“Planning the Unplanned” - Trajectories of Managing the Informal in the Urban North

Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Christian HAID , Center for Metropolitan Studies Berlin, Technical University Berlin, Germany
This paper will present research on how informal activities and practices in Berlin’s public spaces are tackled. The global trend of proliferating informalization in urban centers as a result of ongoing neoliberalization is not solely a contemporary reality in cities of the Global South but encroaches as well on North-Western cities. Especially in multicultural societies of receding welfare states, many people’s possibilities have become confined to informal economic opportunities as they have been denied access to more formal spheres. As such, the street vendors and bottle collectors that are working in many of Berlin’s parks are faced with various regularization strategies in a city that otherwise is known for its “anything goes” attitude. While on the one hand tightening the possibilities for diverse informal practices to develop and proliferate, the city government on the other hand also promotes its “urban pioneers” that have informally appropriated various spaces in the city. Right after the fall of the Wall, the abundance of vacant lots and buildings were mainly perceived as weakness in the new urban development processes. However, today they are endorsed and proclaimed as strengths and idiosyncratic features of the urban landscape. Hence in current governmental strategies “planned informality” is an important pillar to develop urban space that is otherwise lacking financial investment.

Overcoming the in/formality dualism and stimulated by this debate which emanates from the Global South, the paper will show how informality and formality are intricately intertwined in the researched cases in Berlin. Furthermore, it will talk about the ambiguous role of the city government that on the one hand, embedded in the neoliberal agenda, is promoting certain kinds of activities, while on the other hand, evoked by the image of the modern and orderly city, is regularizing undesirable informal practices.