Supporting the creative economy in Rostock

Rostock Neuer Markt

By Ares Kalandides

Rostock is a German city of 200,000 inhabitants at the Baltic Sea, one of the few cases of former East German cities that are thriving today. Inpolis Urbanism was called upon to assist the city council in its ambitious plan to support the local cultural and creative economy.

The term cultural and creative economy (CCE) refers to all sectors whose activities produce cultural and creative value (e.g. architecture, publishing houses, art market, audiovisual production) and is considered among the most dynamic economic activities in Europe today. In Germany, its contribution to GDP is second only to the automotive industry. Both at a central European level (mainly through the Creative Europe programme) and in many countries there are policies to support the CCE, as it has some special characteristics that differentiate it from many other sectors: mainly the very high rate of self-employment that revolves around 50% , as well as the particularly large number of micro-enterprises. Some years ago, our consultancy prepared the strategic plan for the CCE in the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, as well as for the city of Potsdam. In Berlin again, with European funds, we set up and coordinated for years a network around the clothing and fashion economy, which at one point reached the number of 150 freelancers and small businesses.

In Rostock, several CCE companies have settled in old warehouses near the port and have organized themselves into their own network. As they will soon have to move from there, the city council has asked the municipal administration to find the right space, but also the right tools to support the network in the future. What space do these businesses need, beyond their own offices? Do they need shared spaces for meeting and exchanging ideas? Where is space available and what are the characteristics of the alternatives? Does the municipality have to build something new or are there buildings available (e.g. old industrial estates)? How much will it cost to utilize an existing building? How much to build a new one? How can we calculate a rent that businesses can pay but that will be acceptable to the owner – private or municipal? What institutional form will the new scheme take? Will it be cooperative perhaps? What will be the implementation schedule? How can the municipality support all this and what budget will it need? Are there state or European funds that can be used?

Such an undertaking is only dealt with in cooperation with the industry itself and with the municipality’s services. Urban planners here initially have to play the role of coordinator of this process. Through a series of workshops, we will try to identify these needs together and map them in the city, analysing and evaluating the available spaces. The priority at the moment is to find council property, although this may change in the future.

Rostock is not the only case of a city with a CCE support policy, but the municipality’s handling of the issue is exemplary. Although we are talking about an industry based on self-employment and small businesses, the municipality recognizes its importance for the city, both economically and culturally. Also characteristic of this particular municipality, with which I have worked repeatedly in the past, is the admission that it needs external support in this project, as well as its trust in participatory processes.

We hope that by the end of 2022 we will have both an adequate space and a comprehensive plan to support the cultural and creative economy in Rostock.

(This blog entry originally appeared in Greek in Parallaxi magazine on 20th July 2022)

Citizen Participation Network: 1st free online seminar tomorrow

The Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has initiated a new series of online seminars around Citizen Participation in place development. Aim of this series is to consolidate an existing network of experts, collect ideas, methods and best practices of Citizen Participation internationally, but also to discuss both conceptual and institutional limitations in its implementation. Whilst some seminars will take place in other languages, the conclusions of each seminar will be published in English on the IPM blog (http://blog.placemanagement.org). By the end of the series, we will have a collected body of knowledge that will assist both researchers and practitioners in thinking about and implementing Citizen Participation.

First seminar, Tuesday October 20th

The first seminar will take place on Tuesday October 20th, 4.00 – 5.30pm (BST). We are happy to announce we have confirmed the speakers for the event:

Charles Campion, Partner at JTP
Dr Mark Hammond, Senior Lecturer at the Manchester School of Architecture
Prof Ares Kalandides, Director at IPM
Eleanor Radcliffe, Researcher at CLES

FAQs

Who should participate in Citizen Participation Network online seminars?

The seminars are for anybody interested in Citizen Participation in place development – researchers, practitioners, elected officials, place managers and citizens.

Is there a fee for the Citizen Participation Network online seminars?

The seminars are free of charge. You can consider becoming a member of the Institute of Place Management and joining an international network of experts. You can find more about membership here: https://www.placemanagement.org/membership/

Who are the speakers of the Citizen Participation Network online seminars?

Speakers will include researchers and practitioners with extensive experience on issues of Citizen Participation around the world. The seminars will be moderated by Prof Ares Kalandides.

When will the Citizen Participation Network online seminars take place?

For 2020 we have planned two series: The international one (in English) will start 20th October 2020 and a second one (in Greek) started on 13th September. The second international seminar (in English) is planned for 25th November.

How can I join the Citizen Participation Network online seminars?

Whilst the seminars are free of charge, registration is necessary. The registration link for this seminar is is: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-_PeAEeRTSGhgEiey5-bwg.

How can I find out more?

Please visit the IPM site https://v2.placemanagement.org/news/posts/2020/september/citizen-participation-network/  to find out more about the work of the Institute and the IPM Blog for articles on Citizen Participation: http://blog.placemanagement.org/?s=citizen+participation.

City and citizens: some thoughts on participation

Proposed interventions in Syntagma square, Athens.

by Prof Ares Kalandides

Recently, a municipality in the state of Berlin invited residents to choose the trees they would like to see planted in their street, as part of a new tree planting programme. The meeting took place in a neighborhood cafe that gave them space; residents were presented with three options with trees suitable for the location, and after an introduction by experts about the pros and cons of each option, citizens discussed and voted. This is a simple example of a relatively clear question with no particular controversies or rivalries. Nevertheless, the main questions that should concern us when it comes to citizen participation are already visible here. Some of them are practical and others relate to more theoretical and methodological issues:

“For me, the first step should be the provision of accurate, accessible, and continuous information – not advertising.”

First, citizens were asked to choose in the last phase of the process, after the decision at a higher level to place trees in this street. Alternatively, the residents of the street could have been asked whether they wanted trees in the first place or maybe something totally different, such as benches or a playground. In a similar way, all residents of the municipality could have been asked if they prefer trees on that particular street or somewhere else. The municipality, however, had already decided, based on wider environmental planning, that trees on that street were important for the climate of the whole area. This raises two questions: (a) At what stage of the decision-making process do we include participation? (b) At what scaledoes it take place and how does it fit into a wider plan that does not only concern that specific microspace?

“The second issue that arises here is proper citizen information, the centrality of knowledge as well as the role of the experts.“

Second, citizens were asked to decide from a closed system of choices. They were not simply asked, ‘what trees do you want in your street’, but experts were invited to suggest possible alternatives, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. A completely open discussion could have been educational in nature, but it could easily have resulted in a fruitless outcome if any choice made by the residents (e.g. to plant palm trees in the wrong climate) received a negative response due to the impossibility of implementation. The second issue that arises here is proper citizen information, the centrality of knowledge as well as the role of the experts.

In this case, all residents of the street were called to decide (even foreign citizens) as well as a local association, property owners and local businesses. Here, a third question comes in, that of the subjects of participation: who are these citizens that participate? They are not necessarily identical with the citizens who vote in the representative system (i.e. the municipal council or the parliament). In municipal elections, it is people registered in electoral lists that vote. Neither foreign nationals (with exceptions) nor collectives nor businesses nor landowners living elsewhere have a right to vote. I personally believe that the resident (as a citizen) is a completely different category from all other subjects, but this requires a serious and quite complex political debate.

“If participation is to be more than just an alibi, it is important to find ways to reach those already excluded.”

Fourth, beyond the theoretical question comes a much more real one: not just who is invited to participate, but who ultimately participates and who does not. I have often followed such processes closely and it is rather discouraging to see that those who participate mostly belong to the same middle class, with a certain education and participation experience. In other words, it is ‘the usual suspects’ that join the process, while immigrants, the poor or the marginalized are left out. There have been studies that try to explain why non-privileged citizens do not participate. The bottom line is that economic and social marginalization go hand in hand. They are linked to a lack of trust in the system, no access to information, bad public speaking skills, low self-confidence and more. In other words, there is a class dimension to participation that is central to understanding it. If participation is to be more than just an alibi, it is important to find ways to reach those already excluded.

Fifth, the choice of the specific space of the participation process is not irrelevant. A local cafe was chosen in the above example, a familiar low-threshold location. It is completely different if such a process takes place e.g. at the town hall. There are arguments for both, as the town hall might give more authority to the process, but it would probably make access even more difficult, for reasons of distance that are both real and symbolic. It may seem like a small detail, but in the reality of participation details matter.

“To inform you about something in a way that you will not understand, and later ask you later to decide is at least dishonest.”

But even the way the process is conducted, the method followed, is important. What language do we use? How do we portray what is happening? Images – and therefore designers, artists, or architects – can sometimes make information more accessible and understandable. In the case of trees, since many people find it difficult to read plans, experts chose the easiest (but also most easily manipulative) language of photorealistic images. Accessibility of information is just as important as its existence. To inform you about something in a way that you will not understand, and later ask you later to decide is at least dishonest. Also, the alternatives given in our example were presented with their pros and cons, elements that after all, are present at every intervention. What mattered was for the people to weigh those alternatives in each case and decide based on that evaluation. Let’s contrast this with the most common case, where a single solution is advertised, while this is camouflaged as information.

The seventh thing I want to mention here is transparency regarding the responsibilities of the participatory process: is it merely advisory and can therefore be rejected, or does it have the power to make a binding decision? It is also a matter of transparency to know exactly who the recipient of the choices of the participatory process is, i.e. who receives citizens’ objections, recommendations, and decisions. What responsibilities does this recipient have? If e.g. a committee of residents makes recommendations and the answer is always ‘I am not responsible’, participation turns into a farce. Transparency finally means knowing what happens to the results of the participation process. Were they integrated in the decision? Were they rejected? If so, why? It is enough for citizens’ comments to remain unanswered once and they will not be bothered to participate again.

The above must be codified and institutionalized. This also applies to the legal provisions for mandatory consultation, but also to various other schemes where participation may not be mandatory, but strongly recommended. Central to institutionalization is continuity. Not fragmented occasional participation, but a system of participatory processes that defines among other things the relationship between direct democratic forms of governance, the representative system of municipal councils, social movements, collectives, political parties – but also individual initiatives.

“Is participation a political right and therefore an integral part of citizenship or is it a concession by the state which it can give and take at will?”

One could argue of course that in the end, whether we plant planes or lindens, it really matters little to people’s lives and to democracy. One could argue that we call upon citizens (and thus take up their time) to decide on something ultimately indifferent, while they are given no say on things that can really change their lives. In other words, there is higher order issue here, that of political priorities. At what level are citizens called to participate? Participatory budget systems, where citizens are asked to decide where parts of the total (usually municipal) budget will be allocated, possible response to this.

Finally, how do we understand citizen participation outside the representative system, i.e. elections? Is it a political right and therefore an integral part of citizenship or is it a concession by the state which it can give and take at will? If it is the former, then the state is obliged not only to offer participation procedures, but also to find ways to make them accessible. In other words, it is not enough to give a right, but you must ensure that citizens have access to it. For the time being even where participation is mandatory, actual participation in the consultation process is often minimal.

Where do we start? Unfortunately, we need to start simultaneously at the last and at the first statement. In other words, we need the political debate on what participation means, but also the clarification of very practical details about what really happens in the existing processes. But for me, the first step should be the provision of accurate, accessible, and continuous information – not advertising.

The above are some initial, incomplete thoughts to get the discussion going. We will need to take it from here.

Public Space after COVID-19: Enriching the debate.

More than six weeks have passed since WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. While we are all trying to cope with our everyday lives, some in more critical conditions than others, there are already discussions about how we shall live together “the day after” – in particular conversations about the future of public space. I would like to share some thoughts here, in the form of questions and work hypotheses, that may help us move forward with the debate. Let me start with three propositions about how to think about public space and we can take it from there:

(1) The way I understand public space here, is as space where chance encounters with the ‘unknown other’ is possible. Let me explain: You do not expect to see an uninvited stranger in your private space (and if you do, you’d be alarmed), but you take it for granted that you will bump into strangers in streets, squares, and parks – but also in pubs, shops or buses. Indeed, following Simmel, that could even be the constitutive element of urbanity. Public space, in this particular understanding, is less about property and access rights, but rather space that has the potential to confront us with people we do not know – not by design, but by chance. Today, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (it is true for other epidemics, too) it is precisely this chance encounter with the potentially contaminated other, that is perceived as a threat. And this could be a threat to urbanity.

(2) The pandemic reminds us that we have bodies. The ‘encounter with the other’ is not abstract; it is very physical. Proximity and distance are key. The distance between cars or the proximity of commuters in the bus are very different things with dramatically different health outcomes. It is our bodily functions – which we so much like to forget – that make us a threat: our cough, our sneeze, our breath, our sweat. Encounters in public space are encounters of bodies. And bodies have abilities and disabilities, bodies have genders and desires, they have age and they have ailments. The abstract ‘person’ of policy-makers is not so abstract after all. The pandemic makes this painfully clear.

(3) It is impossible to understand public space without its counterpart, private space. Helplines for domestic abuse have seen an important increase in calls since the beginning of the pandemic (for the UK see The Guardian article from 9th April 2020 here), once again demonstrating what feminists were telling us all along: that while the private space of the home is a safe place for some, under certain conditions, it also presents a threat for others – mainly women, teenagers and children. Whilst uncontrollable stress, existential insecurity and other factors are certainly some of the causes of this other epidemic, confinement and the relative or absolute exclusion from public space are surely acceptable explanations. People’s relation to public space depends on their relation to private space and vice versa.  The two are contingent on each other.

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy. Photo by Samuli Lintula – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=699616

What the above propositions make clear is the deep, structurally uneven importance of public space for different people and social groups. Rather than being the great equalizer, as we often read, the pandemic exposes and aggravates society’s existing fault-lines, and space, both private and public, is where this all manifests: Families living together in tiny flats have a very different need for a public park than a family in a suburban villa; siblings who share a single computer at home in order to be able to follow online classes need the public library more than those who have one computer each; people who can’t afford a car are more reliant on public transport than those with two cars in the household; women who live under the constant threat of violence at home, may experience public space as safer than the privacy of their home. And for those who do not even have a home – public space is all that’s left.

If the pandemic can teach us something (and I’m not particularly optimistic), is that we need to reconsider the importance of space, not just as the big void that surrounds us, but as something that we ourselves make with our everyday practices, in interaction with others. But what could it mean – concretely?

It could mean that all those public spaces need to be treasured, funded generously and treated with great care: the park, the square, the street, the pub, the shop, the bus, the train, etc. It could mean that they need to be upgraded and maintained; they are those spaces that the weakest in our societies need most.

It would also mean that concentrating on public space, without consideration for what happens behind the four walls of the home, will always have limited effect. As an urban planner, I do not feel at all competent to talk about private spaces – but this is proving to be a huge gap in my education. No wonder that most planners are men. The home is the realm of the woman – or so we are told.

And finally, if we take the idea of ‘chance bodily encounters’ seriously, it means that we can no longer plan and manage places for abstract ‘people’ with unknown characteristics. Rather we should be very conscious of the different bodies with their different needs and design in a differentiated way.

It is too early to make any predictions about the exact form that public space will take after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. But spaces don’t just form naturally. They are products of our images, our relations and our actions. It is thus important that we ask the difficult questions, too.

by Prof Ares Kalandides