A vast majority of Berlin’s inhabitants (about 80%) and small businesses are tenants. Their livelihoods thus depend strongly on the availability and affordability of urban spaces and housing units. Consequently, real estate policies and management are key for protecting Berlin’s characteristic socio-cultural and neighborhood-centered livelihoods, what is referred to as the Berliner Mischung (mix). The cheap rents and socio-economic and spatial conditions of the pre-unification Berlin had created strong grounds for self-realization through utilization of the available spaces on the one hand, and strong communities of socio-cultural alliances and initiatives on the other. This created attractiveness, and a magnet for neoliberal investments.
Since the 1990s the number of housing units held by state-owned companies has roughly halved. Currently, parts of this lost stock are being bought back. However, large real estate companies and the financialization of the housing market continue to raise rents throughout Berlin, which has led in turn to the displacement of many tenants and the gentrification of entire neighborhoods. We see this process as sacrificing housing as a human right, and should be countered by a ‘Gemeinwohl1’-oriented governance of urban land and spaces.
Here it should be noted that the current average rents remain considerably lower in comparison to other European cities, and investors claim that they should be much higher to achieve adequate return on investment in real estate. This narrative overshadows housing policies and management discourses, and in effect continue to reduce the supply of units with affordable rents that are comparable to the levels of income of the majority of the population of Berlin.
That said, Berlin is characterized by a very diverse set of neighborhood initiatives and civic action networks that have been working to exert pressure on the political discourse and demanding such ‘Gemeinwohl’-oriented urban development. Some of the projects are testing new forms of cooperation between the city administration and civil initiatives, towards providing a new action base to counter the neo-liberalization of housing in Berlin. In this context, the city administration is currently trying to regain influence through legal instruments.
We as CMMM Berlin City Team believe that whether Berlin remains livable and its urban spaces accessible for the many, depends essentially on how successful both the civil initiatives and administration are in their cooperation to establish and institutionalize principles of ‘Gemeinwohl’- oriented urban development. Such transformation must be curated and organized in different arenas, and is subject to the course of negotiation processes. We are each working on this using different methods. We work as artists, consultants, organizers and activists in various groups and contexts in different parts of Berlin and beyond; for example in the AKS Gemeinwohl2 project and the Raumstation3 collective.
As mentioned earlier, the landscape of initiatives that are trying to contribute to a ‘Gemeinwohl’-oriented urban movement in Berlin is pretty broad. Through the CMMM project, the Berlin City Team wants to contribute to this discourse by focusing on the needed space to accommodate the different narratives and perspectives around one table to consolidate and enlarge the political pressure. We want to engage a variety of existing initiatives in a process of collaborative negotiation in order to create an interface that maps and gives visibility and order to the multiplicity of (social) knowledge production mechanisms, information and events connected to Berlin’s ‘Gemeinwohl‘. Along the process, we also want to draw attention to smaller initiatives and initiatives of the urban periphery, which are often less present in the public discourse. Through this collaborative exercise we want to explore how the different initiatives in Berlin relate to each other and to the variations in their views of the concept of municipalism, and whether and how the aims of civil initiatives can be further supported through existing and new ways of collaboration with the administration.
Image credit: “Cutout” by prokura (Installation during a Reclaim Your City Event at Dragoner Areal 2014 (CC 3.0). Translation: “the city is no cutout that you can sell. It consists of 1000 layers that were made by us”.
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