GTECHer in Germany: Day 4

 This week, our Director of Operations and Programming is in Germany! Follow Evaine on a wonderful learning opportunity and journey this week.


Tackling the G word

We arrive at Hafen City University — a public university focused solely on the built environment and urban development — to have a panel discussion with a few exciting guests. The panel included: Andreas Kaufmann, an urban planner from Leipzig, Germany who started his own company, Büro Kaufmann; Mei Ling Liem, a strategic advisor from the City of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and a professor from the university whose name I, unfortunately, can not make out in my notes.

The topic is gentrification.

These experts have been brought in since they address, and in some cases, encourage gentrification through the course of their work. We engaged in a discussion about the merits and challenges of gentrification as a result of redevelopment.
Initially, the GMF group broadly defined gentrification as “change” related to “market movement” and, more completely, as “a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values”. Our study group agrees with the panelists that each of us has as a goal the reinvestment and redevelopment of our cities and communities. We also agree that this can often come at a cost. Ling Liem stated, “If you want change, then things are going to change,  but the questions to ask are: Who does [this change] benefit? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it equitable?”

“If you want change, then things are going to change,  but the questions to ask are: Who does [this change] benefit? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it equitable?” – Mei Ling Miem

In Amsterdam, gentrification is generally considered positive – as a way to improve neighborhoods and have them flourish. When the conversation is broadened to include diversity and integration, the term begins to become less favorable. In Leipzig, the negative connotation wins out; however, Kaufmann exclaims that it is his job to gentrify the low-income neighborhoods so that they grow and stabilize. Each of the panelists discussed some of the policies that assist in the redevelopment efforts they undertake in order to stabilize a community while attempting to maintain diversity. These policies include:

  • requirement of new development to incorporate green space
  • new housing must be 30% affordable
  • access to public infrastructure
  • the law against eviction and raised rents (that I mentioned yesterday)
  • the opportunity and encouragement of political participation in the process

It is a battle we all face and will continue to learn from each other.

Leap Across the Elbe

IBA Hamburg and their floating dock is our next stop. Located on Europe’s largest river island, Wilhelmsburg, it home to docks, industry, green space and over 50,000 people. After the great storm surge of 1962 claimed the lives of hundreds of people from Wilhelmsburg, many residents left the devastated islands. In subsequent years Wilhelmsburg, and neighboring island Veddel, became “problem areas” and a source of negative headlines. Committed residents took action. In 2001 they received funding from the Hamburg authorities for a Wilhelmsburg Future Conference, and more than one hundred citizens worked in conjunction with the authorities on creating a vision for the outlook for Wilhelmsburg. In 2002, they produced a report that called for better schools and prospects for children and young people, high-quality and family-friendly new residential buildings, the elimination of brownfield sites and improved transport connections.

As a result, in 2004 the City of Hamburg outlined its “Leap across the Elbe” and in 2005 drafted the “Memorandum for the International Building Exhibition Hamburg 2013”. The southern areas of the city were to be developed and used to boost the growth of the booming metropolis. This would be aided by two instruments: the Hamburg International Garden Show (IGS)  and the International Building Exhibition IBA Hamburg. Together with its many partners, the IBA Hamburg has devised and implemented seventy projects, sparking a desire for sustainable, environmentally friendly, and socially balanced urban development, which were categorized into 3 distinct themes: COSMOPOLIS, METROZONES and CITIES AND CLIMATE CHANGE. (I recommend you check out their project section on their website to find out more about the themes and the projects associated with each.) This team of designers, planners and innovators have accomplished an extraordinary amount of change in just 7 years.

Yes, they have gentrified the community, but in a positive way. So much so that after the IBA completed their effort in 2013, the Senate of Hamburg decided to transform the building exhibition into an urban development company so that they may continue their work in the capacity of an urban project developer.

Questions keep popping up in my head:

  1. Who owns the City? Who benefits from new investment?
  2. Is gentrification always negative? What are the alternatives?


Random fact of the day: Regional rail workers went on strike today which caused some glitches in our day as many of our speakers were coming in from out of town. A couple had to cancel and the rest had to rent a car in order to avoid the mayhem of the metro system. Cancellations and crowded subway platforms from 2pm – 4am Thursday. Luckily, chaos was minimized but the S-Bahn tracks were packed, and the trains ran the whole day only in 20-minute intervals

– Evaine

 How would you answer Evaine’s questions? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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