142.2 Social mix or gentrification: Contradictory perspectives on urban regeneration in Berlin-Neukoelln

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 12:45 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Sandra HUNING , Faculty of Spatial Planning, Dortmund University of Technology, Dortmund, Germany
Nina SCHUSTER , Faculty of Spatial Planning, Dortmund University of Technology, Dortmund, Germany
Not too long ago, Berlin’s district Neukölln used to be a no-go area, infamous for its ‘problematic’ social structure, characterized by high unemployment rates, high shares of migrant populations and poverty. Only a few years later, the New York Times travel guide recommends the North of Neukölln as new ‘place to go’, and the district attracts artists, ‘new’ tourists and students from all over Europe and Germany. The derelict housing stock has become an insider tip for international investors; rents are rising. Whether attributed to the joint efforts of urban regeneration programs or to Berlin’s increasing housing shortage, these developments provoke very different reactions at the local level: protest by activists who fear gentrification; relaxed approval by planners and urban development agents who admittedly do not mind a new social mix which is in their view necessary to prevent the financial collapse of the district; and slight indifference by most residents who welcome infrastructure and public space investments, but are already confronted with displacement due to rising rents.

The paper focuses on the way the fuzzy ideal of social mix is employed in planners’ and public discourse to welcome Nord-Neukölln’s transformation and its new resident groups. Meanwhile, protesters fight against gentrification, for Neukölln’s right to ‘remain dirty’ and for their right to the district. The case illustrates that the controversies are not only about financial capital, but at this stage foremost about the unequal appreciation and valuation of different forms of social and cultural capital, which determines whether developments are called ‘social mixing’ or ‘gentrification’. The paper shows the contradictions and argues that normative questions need to be raised more openly to cope with these challenges.