Hanna Schwarz

Gründerin von Geht-Doch
Lobbygruppe für Fußgänger

7000 Bänke:

Hello Hanna. We are in the 2nd district now at the place where the association Geht-Doch, the first lobby group for pedestrians, have their monthly meetings, and where we also met them for the first time, we are with Hanna Schwarz who is the association’s co-founder and current head.

Maybe you can introduce yourself shortly and tell us why you started this initiative.

Hanna Schwarz:

My name is Hannah Schwarz. I'm from Vienna and I used to work as a  campaigner for Greenpeace. Then I got my own two kids and I was at home and decided: I need to do some more political work especially for Vienna.
When I started to walk more by foot with my kids I realised that it really really needs a lobby for pedestrians in Vienna who is taking care of this underrepresented group. Because indeed it is the biggest group in Vienna and they have no real lobby here and there is so much to do about our public space outside in Vienna – how it can be used and how it gets use now. How much space is left for people outside, apart from playgrounds for kids or parks for example?
I just want to spent much time outside with my kids and have lots of space to play, or when I go from A to B to have a secure place for them to either walk or run. That was my main trigger to start with this initiative, Geht-Doch, two years ago.

There is already the reason why we came up to you. Walking is a slower way of moving and therefore the  staying quality (Aufenthaltsqualität) becames much more important than when you move my car.
But when you see only streets full of cars, parking spaces and driving alleys, people won’t think much of the quality for staying, because they are not staying anyway.

But when you walk and observe your sourrounding thoughtfully you will start to see these spaces with potentials. Would you underline that?

If you have a good staying quality in your surrounding you just use it in a totally different way, that’s true. You want to stay in place with facilities to sit on, to enjoy and to relax. That’s the difference to the car-driver. A car driver would not think: oh this is a nice place I would like to stop my car, stay and get out. It's so hard to get people out of the car if they are once in.
If we have a look at how the city is shared it becomes obvious that most space are just used for cars. Especially parking places can be used in total different ways. Think about the new possibilities, were people used parking places for Grätzloasen. That are parking lots, one or two, transformed in different ways – mostly in spaces with benches and other features that create a very nice surrounding, just like a small room in the outside. The big difference to the Schanigarten (Viennese places in front Cafés) is that there you don't have to consume something.

This is one of our big aim, to give life quality back to people in Vienna, to inspire them by showing ideas and examples of how you can use public spaces in total different ways.
From the perspective of a person with a car it might be different. But I don’t want to drive 5km to the next park with my kids. It’s much easier to have some transformed parking lots where we can play in a secure way.
Our philosophy is to start different processes that change the consciousness about the use of public space and to get back the possibilities to change our city.
Less cars and more high quality spaces for pedestrians is better for the environment, your purse, your health, actually for pretty much everything.

One of your current big issues is a petition of yours that you just started. It is mainly targeting the use of public space for elderly people.

Could tell us a little bit about this petition in general and why you came up with that?

In September we started a petition called, “Petition für freie Sitzplätze ohne Konsumzwang” (eng. petition for consum-free seating places) in which we demand to have a seating possibility every meters 300 in pedestrian areas and on sidewalks.
300m, that is roughly 10 minutes to walk for elderly people. They should have this points in order to have places to rest and than to continue walking.
It should be done mainly where there is still enough place for people to pass by, so we are talking about pedestrian streets that are 3 meter or wider than 3 meter.

These seating possibilties can of course also be used by everybody else. By young people to meet, for young mother to rest with your children or to breastfeed your baby or to just have achat with a friend.

In Kaisermühlen, where I live, I tried that once myself. I simly put up two chairs and sat down. Immediately a friend of mine, a neighbour came by and sat with me and we chatted for 15 minutes. And than another neighbour joined us…

That are very simple possibilities how you can bring people together. It’s not a big think. You just need a possibility to sit down. Place to chairs facing each other. That’s it.

For the petition it was quite easy to collect most of the signatures you need to officially register it. We had almost 500 signatures in only two days.
If a petition gets passed a circle of politicians from all party need at least to talk about this topic.
This is is a good possibility to make topics that citizen find important being discussed in an official way.

So in which stage are you with this petition process?

We are still collecting more signatures. When you registered online you have one year to collect the signatures and it just sounds good when you say, okay 1000 people already signed the petition and want to have more seating possibilities in the public spaces. Thats why we go for 1000 at least, or maybe 7000, why not?!

How many do you already have?

Four hunded. If you have the right time and surrounding, its really easy to find people to sign petitions. For example, we tried it once at “the street life festival”.

How could I, as a Viennese citizen or like someone who is living here, have access to this petition?

If you want to sign our petition, you either sign it online at our website, or you can download it, sign it offline and send it to us.

One idea or plan of yours to promote the petition and one where we could possibly collaborate, is giving away 100 chairs to the public. Maybe you can tell us about that, also in terms of legal issues for putting furniture into public spaces without permission, what about it?

We meet regularly, every month with our initiative members Geht-doch, so on one of these meetings we got the idea of getting cheap chairs and just put them outside for the purpose of having more seating opportunities, in order to trigger our petition and to promote it, as well as taking nice pictures of these chairs in possible seating spaces. Pictures can say a lot!

We bought 100 red chairs and we are trying to find good ways to use them, also to push our petition by handing it over to people as a present, since we all need more seating opportunities, wether for the elderly people or young people.
The seating opportunities are getting less and less here in Vienna. Most of the benches in Vienna are placed in parks, which its very nice to sit in parks but we also need seating possibilities in streets, best would be every 300m. Therefore these red chairs can give such an opportunity.

It can be tricky to just pull out a chair from your house and place it on the street or side walk, legally not so easy. A Friend of mine for instant placed a bench outside his home, on the side walk. It could bother other people who are passing there, by taking their space away, even if it’s a good idea but still it’s not allowed in Vienna. Therefore, the idea is, to give away one chair as a personal present to someone to just put it in public spaces and they can be moved from one person to another in different locations. So it won’t be this fixed furniture, that might be a solution. You should always try things, I think!

You showed us a letter about the legal issues of this matter from a lawyer. It says that you could receive a fine up to about 700, if you place furniture in the city – that’s quite expensive! Did your friends who put up a bench get any legal problems with the law?

The friend of mine, who placed a bench in a very nice area on the sidewalk, which had enough space for people to pass by - it was a wide sidewalk with around 5m - next to some shops, where people can sit after buying something, maybe an ice-cream and eat it on this bench, actually got a fine and he had to pay it.

Mr. Erich Streichsbier from the MA 19 told us, that it’s actually easier if you distribute a big number of seating possibilities rather than one, and that’s why these 100 chairs might have a better chance than one bench, because if 50 or 100 of them pop-up in an area and you see all of them at the same time it’s harder to track them, more likely they will leave them. Maybe you should consider that, maybe even buy more than these 100. Where did you actually get these 100 chairs?

We got a cheap offer from a big company. We bought them using our private money, to pursue the idea of having a big number like 100 chairs.
Another very important point from the lawyer was, if you write your name on such furniture for example, or personalize them for your initiative or organization, you might affect yourself and will easily get a fine and you will be asked to remove them. One of the reasons to that, is because they don’t want to have any advertisements for a special company or organization. This is something to keep in mind, to not write names on them.

We were also talking before about collaborating in this, especially at this point of putting out a high number of chairs, benches or seating possibilities.
We have this idea of taking your chairs and building benches out of them. Another idea is to use the same date to set out your chairs and some benches we constructed together. 

That’s actually a nice idea! When we first met, the idea to collaborate and do something together came up, since we have the same aim. We want to do something out in the public and bring some seating opportunities to the people. It would be quite interesting to do such a thing together. Perhaps we can really make benches out of our chairs and make a good intervention.
I think we definitely should keep an eye on that, and think of further possibilities, like where and how.

Definitely, but for now thank you very much for this interview. It was a pleasure to have you.

You are very welcome, the pleasure was mine.