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Origins, Motives, and Structures of Citizens' Initiatives (October 27, 1973)

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If people regard the Red Dot action in Hanover in 1969 as the first substantial example of a citizens’ initiative, then it is no coincidence that protests against traffic plans marked the beginning of this local citizens’ rights movement. The year 1969 also marked the proximity to the student movement, the boom of the extra-parliamentary opposition of the preceding years, thereby pointing to the successor function of the citizens’ initiatives. Since then they have concentrated – not entirely, but largely – in conurbations, and a city-state offers some of the most fertile ground: because of the density of communications in a major city, in connection with the fact that in a city-state it is easier to have a direct influence on parties, parliament, and the administration.

With respect to the role of citizens’ initiatives, the transformation in Hamburg’s traffic planning is an instructive example and at the same time a borderline case. Its much-heeded rejection of the “automobile-friendly expansion of the inner-city area” of the 1950s also brought the renunciation of other urban freeways, at least for the immediate future, in favor of public transportation. A corresponding concept of the SPD state executive committee received the blessings (“Individual traffic must be pushed out of the city center”) of an SPD state party congress. Although the Young Socialists [SPD youth organization] were not able to assert their ideas on the issue of fares for local public transportation, they did make considerable headway with their “anti-car” traffic concept. The contribution of the citizens’ initiatives is substantial here, albeit difficult to assess in detail. Especially the Young Socialists pursued a “dual strategy” in this regard, often being active in the citizens’ initiatives as well.

This could be clearly observed in the local actions protesting plans for city freeways in residential districts such as Harvestehude, Winterhude, or Eppendorf. These protests had a totally different structure than those in Ottensen, where the freeway feeder was originally planned to be built. In Eppendorf, which has recently become an area that many young people are moving to, citizens’ initiatives have organized, among other things, to protest the plan to use the Isebek canal for a freeway route.

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