Due to something I have been working on, I have been out observing and photographing the city a lot. Berlin is not a city that has gone undocumented. Quite to the contrary, there are many exhibitions and art works dedicated to the ever changing nature of this city. To me, observing Berlin has a lot to do with how I perceive the public spaces that are available, the degree of freedom that I feel I have when walking along the Spree or when stepping in a big square. Defining what I mean by “freedom” is not so easy, but I guess the most useful way of putting is “the observation and experience that changes in the structure of the public realm is a result of a democratic process that takes into account the population’s aspirations and ideas of what the space should be”. This definition is broad, I admit it, but I think understandable enough.
The problem is, and I will borrow Larry Beasley’s words, as quoted by Matt Hern in his book “Common ground in a liquid city. Essays in defense of an urban future” (I have a signed copy, by the way!):
“We have one group of people creating the private realm and one group creating the public realm, and the ones building the private realm are those with the wealth. And the people creating the public realm never have what’s needed to do the job”.
I would add, many people creating the public realm have what it takes – ideas – but not enough means or public support.
Now, when we apply this idea to Berlin, I have observed that the public space is following the same path of disappearance as in other cities. Debates are very much there and as sad as it is, I have observed that the idea that Berlin’s shaping of the public space is democratic is not so true. There seems to be one kind of direction, with very limited margin of maneuver.
One such example is the “Media Spree“, the big planning of commercial spaces along the river in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. A citizen protest movement already exists and a new demonstration is planned on the 5th of June. However, as of now it looks as though the plans will be carried out without really taking into account the citizens’ concerns. These concerns are serious as residents fear, inter alia, that they will be forced to abandon the area as rents will inevitably rise.
As I was thinking about the development of the city and new plans to “re-qualify” some of its areas, I couldn’t help but realize that the direction is indeed restricted, that is “public spaces that become more and more private spaces”.