new approaches to urban transformation

CRITICAL MAPPING in MUNICIPALIST MOVEMENTS

Remark: We are currently re-making this website, therefore this page includes the basic information ABOUT the project and the TEAM. All other materials will be made available in February 2023.

ABOUT

 

CMMM is a practice-oriented research project that was designed to support civil society actors in their struggles for just societies and cities in the pursuit of profound political transformation. In their quest to change power relations, mobilisers in municipalist movementsare continuously re-thinking and re-shaping instruments and mediums. In this project we focused on critical mapping as it constitutes an “act of power,” one that transcends theorization to establish different perspectives on realities, an action aimed at changing narratives and discourses. 

The evolving democratization of mapping through new technologies is deconstructing it as an elitist instrument for the few and making it available to the many as a medium for (self-)empowerment. Maps are helping to give shape and size to issues that are hard to grasp, particularly complex issues at urban scales. Theoretically, we based our work on an exploration that K LAB conducted in parallel, which is captured in the Mapping Change Logbook,[1] regarding what constitutes critical mapping and what are its transformative potentials. In this practice-based CMMM project, we investigated the emancipatory claims of critical mapping through collaborative activities and comparative research on specific spatio-political issues in three cities: Barcelona, Belgrade, and Berlin.

 

[1]    The Mapping Change Logbook was the result of the postdoctoral project “Mapping for change? Critical cartography approaches to drive socio-environmental urban transformations,” which was conducted by K LAB between October 2018 and April 2022. It was financed through a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation under its program: “Original – isn’t it? New Options for the Humanities and Cultural Studies” (now OpenUp). The Mapping Change Logbook contains a selection of key findings from the project, including primary, secondary, and tertiary materials on concepts and experiments that engage critical mapping. For more information, please see “0.2 The “Mapping Change” Project.”

 

 

 

These cities were chosen because of several factors, one being the variance in their levels of political organization and the achievements of the respective local municipalist movements. Whereas in Barcelona the contemporary municipalist movement managed to oust traditional parties from the mayor’s seat in 2015, in Belgrade they are just starting to make it to municipal councils (as of April 2022). Meanwhile in Berlin, in spite of the very rich scene of initiatives and activists, there is still no framework that contests the established political structures with an alternative. Other factors include points of divergence and convergence offered by these west, east, and northern European cities in terms of political and economic histories and contexts. In the second half of the twentieth century, all three cities were sites of complex socio-political contestation. Before neoliberalization swept through the globe, their spatio-politics were largely socialist and their traces still greatly impact the realities in these cities today, as shown in the timelines that were mapped in this project.

We understand critical maps within the broader definition of the term, to be encompassing of various kinds of visualizations and communication tools and, above all, the processes that give rise to them (i.e., not just the “output”). From this perspective and as outlined in the CMMM process, which spanned over 3.5 years from 2019 to 2023, our team of scholar-activists worked on developing methodologies and creating critical maps of multiple formats that support the agenda setting, claim-making, and communication of our collaborating collectives, initiatives, and civil organizations on the issue of the Right to Housing.

why housing?

 

At the outset of the project, our newly formed CMMM team chose housing as the thematic and comparative entry point. First, this was because it represents a common arena of suffering in the three cities. Second, it is a domain in which the members of our team were strongly invested. And third, back in 2019, it was clear that this basic need for dignified life would mobilize people to support endeavors for political change.

We understand housing as a broad term that transcends “having a shelter” and encompasses people’s concerns for daily sustenance. It includes aspects of adequate infrastructure and health care, access to education and non-monetized non-commercialized spaces of socialization (which is as central to mental health as water and clean air), and therefore, the systems of spaces that allow for just and secure social production and reproduction. By extension, the term should ideally also include spaces of labor and production, which have been dislocated from realms of housing by functional principles of city management. However, under current sectorial political paradigms, this extended meaning is hard to translate into policies of spatial governance. 

 

  

Under this central theme, some of the comparative lines we saw at the beginning of the project were the issues of housing burdens (how much of a person’s income is spent on housing), evictions (active and passive models), touristification, and the financialization of housing (real estate having become a prime object of speculation by international corporations). In addition, across the three cities, we saw how the growing challenges related to access to affordable housing have triggered the formation of collectives and initiatives that work on alternatives. As the outputs of the project displayed here demonstrate, these topics were addressed to varying degrees in the respective activities of each city team in accordance with the characteristics of the locations and events that took place during the process. The approach each of the city teams adopted for this common theme within the CMMM framework, which operated in tandem with the activities of their collectives and organizations, is described in the cities section.

CMMM process

The CMMM project was conceived at the Robert Bosch Stiftung (RBS) event “24 Stunden SPIELRAUM II – Urbane Transformationen gestalten” (24 hours Game Room II – Designing Urban Transformations) in December 2017 by a team of five: Julia Förster, Julita Skodra, Katleen De Flander, Natasha Aruri, and Andreas Brück. With the help of an RBS seed grant, our SPIELRAUM team developed and submitted an elaborate proposal in May 2018. Following review and a presentation at the RBS headquarters in Stuttgart, the commissioned evaluation committee endorsed the proposal and K LAB (TU Berlin) was awarded the grant. In summer 2019, the CMMM project started with Katleen and Natasha as postdoctoral researchers and coordinators (both in part-time positions), Andreas as project manager, and Julia as support and sounding board.

During the first few months, the focus lay on expanding the team to include mobilizers from the three cities. For Berlin (BLN), we were joined by Nija Maria Linke, Edouard Barthen, and Julian Zwicker; for Belgrade (BGD) by Iva Čukić, Jovana Timotijević, and Marko Aksentijević; and for Barcelona (BCN) by Irene Escorihuela Blasco, Laura Roth, and Carla Rivera. They brought the local collectives and organizations in which they are involved with them as collaborators for the project: AKS-Gemeinwohl and Raumstation for BLN, Ministarstvo Prostora (Ministry of Space) for BGD, and Observatori DESC for BCN.

After our CMMM team was formed, we jointly defined the thematic foci of the project within the broader context of municipalist movements. Given the nature of the activities of the members of the three city teams, we decided to focus on housing, with an open angle to be defined along the journey by each of the city teams in relation to the working agendas of their collectives. We held monthly meetings in which we discussed issues related to the project and beyond. Based on relevant events, changing conditions, and new information, we made consensus decisions on next steps and amended our agenda accordingly. As a practice-oriented project, the CMMM framework pivoted on collaborative formats that sought to combine and build on broader efforts within the various local movements.

In March 2020, we organized the international “Setting the Grounds” workshop with select guests, who later became our Advisory Committee members. We discussed various experiences and deliberated on key questions, many of which accompanied us throughout the lifespan of the project. The workshop helped each team start defining their concrete political target, on which they would focus in the following phases. A week after this workshop, Europe went on lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August, October, and November 2020, the BLN, BCN, and BGD teams respectively held their kick-off workshops, which were attended by mixed groups of activists, professionals, and public servants. The teams presented initial ideas and discussed their validity, implementation potential, and next steps, as outlined in the workshop reports: Who Buys Berlin?, Mapping Property Structures in Barcelona, and Housing Burdens of Social Housing Tenants and Publicly Owned Land for the Purpose of Non-Profit Housing in Belgrade.

Between fall 2020 and summer 2021, with the feedback collected in the kick-off workshops, the teams drafted initial analyses of the housing conditions in their cities. What were initially intended as short reports became extensive pieces that were created in a collaborative writing and production process between the city teams and K LAB, with feedback from some of the Advisory Committee members. These now include a timeline of key events, legislation, and relevant critical maps; a status quo section that outlines the hierarchies of decision-making and main factors behind housing injustice; and an index of major players (actors) in the three cities. The latter includes a poster-format process diagram that explains the particular legislative procedure or instrument of focus for each city. As the CMMM project drew to an end in fall 2022, all texts were revised, updated, and finalized.

In spring 2021, the city teams organized “hands-on” workshops, where they worked with participants to define the shape and characteristics of the interactive maps they were designing. The purpose of the maps is to both inform and engage communities in the broader mobilizations toward tangible political change. As the workshop reports explain, in BCN they decided to focus on the continuing problem of Who Evicts Barcelona?, in BLN on the question of Commoning Berlin – but how? (with a focus on the vital yet weak instrument of Vorkaufsrecht, the right of preemption), and in BGD on Mapping the Unaffordability of Housing.

Between summer 2021 and fall 2022, in partnership with the visual intelligence team and with feedback from various collaborators, three interactive maps were developed: Commoning Berlin, “How (Un)affordable Is Housing in Belgrade?, and “Stop Evictions!” in BCN. The maps vary in their structure and programming in accordance with their purpose. They were released online in November and December 2022.

In May 2022, after postponing twice due to COVID-19 surges in 2021, we were finally able to hold an International Gathering in BGD. As the CMMM team had changed slightly since the start of the project (see inner circle of the diagram above), this was the first face-to-face meeting for several of the team members. Next to the long over-due personal interaction, the meeting served to reflect on our joint journey so far and to decide on the final steps of the project. In addition, Irene and Julian contributed to the public discussion “Global housing struggles – experiences from Berlin, Barcelona and Belgrade” organized by the Ministry of Space at the margins of the international gathering.

In summer 2022, a set of 28 “Thoughts on…” sound clips were extracted and curated from interviews (of about 1 hour each) that K LAB held with members of the city teams during the gathering in BGD. These are meant to introduce the voices of the people behind this CMMM project, provide glimpses of how they started, their experiences, their opinions regarding relevant issues, and explain how they keep going despite the many challenges.

As a spinoff of the CMMM project, in the week before the international gathering, the BGD team—together with K LAB—directed an excursion for students from three universities: TU Berlin, TU Darmstadt, and the University of Michigan. This BGD excursion was part of the TU Berlin master-level design studio Београд (Belgrade) 2041 – Futures of Post-Socialist Cities, which was taught by Iva, Jovana, and Andreas between April and July 2022. The course was designed to discuss current struggles and initiatives for city spaces in Belgrade, but also as an imaginative exercise regarding future scenarios for the “Belgrade Waterfront” site until 2041, which involved understanding the roles and interests of different stakeholders, creating a cost-benefit analysis, discussing further implications, and producing four alternatives (masterplans and scenarios) for Belgrade 2041.

Furthermore, some of the CMMM team members participated in the international Takhayali Ramallah workshop in September 2022, which brought together academics, practitioners, animation experts, and activists. The workshop focused on exploring alternative ways of seeing and sensing the city and worked toward defining new principles for a spatial management approach that accounts for social reproduction and climate change adaptation. One of the discussions revolved around whether and how a municipalist movement can be formed in Ramallah and was inspired by a presentation on the experience of the Ministry of Space (BGD team).

Between fall 2022 and winter 2023, we finalized the various project outputs featured on the cmmm.eu website. In addition to a printed book, the project’s website includes an array of interactive formats that allow visitors to explore, compare, and engage with the three cities. Ideally, individuals, initiatives, and movements will be able to make use of these materials long after they have been released.

To facilitate comparison and reach a broader audience, we have worked mainly in English, except for the BCN and BGD interactive maps. However, in order for the work to be used broadly in the different contextual settings, we aim to translate key materials into German, Serbian, and Spanish/Catalan after the project has been completed.

In June 2023, our CMMM team will present the project at the 4th International Social Housing Festival (ISHF), which will take place in Barcelona. If you are around, please feel free to join us!

TEAM

Andrea BLUHM

K LAB

ROBIN COENEN

Visual Intelligence

city teams

former team members

ADVISORY COMMITEE

COLLABORATING INITIATIVES

MINISTRY OF SPACE

 

AKS GEMEINWOHL

OBSERVATORY DESC

KOLLEKTIV ORANGOTANGO