Friday, 2 March 2012

A Demonstration FOR new development?

Yes, that is what happened yesterday in Frankfurt. Ten thousand demonstrators packed into the Römer - the cities ancient market square - to demonstrate FOR the expansion of Frankfurt International Airport...

Given that we've had months of demonstrations demanding fewer flights, less activity and a reduction of the airport, this is a turn-up for the books. I can't imagine it happening in the UK. As soon as anyone tried to organise it the anti's would turn up the heat and scream them off the streets threatening violence and using intimidating tactics. But this one went without a hitch, though the "gegeners" were assembled, a couple of hundred of them, round the Dom chanting "Eenemeenemiste, wir brauchen eine piste; Eenemeenemeck, die menschen müssen weg!" (Translation: Eenymeenyminey, we want to use a piste (ski slope); Eenymeenyheck, the people must all go!") Got to admit, it's a catchy little slogan, but it was out gunned by the assembled workers, trades unions and corporate investors crowding the neighbouring Römerberg who claim the expansion will bring 100,000 jobs to the region.

The interesting things the facts support this.

The problem is that bad planning decisions over the last thirty or forty years have allowed housing estates and villages to be built all around the periphery of the airport and under its flight paths. Fine as long as it was only a few flights a day, but this is an airport that has thirty second intervals between flights landing or taking off - and these planes are a lot bigger than the ones the planners considered. This is one of the problems of the economics of perpetual "growth" in any sector. It has to impact somewhere. Growth means more people, more people means more traffic, more tarmac, more housing, more jobs, more run-off water, more waste ...

Again, there is a different approach to finding a solution here than to what I am used to. The Airport is buying up properties in the worst affected areas and demolishing them, the Local Authorities are paying for the installation of better sound insulation in houses further away. The "gegeners" can't win this one, but at least something is being done to solve their problems.

I have to say that it was certainly novel to see the CEO of Lufthansa, the CEO of the Airport and of another stakeholder in the Airport, plus all the Union bosses (and one of these is currently striking for higher pay for ground staff at the airport) all addressing the protesters and answering their questions as far as possible. When a reporter challenged the Airport CEO demanding to know who had organised the protest and whether his workers were compelled to be there, he invited one of the workers waving a placard to answer it and walked away. The answer was rather forthright and it certainly didn't give the impression the worker considered himself obliged to be there by his boss. He turned out to be one of the striking ground staff!

This has to be the first time I've seen a demonstration FOR change and expansion and it has to be the first time I've seen such an orderly one.

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