Creatives As “Urban Pioneers” – Towards the Empowerment of Socially Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 12:30 PM
Room: Booth 67
Oral Presentation
Gabriela CHRISTMANN , Communication, Knowledge and Spatial Development, Regional Develop & Structural Planning, Erkner, Germany
By the example of socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Berlin and Hamburg suffering from manifold social problems and from persistent negative images I will report from a research project investigating initiatives which are mobilised by “urban pioneers”. These activists are creative people from arts and culture interested in places providing opportunities to try out ideas. They are fascinated by the atmosphere of wear and tear, see the potentials of places and want to actively contribute to shaping them. Even if at the outset they often follow their own approaches to life, they are highly aware of the social problems in the neighbourhoods and aim at achieving more quality of life and social inclusion for the locals. Thus, the activists do not intend to promote their individual interests, rather they strive to include inhabitants in order to achieve joint action. They aim at helping residents “to find their feet within this system”, as one urban pioneer put it. Hence, empowerment is an integral goal of these pioneers. Some of the initiatives are short-lived, the most of them, however, are long lasting and well-organised.

While it is clear that the actors are unable to solve complex (social) problems in the short or medium term, their projects—such as the organization of innovative art and cultural events, the founding of a cultural association, the organization of multi-cultural neighbourhood festivals, or the re-shaping of a public park—help to advance social, organisational and infrastructural transformation processes. Most notably, they challenge negative interpretations of place, renegotiating them, and help to promote collective processes of identity formation. If their activities are made a topic of public discourses, they may even influence external perceptions of the neighbourhoods.

It will be reported how the activists try to organize change together with other actors and partly against others.