay put. “It’s green here; it’s relaxed,” he says. “I like the mix of provincialism and big city. You can work in peace but still find plenty to do.”

How much it’s growing
Leipzig has gained some 10,500 residents since autumn 2012 and unemployment has been halved since 2005.

Why it works
Leipzig’s laid-back friendliness and history of being a trade centre makes it ideal for business ventures.

What it should do next
Implement urban-planning policies that don’t allow the same mistakes that Berlin has made (too much privatisation, for example).

Pedestrian power

Vienna [INFRASTRUCTURE]

Austria’s capital knows the power of a good pedestrian zone – after all, the central portions of the city centre, including the Kohlmarkt, Graben and Kärntnerstrasse, have been all about plaza walking and outdoor cafés since the 1970s.

But the city’s car-free zones are set to expand. Last summer, Mariahilferstrasse – a major shopping thoroughfare connecting the Museumsquartier and Westbahnhof – underwent an “experimental” car-free trial period to calm traffic and improve quality of life on the busy street. And in March, 53.2 per cent of the neighbourhood’s residents polled were in favour of making the central portion of the street permanently car free.

Construction to develop the pedestrian-only zone, which includes benches, playground equipment and new signage, began in May and is due to be completed in two years time.

Traffic control

Moscow [PARKING]

Traffic in Moscow is so notorious that it has its own mythology: drivers stuck overnight in massive traffic jams on the capital’s ring road and pavements made unnavigable by hulking suvs parked on the curb. But in May, mayor Sergei Sobyanin – a loyal ally of President Putin – expanded a paid-parking scheme to the third ring road on the outer edges of the city, charging up to 80 rubles (€1.70) an hour for a roadside space.

The mayor’s office claims traffic has decreased as a result. But there is a loophole: many drivers of expensive foreign cars who don’t want to pay have taken to covering up their licence plates to hide from enforcement cameras.

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