Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Next stop sell-out city: urban activism in Hamburg

an article by Nicole Vrenegor published in Eurozine 10/2012

“Is it chance or social class that determines where one gets on and off the bus? How are the stops really connected? How does civic space create social structure, and how does social structure create civic space?"
In an article first published in German in dérive (forthcoming), urban activist Nicole Vrenegor records her conversations with civic campaigners based along Hamburg’s no. 3 bus route (photos by Anke Haarman). From the outskirts to the new HafenCity development, she hears a repeated criticism of Hamburg’s city council: lack of consultation, token gestures towards social justice, investor-friendly development over liveable urban space.

“What vanishes are the places that don’t pay their way, but are very valuable indeed to those who need them,” writes Vrenegor. “These are the blind corners on the game board of the city, the empty lots gone to seed, the heterogeneous city quarters, the public spaces where people don’t need to spend and consume.”
In 2009, a group of artists took over a complex of buildings in the historic Gängeviertel earmarked for demolition and redevelopment. The squats became a symbol of resistance to profit-driven urban planning and a taste of what could be; still, writes Vrenegor, with the HafenCity project poised to expand yet further, campaigning remains an uphill struggle:

”The new land they want to claim is by no means empty. Around 50,000 people live on the islands in the river, Wilhelmsburg and Veddel. For years, many of them have been calling for a development plan for their neighbourhood, but not for an advertising machine to attract investors, which is what has now happened. [...] Even if we can't prevent the government from ‘leaping over the Elbe’, we can make sure that they land with a bump.”

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