A growing number of Berlin initiatives including id22 are working with Social Ecology, to critically and practically understand current challenges and opportunities as well as connect local with global issues. Berlin projects and networks are exploring relationships among (human) political-economic structures and (natural) eco-systems. This perspective argues that questions around climate-change and energy efficiency cannot be solved without first addressing interlinked problems of wasteful consumption, increasing inequality and failing democracy: our current ecological problems stem from deep-rooted social problems. This emerging narrative is founded in a critique of currently dominant practices like speculative, growth-dependent urban development as well as technology-driven and profit-based sustainability agendas. Thus, systemic shifts are called for in both material flows and environmental behaviour, but also in the ways that societies are organized and governed, particularly in cities. Objectives include a comprehensive transformation of society based on understanding synergies among communitarian lifestyles, decentralized and non-hierarchical governance structures, and greater attention to (bio)diversity and environmental justice.
Common Good Orientation
Berlin is pioneering a Common Good approach to housing and urban development, including progressive reorientations of real estate and housing policies. This city is no longer privatizing its property but rather building and acquiring, even considering expropriating housing, working together with city-owned housing companies, cooperatives and non-profit foundations. A Common Good orientation reminds us of the power of the Commons, and calls for ongoing negotiations at the collective and individual levels. This does not lead us to a clear academic, unchangeable definition, but does reflect on local cultures, needs and social patterns. In any case, a city with a Common Good orientation emphasizes solidarity, community, democracy and sustainability. Common Good does not mean that everyone wants the same thing, but rather that the variety of people and cultures making up urban society all need to be involved in decision-making. This involves fair discussions and a redistribution of resources and power. A Common Good urban development is civil-society-based, in cooperation with local government, fairly including all societal groups. In this sense, directly-democratic projects are cooperating with local government and ethical banks and foundations.
Berlin stands out internationally for its many hundreds of collaborative housing projects. id22 has been working with this for two decades, organizing research, networking, events and publications, to help people understand such housing as well as to increase support for it. Get to know self-organized, community-led housing in Berlin: including cooperatives such as Spreefeld, Forum Kreuzberg and Möckernkiez. These examples and others contribute to an incredible Berlin diversity of community-led, non-profit, common-good, environmental and affordable housing forms serving a sustainable urban development culture. Berlin community housing innovations include squats and tent camps, multi-generational, barrier-free and affordable renovations of existing buildings, plus-energy communities, gender-oriented projects, integrative refugee housing, socially inclusive housing and much more. To introduce the variety of Berlin CoHousing cultures, we organize visits to projects, meetings with experts and activists as well as discussions and conferences.
Community Land Trusts
Berlin’s Stadtbodenstiftung, with the assistance of local government as well as id22 and others, has been established as the first German Community Land Trust (CLT), and is a reference for our discussions.
A Community Land Trust (CLT) is a locally-based, democratic, non-profit form of property ownership that withdraws land from speculation, making it permanently available for affordable housing and other social, cultural, environmental or commercial uses. Decisions on the use of CLT land are typically made by an elected advisory board combining the interests of residents and neighbors as well as experts, donors and local government. Uses are thus publicly controllable. Residents and other users, neighbors and supporters help each other to create and maintain a desirable environment with affordable, stable rents. In this way, common good ownership, land and property stewardship, and community empowerment go hand-in-hand. Berlin’s Stadtbodenstiftung works with a variety of cooperative and collaborative housing projects. The CLT model emerged during the US Civil Rights’ Movement of the 1960s and more recently in European cities like London and Brussels.
Kreuzberg – alternative and resistant
“There are always reasons for protest and resistance in Kreuzberg; the actions of the authorities are suspect. Whether office buildings are built or trees are cut down – that’s not for any politicians to decide here. In Kreuzberg, the people decide.” (Tagesspiegel, Jan. 5, 2009). This quote aptly outlines what is special about the resistant Kreuzberg.
Since the end of the 1960s, the protest culture in the immigrant and working-class district of Kreuzberg has been pronounced, initially as a result of the student revolts. Initially, the protests were directed against occupational bans, youth unemployment or the oppression of Kurds in Turkey. Starting with left-wing theater groups, they were increasingly carried by the affected population. Since 1980, the most important expression of the protest culture in Kreuzberg has been around 150 occupations of old buildings that were to be demolished. As early as 1971, the first Berlin squat at Mariannenplatz prevented the demolition of the Bethanien Hospital. Half of these houses were “squatted” and saved from demolition. The police evicted the others after often bitter house fights. The bourgeois press branded the squatters as rioters. Today they are singled out as meritorious actors of civil society! The protests were supported by the “Alternative Liste” (forerunner of the party “Die Grünen”)1 founded in Kreuzberg in 1978, and the newly founded daily newspaper “taz”, which is still based in Kreuzberg today.
Since about 2005, resistance has taken on broader forms: As a result of the increased sell-off of the city through the sale of about half of the public housing stock to private parties, the issue of gentrification and the associated gentrification of the neighborhoods came into public focus. On the banks of the Spree between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, the discussion about “Media Spree” gripped broad sections of the population. In 2008, it led to the successful Spree referendum, which resulted in broad participation by residents in the construction plans. Other examples of resistance: the tenants’ association Kotti & Co, which set up a permanent information and protest stand at Kottbusser Tor; the occupation of a large brownfield site on Cuvrystraße by a spontaneous settlement, which after years of protest was unable to prevent its development; a refugee camp at Oranienplatz, which brought the situation of refugees into the public eye in 2013/14; and the protest over the sale of the “Dragoner Areal” on Mehringdamm, which prevented the site from being sold to an investor. Increasingly, the protest movement is becoming pro-active and trying to create facts through its own ideas and actions: In 2012, for example, the initiative of the association “Nomadisch Grün” (Nomadic Green) with a campaign and over 30,000 signatures led to the fact that a large wasteland at Moritzplatz has not been built on since then. There, the Prinzessinnengarten was created as a model of “urban gardening”. In the future, a permanent garden contract for Berlin should permanently protect such areas.
Berlin is considered one of the greenest cities in Europe. We are especially interested in the urban garden projects that have been started by different creative initiatives and neighborhoods. These green oases not only provide a pleasant (micro)climate and recreation, but also bring people of all generations and cultures together. Berlin has around 150 community gardens: peaceful places of learning and important components of a livable modern city. We can find several examples in the city center, but each one is unique in its own way and yet pursues the same goals: Knowledge transfer and education, promotion of social interaction and greening with mainly edible plants in urban spaces. The Spreefeld neighborhood, between the cooperative and Teepee Land, is one of these exemplary places: the id22 partner*in and neighborhood initiative Spreeacker, founded here in 2012, is now home to well over 100 edible plant species, in the middle of Berlin’s city center. The current participatory co-design of the riverside path along the Spree will also be addressed. The tour is a voyage of discovery along the former border area, which is a significant green urban oasis and is now in a current phase of redevelopment. Local initiatives encourage discussions about alternative, resource-saving supply models and show what they can contribute to the sustainable development of our city.