Johanna Meadows

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BMXing from Bremen to Durban

Inclusive Project: Sportgarten

14. September 2016


SPORTGARTEN. The people behind this neighbourhood-funded bike, skate and climbing park in Germany have transported the idea to Durban, SA

“From the very beginning,“ says Ulli Barde, head of inventive German sports initiative Sportgarten, „this has been an inclusive project for all kinds of youngsters, no matter what their age, sex, education, ethnicity, social status or place of residence.”

Young people in Bremen, north-west Germany, lacked space to hang out and play sports together whenever they wanted, especially when it came to skating, BMX and climbing as these sports didn’t qualify for city funding.

“We learned not only to design a facility, but also to get the money to build it,” recalls Barde. “Together with the kids we raised €200,000 through sponsored runs, charity activities, flea markets and other events.” The park opened in 1999 and 200-300 young people now visit every day.

Now the city of Durban in South Africa – the cities are twinned – has adopted the concept to build a South African version. Youngsters from Durban can do internships at Sportgarten while Ulli Barde and his team send interested Germans as volunteers to their partner organisation in the city.

One of these volunteers, Moritz Kistenfeger, spent a year in Durban and was involved in the construction of three bike parks in the Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu (INK) area 30k north of the city. The area has the second largest agglomeration of poor neighbourhoods in the country.

“The sites give kids the chance to learn and practice biking in a safe environment with professional coaches,“ says Moritz. „Later they will be able to do their homework under supervision in classrooms on these sites.”

The programme is open to everybody and is free of charge. “The sites have already become a real venue for young people: they can’t wait to be on the tracks,” explains Moritz. “That’s because there are basically no alternatives in the area. In other parts of the city with a mainly white population, you have huge facilities with ten gardeners and a view of the Indian Ocean. I’ve never seen a contrast like that before.”

“I learned a lot while working in this project – mainly that there are other ways of doing things. Because it’s sometimes not as organized as in Germany, I had to learn to be patient and more creative in solving problems,” sums up Moritz Kistenfeger.

Sandile Maphumolo from Durban also experienced a new culture when coming to Germany. “At first I was quite put off because I found it unwelcoming. In time I learned to understand that every culture is different and I need to adjust to the system and enjoy the experience.”

Besides the exchange with Durban, Ulli Barde constantly talks to sponsors, organizes big events and establishes new cooperative projects. The latest Sportgarten venture is the construction of an indoor skate park in downtown Bremen – with a difference.

The skate park will be combined with a digital media centre so kids can work creatively together in designing urban venues, making videos and using a laser cutter. “The technology also helps in getting young people to take part in decision-making processes,” says Barde. “It’s easier to discuss ideas when the kids can plot out their models with the laser cutter and make them tangible. I’m always interested in bringing together different groups, in this case skaters and computer nerds.“

Meanwhile the Sportgarten’s techniques are getting international recognition: the EU has included them in next month’s European Week of Cities and Regions. „We will present Sportgarten and discuss with the other countries how cities are addressing the challenge of urban poverty through inclusion, education and social innovation initiatives,” says Ulli Barde. “We are excited to learn from other innovative projects and to share our expertise.”

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