About sixteen years ago, two skaters found a plot of fallow land in Hanover-Linden’s industrial area. They start to clean up and build a small skate park. In 2009, they form an association, negotiate an interim use contract with the owner together with the city council’s support, and reach a lease agreement for one euro per year, which is still valid today. In 2013, another association is created: Platzprojekt aims to create a space for initiatives, a place for self-help, for mutual support offering knowledge, tools, and craftsmanship. Research funds and state subsidies enable the establishment of long-term participation structures for young people who want to discuss their cities in self-organized spaces and actively shape them.
Art and Activism
Prison reforms, fair national budgets, justice for immigrants, the appropriate determination of tax burdens, the eradication of racial segregation in schools, the fight against corruption, or the questioning of police surveillance of the broad public—all of these are topics for the Centre for Artistic Activism (C4AA). What is unique in their work is the combination of art methods and formats with social movements. In workshops, seminars, summer academies, and other programs, they discuss the motives and working methods of different groups together with artists and people who are primarily active in social movements. This is intended to sharpen demands and organize actions in a more directed manner. Everything else, according to the founders of the organization, would be an unforgivable strategic mistake.
Be Heard: The Right to the City
The Chor der Statistik was brought to life in 2019 by musician Bernadette La Hengst and experimental architecture collective raumlaborberlin. An open call attracted people who wanted to sing about the challenges of urban development processes. The specific reason for the choir’s initiation is the ongoing transformation of the long-empty Haus der Statistik in Berlin. The jointly developed songs raise questions, address fears, and formulate demands. And so, the choir sings about displacement and the right to the city, it articulates problems around rent increases and the privatization of space. Singing together and public appearances are equally protest and demonstration at the same time. »For a better future,« says the choir director, raising her baton.
While it is usually only political and municipal decision-makers who sit around the table to decide on urban planning projects, the games created by the Play the City agency bring various groups and players together: employees of city administrations, neighborhood residents, local business owners, initiatives, but also representatives of real estate companies, architecture offices, and many more. Everyone should partake in the discussion and decisions. At least, that is the great premise of the game. It should be played in the run-up to large-scale construction and urban development projects, say those who develop the game to suit local contexts, to expedite consensus building, support decision making, and resolve conflicts.
Through the City, Again
The Mobile Zebra Crossing is a portable device that can be deployed when encountering unwieldy street situations. Its purpose is to make it easy for pedestrians to traverse in places where there are no legal crossing options. However, because of the size and corresponding weight of the carpet-crossing, it cannot be used by one person alone. It takes many who must be willing to carry and roll. The crossing of an otherwise uncrossable street consequentially becomes a collective action, a kind of protest march. While this artifact may seem playful, it also points to the stubbornly persistent segregation of various groups in urban space. Celebrating the most sustainable of all modes of transportation, the Mobile Zebra Crossing engages in questions about how a just city for pedestrians might look.
A Somewhat Different Ministry of Space
Even if Ministry of Space sounds quite official, it is not a state-run ministry. Concealed behind the name is a small group of activists committed to social justice. Thus, the group fights for a city that benefits all those who live there. They fight against corrupt practices, the misappropriation of public money, and—as they argue—abuses of power by political players. In this way, the activists monitor, analyze, and critically comment upon large-scale urban development projects by transnational corporations and the privatization of public assets. They scrutinize the construction of luxury residential properties or shopping centers. Through their work, the group thus supports a broad protest culture that demands civil society inclusion in urban policy events.
City in Transition
The Wekerle estate in the southeast of Budapest has been part of the worldwide Transition Town Network for several years, which addresses the global challenges of the climate emergency and develops practices for local production as well as re-use. Alternative energy concepts are developed, food sovereignty is created, sustainable construction and emission-free mobility are promoted. In Wekerle, particular emphasis is placed on community-supported agriculture, organic horticulture is promoted through courses, seeds of local vegetable varieties are traded on exchange platforms, and compost is systematically collected. The local government has recognized this approach’s potential and supports it—despite some resistance—with material and financial resources. And so, a community house has been built, a community garden laid out, and the market place redesigned.
Technical Assistance for an Informal Settlement
South of Lisbon, in the hinterland of hotels and apartment complexes, is the not yet legalized Terras da Costa quarter. In 2012, the idea of setting up a communal kitchen was born in the neighborhood. Their proposal was tied to hopes that authorities would agree to install a water supply and thereby start the legalization process of the settlement. The architectural office ateliermob and many other groups, initiatives, and individuals supported this ambition in various ways. Some contributed their work directly, others positioned themselves in solidarity, and foundations funded the project. After about two years, water finally flowed to Terras da Costa. But many other aspects remained unresolved or have not been decided politically, so that settlements in similar situations have to continue the fight for their rights to the city.
The works of constructLab unfold in the cosmos between imagination and life. But the focus of the collective’s work is not on creating fixed and unalterable facts. Instead, they actively seek ways to give form to the desires and hopes expressed in appropriations. The Baukiosk takes on the role of a symbol in this context. As a complex structure, it embodies a particular form of city-making that combines—or deliberately collides—differing interests with different opportunities. Thus, the kiosk is a meeting place as well as a collection point. Analog billboard and digital display. Information system and resting point. It is always many things and everything at once.
A Different Kind of City Kitchen
When Yuriy Fylyuk and his friends moved from Kyiv to Ivano-Frankivsk in the summer of 2008, they found a place with scarcities of all sorts. Out of this, Teple Misto or Warm City emerged—a network that today includes around sixty local companies. A restaurant became one of the platforms for the group’s activities and serves as a place for meeting as well as exchange. One hundred people participate as co-financiers in the Urban Space 100 project. Since 2015, parts of the restaurant’s profits have gone into a pot that finances and supports initiatives, small and larger projects. The money collected in this way has already been used to restore historic building entrances, procure computers for medical facilities, and organize sporting events and festivals.