In a recent presentation I raised the example of Prinzessinnengarten, the social and ecological urban garden right next to the Moritzplatz U-bahn (metro) station in Berlin. It is driven by a core group of over 100 volunteers and since 2009 over 1000 supporters have helped transform an unused piece of waste “from an ugly vacant lot to a paradise“ (Die Zeit). In spite of its being much loved by the residents and it’s undisputed value as a model for sustainable urban development and a place of social exchange and learning it is currently under threat of eviction. Not so long ago, they received notice that The Property Fund has been commissioned to sell the plot on behalf of the Berlin Senate. A query submitted by the House of Representatives has revealed that negotiations with investors on the imminent sale of the property have already taken place. This has happened in spite of it’s being economically self-sustaining ( they do not receive any public funding and even support 13 paid full-time jobs), and the 30,000 hours of volunteer work per season, collaborations with numerous schools, kindergartens, community associations and universities that have helped build it. In spite of it’s attracting over 50,000 visitors to the neighborhoud every year. And in spite of the very same Senate that wants to sell the land on which it stands, having announced the promotion of urban gardening as part of a sustainable urban policy. What’s going on here- Have the policymakers gone mad? Or are they just plain evil?
I’m afraid it’s not that simple
The story is that on the one hand you have a city under tremendous pressure of debt, seemingly forced without an alternative to to sell and privatize public property or to organize public services in the form of independent market oriented companies. But when housing, energy, transportation, real estate etc are sold the residents run the risk of loosing their right to parity participation in influencing the shaping of the urban environments in which we live and work. On the other you have bottom up initiatives with experimental and alternative answers to the question of how we want to live in the cities in the future while facing enormous challenges including climate change, lack of resources, new form of mobility, gentrification, unequal chances in the educational system etc. These initiatives are often precarious and lack long term perspectives, often through no fault of their own. Most of the time they don’t have access to political decision-making influencing their fate or even to a contact person in the political system. Prinzessinnengarten is an example from Berlin but in fact we are seeing this situation all over Europe with different levels or areas of government setting policies that fail to join up. The result being that both citizens and people working for institutions are trapped between policies that make competing, often contradictory, demands.
We need more community learning spaces which, like Edgeryders, gather both individuals directly trying to solve issues they care about on an individual level, and others who happen to be policy-makers and civil servants tasked with dealing with issues on a general and more abstract level. So we can see eye to eye and help one another to do everything within our power to fix what’s broken, peer to peer. And in the process we might just discover some hidden talents, abilities, skills, desires and dreams to work towards.
Oh and if you have a minute do consider signing the petition for Prinzessinengarten on Change.org.