The 'Stuttgart 21' Revolt Protests Against Mega Project Grow


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Part 3: The Cost of Poor Marketing

Wolfgang Drexler, the project spokesman, says that what Stuttgart is witnessing today is a "fundamentally social phenomenon." "People seem to have lost their willingness," he says, "to give change a chance and view it as something positive." As he sees it, people only see the risks -- and not the opportunities.

Drexler sits down at the small conference table in his office. He removes his glasses, places them on the table and looks around his office before saying: "We should have set up this office eight or nine years ago." He also admits that it was a "huge mistake" for the people in charge of the Stuttgart 21 project to have "practically suspended their public-relations activities and abandoned the field to its opponents" after getting a political majority to approve the project.

Drexler also says that he recently told members of a district council in the northern part of the city that the development would have a particularly strong impact on their neighborhood. "The last time someone was there to talk about Stuttgart 21," he adds, "was way back in 2003."

An Example in Vienna

All of a sudden, Drexler changes the subject and starts talking enthusiastically about Vienna. The Austrian capital is also in the process of converting a terminus station in its downtown area into a through station. The construction period is shorter by a few years, the costs are lower by a few billion, but, Drexler says, "most of all, the Viennese are crazy about their new train station." He attributes this fact to their having been "systematically involved in the project from the start," adding that: "Today, the majority of them are proud of it."

Drexler now feels that it will be almost impossible to enjoy the same success in Stuttgart. "The opponents' motives are too varied for that. Stuttgart 21 isn't just a football field with a fence around it. It's extremely complex," he says, adding that this is why the marketing aspect is so difficult.

Perhaps the project's supporters would have fared better if they had had a genuinely charismatic person as their ambassador, a person capable of convincing others, a person like Sittler. At any rate, Mayor Schuster is clearly not the right person for the job. He has spent the last few weeks holed up behind the walls of City Hall, and he uses every opportunity to repeat that the project has political legitimacy and that people should just finally calm down. Drexler, for his part, has been getting death threats.

A Failure to Communicate

Not far from his office, there's a man you might expect to be one of Drexler's allies, a supporter of Stuttgart 21. Lukas-Pierre Bessis, 33, is the owner of an advertising agency and communications expert. He is sitting in a retro leather armchair on the second floor of an old factory, wearing black, horn-rimmed glasses. Lounge music is playing quietly in the background.

Stuttgart 21 is a project with a "unique outlook for the city's future," Bessis says enthusiastically, adding that the "subjective and emotional discussion" of its opponents is off-putting. When asked about the projects risks and various side effects, an astonished expression appears on his face. "I have confidence in the abilities of our engineers here in Baden-Württemberg," he says. "And I see what a massive job-creation machine it is," he adds, referring to the tens of thousands of jobs the construction of the new train station will reportedly create.

So much for the positive side. Unfortunately, says Bessis, in the public perception, there is one serious problem with the attractive new underground train station: the underground part. As he sees it, this is what's really driving the city's elites into the streets.

"It has to do with the organizers' bad communications policy. They gambled away a huge opportunity," says Bessis. "They should have focused far more heavily on the pride people feel as residents of the city, and they should have worked with positive images." Likewise, Bessis argues that the city should have launched the project with a major advertising campaign instead of just a handful of meager exhibits and panel discussions.

By now, Drexler and his staff have figured this out for themselves. In June -- or four months after construction got underway -- new posters and billboards were put up throughout Stuttgart. "It's true that 282 trees will be cut down in the Schlossgarten and around the train station for Stuttgart 21," one large, white billboard reads. "But it's also true that 293 trees, up to 12 meters tall, will be planted and that the park will actually grow, by 20 hectares, for the first time in years."

Still, as an advertising professional, Bessis thinks the campaign has been a disaster. For example, he notes, someone driving past one of the billboards at a higher speed will only read that 282 trees are about to be cut down in the Schlossgarten. "Those people are just doing advertising for the opponents!" Bessis says, with exasperation in his voice.

Bessis isn't alone in his criticism. Other supporters of Stuttgart 21 have realized that there has been a permanent breakdown in communications between the city's citizens and politicians. Even Baden-Württemburg's new governor, Stefan Mappus agrees. "If there were a prize for the worst marketing campaign," he recently quipped, "we would stand a good chance of winning with Stuttgart 21."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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wayne30040 09/06/2010
1. just an opinion
My wife and I visited Stuttgart for several days in July 2010. We befriended two different people who are involved with the "Kein Stuttgart 21" group. We attended one of the Montagsdemos - July 19. We were impressed by the peaceful (though forceful) nature of the protest. We also had several chances to visit the Schlossgarten Park. What a gem! What a beautiful spot - right in the middle of an urban setting. My wife and I became very involved with a similar protest movement in 2001-2002 in north Georgia, about 25 miles north of Atlanta. Our potential boondoggle was a toll-road that would have connected two interstates in Georgia. The project would have greatly benefitted one major brewing company and several manufacturers of carpets and flooring companies in northwest Georgia. It would have also destroyed several communities, hundreds of existing homes. Our project, "The Northern Arc" was cancelled after one of its major proponents - the Governor of Georgia - was voted out of office. Good Luck to the concerned citizens of Stuttgart. Your frustration with the process (or lack of citizen participation in the process) is easy to understand.
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