Places and People in Berlin II: Uplifting Berlin’s Neighbourhoods and the Informality therein



by Olumuyiwa Adegun and Gert van der Merwe

Neighbourhood, as an aggregation of dwellings into a sizeable, distinct spatial unit and socially connected area do experience decay, deprivation and disadvantage. Deliberate efforts towards the delivery and coordination of core civic and community services in such areas represent what neighbourhood management (NM) entails. These conditions and the strands of informality therein came to fore in the tour of some neighbourhoods in the Neukolln borough of Berlin.

Star modernist architect, Walter Gropius’ dream on Gropioustadt is not been fully realised at present. NM, as a strategy is been utilised to tackle the notable problem of unemployment, the one-third population who fall into the working poor (depending on additional state welfare) and declining liveliness. Intercultural Meeting Point, as part of the NM strategy seeks to skill the poor and deprived residents, as well as culturally integrates the increasing population of migrants in the area. It is noteworthy that these NM moves started as informal arrangements and processes which was formalised with time.

At the intercultural meeting-point in Gropiusstadt

At the intercultural meeting-point in Gropiusstadt

‘Tenants cook for tenants’ is another form of civil engagement with people in another deprived neighbourhood of Neukolln. With over 130 members, in about 10 years, this not-for-profit association have been providing meals for economically disadvantaged people from within and outside the area. Through volunteer mentoring, they impact the young ones (students-aid for students and pupils) on requisite skill transfer, extra-curricular activities, extra lessons/homework and so on. There is also attempt to foster religious tolerance in the community through their work. While the association is formally structured and recognised, it utilises informal means to reach out to potential beneficiaries.

With child poverty at 67%, and high dependency on social benefits, the Flughafenkiez Neighbourhood Management seeks economic improvement in the area which has about 9000 inhabitants. The 27-person, randomly selected committee look forward to participatory processes. Mention must be made that various informal structures, along with the management team shape processes in this context. Since 2005, there have been a number of interventions, which range from public space management to extending a school to full day, running a language centre, greening projects in the neighbourhood and schools.

A list of projects at the Neighbourhood Management FLughafenkiez

A list of projects at the Neighbourhood Management FLughafenkiez

Tempelhofer Feld is another interesting and notable urban space. Although it is not under a NM structure, it nevertheless has profound impact on the adjoining neighbourhood in the Neukolln borough. The site which formerly hosted Europe’s pre-world war iconic and Berlin’s main airport for about 80 years is now home to a various formally and informally designated and managed activities. Such include gardening, sports, arts and culture, and so on. Although there a plans for formal development of the whole parkland with buildings and non-building structures, this depends on the outcome of the various informal activities, processes, movements tending to shape decision-making around the project.

Gardening at Tempelhofer Feld

Gardening at Tempelhofer Feld

Neigbourhood Management is hereby acknowledged as a strategy to deal with poverty and other forms of socio-cultural deprivation in Berlin’s neighbourhoods. This tool speaks to the context of Johannesburg, which is also characterised by such malaise, even at a deeper and more complicated dimension, set in the contested context of informality.


One thought on “Places and People in Berlin II: Uplifting Berlin’s Neighbourhoods and the Informality therein

  1. interesting piece. needs a bit more editing, as some of the concepts are not understandable. but some of the analysis and the parallels between the two cities is interesting

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