In the eye of the storm: Urban Transformations in Berlin – Realities of Crisis and Perspectives for Social Struggles

6. Conclusion

When viewed from a historical perspective, it becomes clear that Berlin’s urban evolution has always entailed considerable social struggles amongst conditions of crisis. At the same time, the concept of crisis appears as highly contradictory and variable in its evolution. This seems particularly true when looking at the evolution of the city’s famed squatter movements, which arose as a response to modernist urban welfare and its totalitarian strategies of urban restructuring. Due to its peculiar recent history, until recently fordist regulatory measures have had a much lasting influence on Berlin’s urban structure when compared to most other european cities. This led to the creation of a large pool of cheap, subsidized housing, accompanied by rising levels of public debt. As a consequence, nowadays Berlin seems to be trapped in a neck-breaking race to catch up with dominating neoliberal urban paradigms, somehow becoming a laboratory for austerity measures, reminiscent of what Jamie Peck called “austerity urbanism” (Peck 2012). The neoliberal dynamics of financialization hit Berlin with particular intensity and pace. On the one hand, the allegedly “underprized” preconditions of Berlin real estate have made it a preferred target for speculation and investment in the current financial crisis. On the other hand, its history as a tenement city with strong Fordist regulation and strong social movements account for a relatively “belated” process of neoliberalization that is now experienced as a ruthless “catch-up process”. This way, the costs of this transition, segregation and displacement, are highly visible and contested, they provoke public debate, criticism and new social struggles. These struggles are faced with the challenge to confront financialization as a multi-dimensional, glocal phenomenon on their local ground. While new movements and initiatives sprung up in neighbourhoods across the city, partially succeeding in putting the question of housing back on the political agenda, so far it seems like they haven’t been able to summon a genuine new urban social movement.

Amidst the spreading local resistance to city-wide gentrification processes and large projects of urban transformation, the role of the so called “creative class” and its responsibility in the aforementioned processes remain unclear and hotly debated. What choices are left for the producers of collective symbolic capital, once there’s agreement upon the fact that “being uncreative” cannot be an option, if not a very paranoid one? How to get out out of this “typical postmodern cul de sac, where each act of resistance is supposed to reinforce fatalistically the dominant Code” (Pasquinelli 2008)? Is a creative “sabotage of rent” possible, given the fact that “rent is the new profit” (ibid.)? What is the role of Berlin’s famous subcultures and its independent art scene, if not that of a mere marketing factor for the rapidly growing tourism industry? Optimists point towards the inherent contradictions of immaterial capitalism, in the hope that Berlin may be one of the first places where the expanding dynamics of global financialization will hit their implicit limits. Though this dream and its implicit “sustainable” version of gentrification may seem to naive, it seems fair to affirm that the city keeps offering fertile ground for the emergence of innovative urban social movements. It remains to be seen if these will be able to coalesce into a spatially, socially and thematically wider alliance, thus becoming true, radical agents of social change.

<< Prev    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10    Next >>