Berlin’s City Tree Campaign

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Main actors

City Government, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2012/11

The aim of the Berlin’s City Tree Campaign is to plant and care sustainably for up to 10,000 additional roadside trees between 2012 and 2017. The trees, which are partly funded by donations, contribute to improve people’s quality of life in the city.

There are currently 440,000 trees planted along the streets of Berlin that make the city be one of the greenest metropolises in the world. In July 2011 the Berlin Senate, which is the executive body governing the State of Berlin, agreed upon the “Urban Green Space Strategy”. Within this framework, policy guidelines include the goal of planting and maintaining up to 10,000 additional roadside trees for the period 2012 to 2017. The duties and responsibilities for this project have been shared via the project agreement made between the Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment and the Districts of Berlin. 

The City Tree Campaign is partly financed by donations made by citizens and businesses alike. The cost of planting and maintaining a new tree in Berlin is about €1,200. Since the “City Trees for Berlin” campaign began in 2012, around 5,000 additional trees have already been planted on Berlin’s streets thanks to donations for a total amount of €600,000.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Berlin, Germany

Size and population development
The population registered for the municipality of Berlin in 2017 was 3,613,500, making it the second most populous city in the European Union. The larger metropolitan area has around 5 million people living in 1,347 square kilometres, giving it a population density of around 15,000 people per square kilometre—similar to Mexico City or Tokyo.

Population composition
It has been estimated that up to 30 percent of Berlin’ s population are of foreign origin. The foreigners originate from other parts of Europe—such as Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Russia, Spain, Bosnian, Bulgarian, and Italian—as well as from countries outside of Europe, such as Turkey, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Ghana. The largest non-native population comes from Turkey; in the year of 2010, there were more than 100,000 Turkish registered as inhabitants of Berlin.

Main functions
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany, as well as one of the nation’s 16 states. It is situated approximately 112 miles (180 km) south of the Baltic Sea and lies in the wide glacial valley of the Spree River, which runs through the centre of the city. The city extends over an area of 891.7 square kilometres and stands at an average altitude of 34 meters above sea level. After the reunification of the two Berlins in 1990, Germany began a process to centralize the capital to Berlin (replacing Bonn, the former capital of West Germany). Since then, Berlin is the place where the German House of Representatives and the German Bundestag hold elections. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the Bundestag and the government of Berlin were fully established under the same roof. Berlin is also a city of great cultural significance, which is evident if one considers the amount of historical landmarks that tie the city’s history to its multiple overlapping pasts. Some of the most important landmarks include the Holocaust memorial (inaugurated in 2003), remnants of the Berlin Wall (taken down on the 9th of November 1989), the Reichstag Building (which dates to 1884). As the capital of Germany, Europe’s most populous and economically powerful country, Berlin is also the centre of, culture, politics, media and science in the country and serves as a European hub for air and rail traffic.

Main industries / business
As the 4th largest economy of the world, Germany participates of a wide array of industries with a famous efficiency. In Berlin one may find strong state-owned enterprises, like the Deustche Bahn (the railway), which employs the largest amount of general population (more than 20,000 people). Other companies that thrive in Berlin are: the Deustche Post (DHL), the technology company Siemens, the automotive manufacturer BMW, and the telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom. Hence, one may assume that Berlin specializes in the secondary and tertiary sectors of economy. Tourism brings more than 135 million visitors to the city (which include day-time visitors as well as overnight ones). Apart from other student cities in Germany like Köln and Munich, Berlin houses some of the most well-reputed universities in the world: the Freire Universität Berlin and the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, with more than 30,000 students each.

Sources for city budget
Berlin draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, transfers received, fees, fines, and operating revenues. This money is federally approved and spent in such a way that it can also be used in the form of funding for companies, not only to comply with the provision of quality public services.

Political structure
Berlin serves both as a city with a local government and as capital of Germany. In regard to the latter, it houses the Bundesregierung (Federal government), the Bundestag (Federal parliament) and the Bundesrat (the States’ chamber of Parliament). Each of the 16 states of Germany has representation in Berlin. It is governed by the Berlin Senate which is comprised of 10 senators and the Governing Mayor. Also, the embassies of other countries from around the world are housed in the city. The 16 states (Laender) have a similar standing to the federal government in respect to most issues.

Administrative structure
Berlin is administrated by the Senate and its 12 districts or boroughs. The Senate is the city’s central administration, in charge of city planning, public policy, and regulation of public and private spheres. The district administrations decentralize some public functions, with reasonable difference between the various localities.

In past years, many urban trees had to be felled in Berlin as a result of age, disease or pest infestation. As funds to replace these trees were not available in the affected locations, the eradication of trees has caused negative impacts on the city climate, affecting residents and Berlin’s visitors alike.

The fundraising campaign organised by the Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment aims to redress the negative balance in planting and caring for new urban trees. The campaign also pursues the objective of improving the image of the city’s trees in the long term. By 2017 the aim is to plant up to 10,000 additional roadside trees in Berlin, in the spring and autumn of each year.

The City Tree Campaign is a joint project of the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment and the Districts of Berlin. The Department is responsible for organising the campaign as a whole. This means launching the call for tenders and commissioning the companies that will plant the trees. The Senate Department is also responsible for the public relations (advertising and hotline) and for handling the finances (administrating incomes and donations as well as applying for public fundings). The Districts nominate available sites were new trees can be planted and provide support for tree planting.

The Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment has not only worked with the districts of Berlin to set up this campaign but has also collaborated with the public and business to raise funds and increase the stock of urban trees. The reasons for participating in the campaign are varied. Some local people plant a tree to commemorate the birth of a child, while other donations are made in memory of a deceased person. Some residents also set up communal collections to plant a new tree in front of their own building. Private compagnies see their action as a good advertising and PR opportunity, while politicians can demonstrate their green credentials.

The average cost to plant a new tree is €1,200, including maintenance. When a donation of €500 is made, the remaining € 700 are funded from the state budget. Planting 800 trees per season requires on average 1 million euros. Further subsidies have not yet been used for the city tree campaign.

Donation amounts per year (in €):
2015: 242,325
2014: 85,338
2013: 250,893
2012: 7,960

In 2016, about 5,000 additional urban trees have already been planted, with donations totalling approximately €600,000. Assuming that a tree will consume 1.5kg of CO² per day (average value), this planting programme will absorb approximately half a tonne of CO² per tree each year. When scaled up to 10,000 trees, this will take out around 5,000 tonnes of carbon per year in the city of Berlin. 

From the outset, the fundraising campaign has been well supported by Berlin’s residents, businesses and politicians. It has been highlighted in the media as a bold strategy to foster civic engagement.

The factors that have contributed to make this project appealing for many Berlin residents have been identified as follows:

  • Trees are a popular subject and the fundraising campaign make it easier for every citizen to support;
  • Through their donation, people can act for their city and are more likely to strengthen their personal connection with society;
  • Efficient public relations work has served to inform citizens about the campaign and encourage them to participate.

Experience gained from organising this fundraising campaign is easily transferable to other fields. In the future, the city will more likely encourage residents to get personnaly involved in community duties and support the administration in the provision of public services. 

The Senate Department was inspired by a similar fundraising campaign organised by the city of Hamburg in Germany. To date, various other local authorities in Germany and international cities have shown great interest in Berlin’s City Tree Campaign. The campaign’s large internet presence can help other cities to understand and reproduce this approach elsewhere. 

- Berlin’s City Tree Campaign / Urban Trees for Berlin, Urban Innovation Database, (accessed 29 August 2016)

- BERLIN’S CITY TREE CAMPAIGN / URBAN TREES FOR BERLIN, Metropolis Award, (accessed 30. August 2016)

- Stadtbaumkampagne, Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment, (accessed 30 August 2016)

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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