by Prof Ares Kalandides
I have been researching Citizen Participation in urban development in Berlin, since 2016, when the new Berlin state government coalition signed a contract, introducing participation as one of its leading principles. When I started, I was trying to understand what the provisions of the contract were and how that could be conceptualized. Conceptualization is not just an intellectual exercise (although it is that, too): it implicitly or explicitly guides the way we think, talk and act – and also the way we design policy.
In a paper that was published in the Journal of Place Management and Development in 2018, I had suggested that we can understand Citizen Participation in urban development in four distinct, but often overlapping ways: (a) participation as an institutional setting; (b) participation as a citizenship right; (c) participation in the public sphere; and (d) participation as practices. I had then used this conceptual framework to analyze the Berlin Coalition Contract and its provisions on participation (s. image above).
I am now moving further, looking closely at a series of case studies, with the ultimate goal to propose an evaluation of the implementation of Citizen Participation in Berlin at the end of the legislative period of the current government coalition in 2021.
“Conceptualization is not just an intellectual exercise (although it is that, too): it implicitly or explicitly guides the way we think, talk and act – and also the way we design policy. ”
Haus der Statistik
Haus der Statistik is a building in the very heart of Berlin, at Alexanderplatz. Built in 1970, it used to house, among other things, the statistical office of the GDR, hence its name. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the building, property of the german federal state, quickly lost any function and remained empty for over two decades. Although the reconstruction of Alexanderplatz had always been a top priority for the Berlin planning department after 1990, only few projects moved along, partly because the city entered a long recession until the real estate business started picking up again after 2015.
On that year a plan for the reconstruction of that particular block was presented to the public, a plan that also included the demolition of the Haus der Statistik. During the public meeting an artists’ collective (Allianz der bedrohte Atelierhäuser) staged a protest against demolition. Soon, together with other players – social and cultural institutions, architects, foundations and associations (Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik – ZK/U, Atelierbeauftragter Berlin/bbk Kulturwerk, Initiative Stadt Neudenken, Raumlabor Berlin, Martinswerk e.V., Belius Stiftung, Stiftung Zukunft Berlin, Schlesische 27, CUCULA e.V., Gyalpa e.V., Open Berlin e.V., Die Zusammenarbeiter) – they formed an initiative and presented their alternative plans: these would keep the building, offer housing for the thousands of people who had recently arrived to Berlin fleeing conflict (mostly from Syria) and also offer space for cultural projects. When in 2016 new local elections took place, the new Berlin government included a provision for the Haus der Statistik in the new coalition contract. According to that:
“The Haus der Statistik will be developed as a space for administration as well as for culture, education, social services and housing. The coalition intends to convert the building to state property. It is to become a model project, where new types of cooperation and a broad participation of the urban community are guaranteed.” (Koalitionsvereinbarung 2016: 36)
Indeed, in 2017 the state of Berlin bought the building from the federal state while a year later, the initiators agreed with the planning department to present a final plan for the building’s use by the end of 2018. The repossession process reached a provisional end in the first months of 2019, when the design plans for the whole complex were presented to the public. The new plans include facilities for the town hall of the Borough of Mitte, space for artists and social initiatives, affordable housing to be built by a state-own housing company and a central courtyard that will function as a public space.
Five institutional partners, also known as Koop5 are involved in the project. The Berlin planning and housing department (Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Wohnen); the borough of Mitte; the Berlin-owned housing company WBM; BIM, the Berlin-owned real estate management company; and the cooperative ZUsammenKUNFT Berlin eG. The latter is the cooperative that followed from the original informal initiative that claimed the Haus der Statistik back in 2015. Additionally, 4 citizens were selected as “citizen delegates”, following an open call by the initiators.
The core of the planning process was the “integrated workshop”, a multi-layered format that included public colloquiums, planning labs and workshops as well as two more informal formats: the Café der Statistik and the Planning Table (Plantisch). During the public colloquiums, the three involved architectural studios presented their plans to a committee of experts that was composed of architects, planners, but also the citizen delegates. The planning laboratories were work meetings between the architectural studios, the Koop5 and the citizen delegates to specify the plans, in particular in regard to ground floor use, public spaces, density, mobility, accessibility, etc. Workshops took place every Friday and their results were included in the planning process. Finally, the Café der Statistik, open twice a week, was an informal get-together for anybody interested, and the Planning Table a similar informal weekly setting, where anybody could bring in ideas and plans.
“Citizen participation does not appear out of nowhere. It needs to be learned, and this learning curve includes citizens, administration, organizations and politics. “
This, arguably successful process has several elements worth pointing out:
Firstly, it was through organized citizen protest that the Haus der Statistik was saved in the first place and through pressure from the citizens that a provision for it was introduced into the government coalition contract.
Secondly, the gradual formalization of an initially informal initiative contributed to a more sustainable form of cooperation
Third, a combination of formal and informal formats in the participation process opened up different opportunities for a diverse group of players.
Fourth, the choice of ‘citizen delegates’, as limited as it may seem, was a step towards the inclusion of non-expert, non-intitutionalised voices in the process. However, it is also clear that organised groups had more leverage than individual citizens in the decision-making arrangement.
Fifth, experts, citizens, the cooperative, administration and state-owned companies, all worked together in a sometimes conflictual, sometimes peaceful manner, towards what finally turned into a viable result for all.
And finally, in order to understand the Haus der Statistik, we also need to keep in mind the long tradition of urban social movements and active citizen participation in urban development in Berlin. Citizen participation does not appear out of nowhere. It needs to be learned, and this learning curve includes citizens, administration, organizations and politics. There is definitely going to be criticism around this particular process and I am sure most of it will be legitimate.
However, for me the Haus der Statistik is undoubtedly a case where citizen protest on the one hand and a certain institutional openness on the other have finally led to an acceptable compromise. And this is an important lesson for all of us involved in urban development.