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.
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.
A Refugee Hotel in the Heart of Athens
The City Plaza Hotel in Athens’ Victoria district stood empty for a long time. In April 2016, an initiative, together with stranded refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and many other places, occupied the building. They transformed the 126-room ex-hotel into a residential complex and managed it themselves. In doing so, the project is a demonstration of the practice of economic and political solidarity with refugees. Thus, it was also a center for the fight against racism, borders, repressive migration policies, and social exclusion. After thirty-six months, the experiment came to an end in 2019. Despite the project’s brevity, this building in central Athens, as well as the activities that unfolded there, represent critically important topics to all of us—and not only in times of crisis.
Initiative for a Cooperative Future City
Berlin-Tempelhof Airport building: 312,000 square meters of total floor space. Concreted apron: 236,000 square meters. Tempelhof Field: a vast 355 hectares. For twelve years, flight operations have been suspended. Since 2009 the buildings, including the airfield, have been owned by the State of Berlin. In the intervening years: discussions and processes about what to do with this massive area. The collective, which has been working from the former gatehouse of the airport since 2018, joins many others with the demand that whatever transformation happens, it must be for the common good—fit for our children’s children. This means: Making the city of the future and developing new imaginaries demand planning with care for humans and non-humans, but also with respect for this planet.
This Is Our House!
Housing, just like land, must not be a commodity—this is the goal of the Mietshäuser Syndikat in a nutshell. Since its official foundation in Freiburg in 1993, it has developed and promoted self-organized housing projects. The unique feature of the syndicate is that land and buildings are permanently decommodified. This means that the organization, together with the tenants of a house, buys the property and the land, thus dissolving traditional ownership structures or other dependencies. By withdrawing buildings and the land they stand on from the real estate market, the syndicate positions itself explicitly against speculation and profit. Today, around 160 projects in Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria exist under the syndicate’s umbrella, making long-term affordable residential, working, and living spaces a reality.
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.
A Quarter Taking Matters Into Its Own Hands
In the 1980s, Toxteth is the setting for violent class struggles. People move to other parts of Liverpool; many of the Victorian row houses fall into disrepair. As a result, a group becomes active in the neighborhood. They clean up, plant flower beds, paint windows, and establish a market. A Community Land Trust is set up. The aim: to create affordable housing that is owned by the people from the neighborhood. The group convinces the municipality not to demolish the houses. Later, the architecture collective Assemble comes on board and develops a plan for the area. Although the work is still unfinished and many houses are still in need of further attention, the people’s goal of taking the future of their area into their own hands has been achieved for the time being.
A Small Town’s Dialogue with Civil Society
The small town of Altenburg in Thuringia is shrinking. Since the 1980s, the population has declined by over 40%. Numerous individuals and initiatives have therefore been active for several years. They want to counteract the downbeat atmosphere. The cooperation of various initiatives, support associations, and cultural institutions—Stadtmensch—is supported by a program under the National Urban Development Policy and working on purposefully expanding existing models for the co-produced city. In concrete terms, the aim is for civil society to assume responsibility for public indoor and outdoor spaces. Calls for ideas bring forth projects, the implementation and promotion of which are decided upon by locals through various procedures. An important criterion: the projects should serve the common good.