No More Swimming on the Gürtel

Gürtelfrische West has been shut down by city officials – yet another set back for Deputy Mayor Birgit Hebein, criticized for her “pop-up politics.”

After three weeks of splashing around, the pop-up swimming pool on the Gürtel has been closed. The project, initiated by Deputy Mayor and Transportation Minister Birgit Hebein, has repeatedly come under fire for its unfavorable location and hefty price tag. But Hebein is relentless in fighting to keep her project alive. If she wins, this would be one of the few successful projects that she has to her name. 

As if the city doesn’t have enough places to cool off, Hebein created one in the middle of a hectic intersection. Claiming to make the 7thand 15thdistricts more livable, she blocked off a seven-lane road and converted it into a “green oasis.” At the center, for a whopping €160,000, the city rented out a 33 m2 pool, large enough to fit six individuals and requiring a life guard. Next to the kiddy pool, Hebein built a “relaxation zone,” equipped with sunbeds and a Gastro-Kiosk are of food stalls – all with taxpayer’s money. 

On August 30, Gürtelfrische West was scheduled to move to the Auer-Welsbach-Park in the 15thdistrict. However, SPÖ officials vetoed the move, which would have cost an additional 80,000. 

Now, Hebein, alongside district representatives, is fighting for the pool’s survival. In a press conference September 1, she announced that the city was looking into purchasing the pool for permanent use. Amid corona-related financial hardship, it remains unclear who exactly would pay for this investment. 

However, Hebein is pushing the move, citing the project’s success. According to the deputy mayor, the pool was frequented by 25,000 visitors and used a total of 15,000 times. Additionally, she denies that the temporary placement created “traffic chaos,” as cited by the opposition. Instead, she claims that blocking off the Gürtel played out so smoothly that Hebein has requested that the Technische Unveristät Wien (Technical University Vienna) conduct a feasibility study on permanent traffic relaxation in this area.    

(C) PID/Christian Fürthner

On Thin Ice

This is not the first time that Hebein has found herself on thin ice. Best known for her “pop up politics,” only her “cool streets” project found a footing in city politics. Her “pop-up bike lanes,” launched this spring, have come under scrutiny after an individual suffered a life-threatening accident. Her temporary pedestrian zones, which caused a rift between her and Mayor Michael Ludwig, left only seven out of 26.  

Critics say Hebein’s short-lived policies are ineffective. “Actually, politics should defend itself against this term,” political scientist Kathrin Stainer-Hämmerle told Der Standard. “It symbolizes its brief nature – something promised in an election campaign and then disappears again.”

But temporary projects are Hebein’s strong suit. Whenever the vice chancellor proposes something permanent, such as the car-free inner city, the proposal fails. For example, just a few days after Hebein and District Leader Markus Figl announced that they were planning on banning cars in the 1st district, Mayor Michael Ludwig threatened to veto the project. Now, even Figl has turned his back on the Green politician.  

In her defense, Hebein inherited a difficult position. Much like her predecessor, Maria Vassilakou, she is constantly criticized – from left and right – for her every move. However, Vassilakou reached milestone accomplishments during her tenure, converting both the Mariahilfer Straße and Rotenturmstraße into a pedestrian zone, a permanence Hebein has yet to achieve. Whether Hebein can save her reputation before the upcoming city elections is unclear. If re-elected, she may get another chance.  

Amina Frassl
Amina is Metropole's online content manager. She writes about news and news analysis and commutes between Vienna and Berlin as she completes her studies in journalism and politics at NYU.

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