by Natalia Garzón Arredondo and Nicolette Pingo
Citizen led governance initiatives’ dependency on informal networks in Gropiusstadt
The proliferation of citizen participation in decision-making, particularly at devolved local government level has spread to democracies across the globe. Highly influenced by the institutionalisation of radical protest movements in South America[i], in particular in Brazil; cities in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have implemented various governance mechanisms to allow citizens to have their say in the development of their neighbourhoods. Since 1999 the Senate of Berlin, Germany have been implementing the national programme of the Socially Integrated City[ii]. A key tool of this programme are the Neighbourhood Management Areas, the programme based on the following premise, “An essential prerequisite for stable communities is to create ownership in the community by involving its members into the improvement and development process on an on-going basis.”
We wanted to explore how informal networks add to the success of the neighbourhood area management in Gropiusstadt, Berlin. Specifically the research question aimed to explore how dependent the neighbourhood area management in Gropiusstadt is on informal networks to ensure the success of the ‘Socially Integrated City’ policy. The case of the Neighbourhood Area Management in Gropiusstadt married these research interests perfectly and demonstrates the gap between top down Master planning and the lived experience of these urban planning ideals.
Developed in 1958, by famed architect Walter Gropius as a new Urban utopia post-World War II, Gropuisstadt offered new technologies such as indoor plumbing in each and every apartment; a garden city with open green spaces and 17 storey architectural landmarks. At the time it became a key space for residents of the inner city as a step in the socio-economic ladder as its location on the periphery of the city offered more affordable accommodation. Later from 1975 onwards, Gropuisstadt became a space for the city government to house residents seeking social assistance.
In 2013 Gropiusstadt is a neighbourhood of approximately 32000 inhabitants, with 24500 inhabitants residing the Neighbourhood Management Project area. The indicators used by the municipality of Berlin to determinate the necessity of a Neighbourhood Management Project are among others: high percentage of unemployment (12,1% for Gropiusstadt in 2009) and the significant amount of inhabitants depending on social welfare (22,6% in 2009). These problems bring major consequences as childhood poverty, including health problems (as obesity, mobility, language and teeth problems); and a repetitive cycle of poverty also, due the lack of resources such as money and time to invest in the education of their children.
Since 2004 the Neighbourhood Management Project has been present in Gropiusstadt, as a representation of governmental presence and as an entity to promote social and institutional support seeking to decrease the impacts of this high concentration of problems in the same space.
The project utilised both quantitative and qualitative data, through a brief literature review of various key pieces on Gropiusstadt and Neighbourhood Management. In addition we attended a presentation by the Neighbourhood Management, including a detailed presentation of the Intercultural Theme leader and the various intercultural activities that have taken place in Gropiusstadt. We also interviewed Neighbourhood Management representatives further to address specific questions as to the participation of informal networks in the Neighbourhood Management processes.
We also attended a workshop of an on-going consultative process where Students from the Technische Universität Berlin (TU) presented ideas for revitalising the green spaces in Gropiusstadt to residents. This latter experience was fundamental to our research process, as non-participant observers at a meeting that was rather heated various important insights were gained.
Read some of our reflections, thoughts and findings in Part 2.
 Hipsher, ‘Democratic Transitions as Protest Cycles: Social Movements Dynamics in Democratizing Latin America’, in The Social Movement Society, ed. by Meyer DS and Tarrow SG (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998).
[ii] Berlin Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung. Neighbourhood Management in Berlin, “Information on the program “Socially Integrated City”