Contested Spaces. Informality, Dwelling and Spatial Governance in Berlin

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:45 AM
Room: 419
Distributed Paper
Hanna HILBRANDT , Department of Geography, The Open University, United Kingdom
This paper examines the intersections between informality and the governance of place in Berlin, Germany. In particular, it examines practices of dwelling, in which permanent residency does not fit neatly into the logics of formal planning processes in order to discuss the possibilities and delimitations that people experience when living beyond the law.

In Berlin, research on urban development has frequently been framed through debates on neoliberalism and a series of interdependent developments such as gentrification, urban entrepreneurialism or increasing socio-spatial inequality (Mayer 2009; Holm 2010; Bernt 2012). While these debates focus mainly on the enclosure of space, a series of postcolonial approaches have developed an analytical toolbox that helps to consider the ways in which cities are shaped through the everyday lives of their inhabitants. Here, the urban is seen as “a site that is not just inhabited but produced through that inhabiting” (McFarlane 2011: 651), a site that is neither ossified nor stable, but open to political transformation. Drawing particularly on Bayat´s (1997, 2000) notion of 'quiet encroachment', which describes the quotidian and longsome advancement of the poor, these frameworks will be used to compare processes of regulatory enforcement in three urban typologies, in which people informally inhabit space: 'Schrebergärten' (best translated as allotment gardens), camp sites and 'Wagenburgen' (best translated as trailer encampments). Even though the retreat of their inhabitants into sheds, vans or camps could simply be interpreted as an indication of socio-spatial marginalization, I set out to explore, if the infiltration of planning law through their informal dwelling practices could similarly be understood as a sign of encroachment. In sum, I highlight both enabling and destabilizing aspects of these processes: While residents find opportunities to claim urban spaces and sovereignly influence their uses, their practices similarly weaken their positions within the city.