Who plans how a city will develop

10.2021

Who is actually planning for whom?

New haymat

Text: Terkessidis, Mark, Cologne / Berlin

The Federal Statistical Office has been recording residents with a “migration background” since 2006. There is a gigantic amount of data, but what does that mean for architects, town planners and administrations? The politically correct approach comes from the English-speaking world and is called “diversity”. In Germany, too, the first municipalities have a diversity concept for urban development.

In a seminar with the volunteers of a large state broadcaster, the question was recently who the participants actually imagine when they make programs. Nobody in the group had a migration background. A young journalist said that he always imagines his mother - she is just the kind of versatile user that radio is usually aimed at. One could be grateful for this naive answer, because it immediately plunged the seminar into the middle of the problem. If the unconscious recipient of the messages is ultimately a family member: What then does it mean for the program design if one third of the residents in the cities of the relevant federal state meanwhile have a migration background? These people do not always belong to the "family".

The same question arises today for urban planning: Who is actually planning for whom? In fact, this question has not yet penetrated consciousness with all of its consequences. “If we are rebuilding Karl-Marx-Straße, as we are currently doing, with wider sidewalks and cycle paths,” said Mayor of Berlin-Neukölln Heinz Buschkowsky categorically at a panel discussion recently, “it will not be because Turks and Arabs live there . That has nothing to do with the ethnic composition of the local residents. ”But why not? Studies show that the population of Turkish origin often has a different relationship to urban space. There are usually far fewer reservations about high-rise estates and a greater need for protected, shared space. In addition, public open spaces are used more intensively - the barbecue in the park and the chairs on the sidewalk are not long-running topics in the discussion about the consequences of the immigration society for nothing.

From the USA, for example, it is known that Asian or Hispanic Americans have no problems with very high density living. Only when these population groups earn very well (about 80 percent above the average income) do they develop the need for space that Caucasian or African Americans already have with lower incomes. A phenomenon that apparently has something to do with the cultural background. In the USA, Canada and Great Britain it is also common practice to establish a connection to the “community”, especially when it comes to questions of “urban design”. It is assumed that it makes a difference for the design of public buildings and spaces whether many African or Mexican residents live in the neighborhood - there is a different frame of reference when it comes to history, living conditions and symbolic references.

Complex post-migrant identities

Something similar could be seen in continental Europe, but usually in relation to marginalized groups. The banlieues around Paris, for example, were originally designed as residential cities for the local working class. That is why the street names and the pictures on buildings often refer to the history of the labor movement - this is how the modernist project wanted to benevolently connect with the past struggles. However, the apartments in the suburbs were soon moved into by immigrants, for example from the Maghreb, who could not make any connection to the names and pictures. This is where the difficulties with the differences become apparent: Which differences are actually perceived, who sets the frame of reference, how long does the composition of a population last? If the planning takes place at the green table and the actors almost entirely come from the local middle class, then the results can quickly become paternalistic, superficial or clichéd.

However, insisting on a “color-blind” perspective à la Buschkowsky cannot overcome these difficulties - there is no doubt about the multitude of life plans, especially in urban space. As early as the 1950s, groups like Team X criticized modernism's abstract image of man. Shadrach Woods emphasized in 1975 that any planning that did not take into account the diversity of the “man in the street” would inevitably have a repressive effect.

In the last few decades, “diversity” has become a trendy code word in the English-speaking world of planners - without the city planners always living up to this claim. “Diversity” has quite different meanings - but mostly the term refers to the differences in terms of gender, origin, age and sexual orientation. "Gender mainstreaming" was introduced in the German building code in 2004, that is, the consideration of the different life situations of women and men. The category of origin, on the other hand, has hardly played a role so far. The diversity, especially in urban areas, is largely shaped by immigration. While the traditional approaches of “integration” still focus on labor migration in the wake of the recruitment agreements of the 1960s, people with complex, “post-migrant” identities have long been living in the cities.

The fact that there is an increasing number of people whose status cannot be clearly defined for various political and economic reasons determines the current situation. Today “foreigners” live in the cities with an average length of stay of almost nineteen years, “commuters” who stay on average for half a year, “tolerated people” whose prospects are still six months after a decade, and “paperless” “Who came as tourists and whose existence is completely denied by official statistics. You can find numerous students from other countries who stay in the city for a certain period of time, “expatriates” of all stripes who have moved to the city in question for work, love or a new perspective on life, second home owners whose family lives in another city or else Tourists who, with their countless weekend trips and their knowledge of the scene, penetrate the fabric of the city in an unprecedented way.

Therefore it makes less and less sense to continue to measure urbanity, as in traditional ideas of the polis, with the standard of sedentariness. The traditional polis has long since fallen apart, it has developed into a multi-part "Parapolis" - the word describes the vague, quasi illegitimate "para" version of the polis. The word also contains the term “para poli”, which means “a lot”. One could therefore speak of a place of “very much”, not just of diversity, but of abundance. Urban diversity is no longer limited to constructs of conventional multiculturalism such as “ethnic identity”. The people outlined above can no longer simply be extrapolated to traditions and communities. They are ambiguous and cannot be reduced to their origin, because they live in a complicated mix of transnational references - which, by the way, also increasingly applies to the so-called locals.

The Sinus study on the “Living Worlds of Migrants in Germany” (2007) showed that there is undoubtedly a much wider range of values ​​in this population group than is usually portrayed in the media. The ethnic background is therefore only of limited informative value. The differences in values ​​within the migrant groups are greater than those between immigrants and long-time residents. In this respect, the term ethnicity could be replaced with the term “frame of reference” with regard to design issues in the immigration society, a framework that does not exclude influences from origin, but at the same time accepts that people actively construct their reference spaces with different resources. This presents planners with considerable challenges. If you want to move away from “color-blind” ignorance, you need more than “intercultural competence”, which can also easily turn into a kind of ethnic recipe knowledge. In order to be able to adequately analyze the diversity, planners need a new form of flexible context knowledge - and they are more dependent than before on talking to the population. In Germany, however, the much-invoked participation is made considerably more difficult by the fact that in a number of inner-city quarters up to a third of the residents are not German citizens and are therefore not allowed to vote. Under such conditions, the requirement to involve residents in planning processes quickly becomes an alibi.

In recent years, building typologies and uses have increasingly emerged in Europe that can be seen as the first results of a “Designing for Diversity”, such as the “Peepul Center” in Leicester in the UK and the “Fusion Center” in Amsterdam. The “Peepul Center”, built in 2007 in the Belgrave district by Andrzej Blonski Architects, developed from the initiative of a local migrant women's organization and was planned as a cultural center that would host activities such as theater and dance with childcare, fitness, restaurant-café and room rental , for example for weddings. The name is a play on "Peepul", a tree on the Indian subcontinent. The “Fusion Center”, on the other hand, was realized in 2010 based on a design by Marlies Rohmer in the Transvaal district of Amsterdam, and is a building that responds to the strong separation between the immigrant communities in the Netherlands. While inter-ethnic mosques are no exception in Germany, Muslims of Turkish and Moroccan origin pray separately there. The "Fusion" does not remove this separation - there are two entrances and two symmetrical spatial structures. But it creates spaces for encounters, and the facade incorporates elements from both contexts.

The examples built are very different, and it is not easy to judge whether the inclusion of diversity in structure and design has always been successful. What they have in common, however, is that they try to get involved and want to be threshold-free and multifunctional. The aim of contemporary urban planning should be to create enabling, intercultural spaces, spaces that bring diversity into conversation instead of denying it, "integrating" it in a repressive way or even pressing it into the scheme of static multiculturalism.

Diversity Concepts - More Than Nice Words?

In Germany these processes are only slowly beginning. Most of the discussion revolves around mosque buildings. Neither the arguments nor the results are very imaginative: the American architect and art historian Nebahat Avcioglu recently accused the Cologne mosque builder Paul Böhm of perpetuating the dismantled orientalist clichés of Islam with his design.

On the other hand, more and more intercultural approaches can be observed in urban development. The IBA in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg has made interculturality a priority under the title “Kosmopolis”. The future will show to what extent the results can achieve this orientation. So far, the usual bundle of projects has been hidden behind it - redesigning new settlements, assisted living for the elderly, art campaigns. In the “Integration and Diversity Concept” of the City of Frankfurt am Main, there are a number of suggestions for an “integrated city policy” which call for planning to be sensitized to “different perspectives”. Concrete examples are not given - you are still at the very beginning. The city of Duisburg has gone the furthest - at least on paper. In the urban development strategy “Duisburg 2027”, which is to lead to the new zoning plan, the council has defined so-called “cross-sectional issues”, which include not only gender equality and accessibility, but also “intercultural urbanity”. This is defined as the basis of an innovative economic structure, and new "meeting places" are to be created, "intercultural cultural work" to be carried out and a "diverse building culture" to be developed.

Undoubtedly, Duisburg's “intercultural urbanity” is now little more than a new wording. But wording can certainly have practical consequences: only after the red-green federal government designated Germany as a country of immigration in 1998, the question of the design of diversity could even appear on the agenda. Incidentally, the inclusion of the intercultural dimension in Duisburg was largely due to the initiative of the head of the integration department there - Leyla Özmal is a city planner herself.

This personality now refers back to the beginning of this text. The diversity of society is not reflected in some professions - this also applies to urban planning and architecture. In addition, the question of the design of “intercultural urbanity” as an overarching topic must be included in university education - a seminar is undoubtedly not enough.