Migration meets the city. Against hysteria – for a different urban planning

10 theses against the current emergency urbanism and a planned
referendum against refugee housing.

1. A referendum about housing for refugees in which they can’t take
part? No way.

Asylum seekers are not entitled to vote and can’t take part in a referendum.
Inhabitants organized in the “Initiatives for Integration” IFI have
declared that they would act “in the interest of refugees” when
opposing big housing complexes. De facto, however, the refugees are locked out.
Such a referendum is an assault on basic rights of refugees – and on the right
to the city.

2. The misery in the refugee camps admits no delay.

The miserable situation in containers, warehouses, ex-DIY-markets and
other mass shelters has to be stopped as fast as possible. Even if we criticize
the concrete planning of the Hamburg senate: Its decision to react quickly is
right. Hamburg needs 79000 accommodations until the end of 2016. And this is
only the official number. The misery in the camps has to be eliminated by
conversion of existing houses as well as by building new housing. As fast, as
much, as central, as high as necessary and possible.

3. The counterproposals can’t replace the emergency measures.

To achieve that it may be appropriate to realize new housing by law
enforcement. It would take years to finish the needed accommodations through
the usual planning law. Of course there’s good reason to be sceptical about the
new housing complexes. They are mostly situated on the outskirts, feature
unimaginative architecture, and little has been done to involve the communities
affected, not to speak of the refugees themselves that will have to live there.
But yet: the counterproposals of the protesting inhabitants and the initiatives
organized in IFI are not enough to supply the much needed housing for the
refugees. A “quarter mix” (that is: a quarter of newly built flats
for refugees) or the “offers of real estate owners” that are
allegedly rejected by the city are a mere complement to the necessary
construction measures. As such they have to be discussed, like the areas that
are proposed by the initiatives. However, from an “anywhere but here”
position a referendum is nothing but a discussion about local limits to

4. A referendum will not prevent the accommodations.

An optimistic guess is that the referendum will take place in spring
2017 at the earliest, more probably around the federal election in autumn
2017. By then people will hopefully have moved into the new accommodations
which won’t be contestable by planning law. That means: a campaign for a
referendum won’t prevent the planned housing complexes – but it will arouse
lots of negative sentiments against them.

5. Campaigns against refugee housing attracts right-wingers and racists.

The initiatives against the big housing complexes stress time and again
that they are not against refugees, that on the contrary they advocate
“measures for refugee accommodation that are sustainable and reasonable
for integration policies”. They say they don’t want to talk to the
Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, “Alternative for Germany”, the
latest right-wing party). We appreciate that – and we also think it is
inappropriate to stigmatize the initiatives as racist or right-wing in the
first place. However, we see in all the quarters where the new citizens
movement forms how racist resentments expressed in hearings and gatherings go
unchallenged and therefore influence the climate of discussions. To distance
oneself from the AfD and right-wing radicalism but at the same time to provide
space for their positions: This is not okay.

6. The talk of ghettos is careless and hysterical.

For years Hamburg has seen a massive compaction that displaces
courtyards and natural areas. There have been protests against this development
from time to time also in the quarters that now protest against refugee
housing. However, the current protests are way more massive than any others
before. “Parallel societies in urban ghettos have to be prevented”,
the initiatives write. No matter if housing for 700 or 2000 refugees is planned
like in Klein Borstel, Ottensen or Eppendorf or a huge complex for 4000 people
in Neugraben-Fischbek, a quarter that doesn’t belong to the well-off: the
protesting initiatives always talk of “ghettos” and demand an even
distribution of accommodations throughout the city. In doing so whole
communities are defamed. We plead for less hysteria. A few hundred or thousand
people don’t turn a housing complex into a ghetto. We know that it’s obviously
difficult to put through refugee accommodations in well-off quarters where
there’s money for better lawyers and estate prices are astronomically high.
However, the fact that wealthy and not so wealthy quarters now join forces does
not make the distribution fairer. We worry that whereever the city plans
housing for refugees it will always encounter people who think these plans are

7. Neither ghetto panic nor emergency planning: We need a different

It gets back to all of us now that politicians, planners, and architects
have not developed concepts of affordable, sustainable and good housing, that
public housing in Germany has been more or less nothing but a funding programme
for investors (no other European country did it like that). There has to be an
alternative. A new urban strategy that is effective needs a new attitude.
Instead of ghetto panic it’s about possibilities for the new neighbourhoods.
Small sewing shops for refugees and local inhabitants, self-established kiosks,
shops offering Arabic delicacies, neighbourhood cafés, start-ups, local
clothing chambers or workshops: all the houses that will hastily be built need
free spaces in their groundfloors for such usage. We need flexibility to allow
informal structures in order to get vivid quarters that offer not only housing
but meeting points, space for experiments and new establishments to the
communities and neighbourhoods.

8. No participation is no solution either.

In spite of warnings and forecasts by migration researchers and aid
organizations the cities have not been prepared for the refugees that now
arrive in Germany. The urban emergency management has been scandalous at times,
and often the authorities did not react sensitively to civil society. Many
volunteers who in the summer of 2015 prevented the worst through self-organized
help could experience that – either at the Lageso in Berlin or in the Central
Initial Reception in Hamburg-Harburg or in the emergency shelters in
warehouses. People who saved the authorities’ ass with their tireless efforts
were treated like annoying petitioners. It’s not without reason that the
neighbours of the planned housing complexes complain about an arrogance of
power. A policy that rejects participation exacerbates the conflict and is
inappropriate in the face of the authorities’ omissions. Of course refugees
have to be included instead of degrading them to inferior aid recipients.
There’s need of dedicated planning processes with artists, urban designers,
students, social workers, caregivers, volunteers and neighbourhood initiatives.
Projects conceived out of Hamburg’s Right to the City movement like the
PlanBude (planning booth), the once squatted and now self-managed Gängeviertel
or the Fux cooperative show how collective planning leads to better results.
Projects like the Grandhotel Cosmopolis Augsburg, the Haus der Statistik Berlin
or the New Neighbourhood Moabit are models that have to be considered
seriously. In Hamburg Refugees Welcome Karoviertel, the Clothing Chamber or the
Helfergruppe Hauptbahnhof (aid group at the main station) have shown that
self-organized structures can work better than the authorities machine – they
have to be included.

9. Do we have a “refugee problem”? We have a housing problem!

Current plans concerning urban and social space are far behind of what’s
possible technically and physically, far behind the richness of society.
Hamburg’s application for the Olympics disguised its visionary void with hope
for a mega-event but could not fill the void. For decades politics has ignored
the housing emergency, sometimes even promoted it. To find affordable housing
becomes more and more difficult even for middle class households. The market
failure is obvious, and it affects especially the poor. For Refugees and
Sans-papiers the situation is dramatic and often unbearable and miserable. The
new programme is not yet a turning point in housing politics. With 20 billion
Euro from the federal government tax money will be fed once more into the
real-estate game – and be lost there. This investment should create housing
that secures low rents in the long run. Housing for refugees must develop into
a housing programme for all in need and with little money. Cooperatives,
foundations, alternative investors like the Housing Syndicate have to be
included. There have to be new concepts for public property. Pragmatism in
setting up new housing is alright. But beside fast constructions there’s need
for a pragmatic use of existing buildings. The demolition of the City-Hof can’t
have priority now. The Axel Springer Haus could become a centrally located accommodation
for refugees – the same is true for the empty Post-pyramid in the City Nord. We
need a brave, determined policy for how to convert and use vacancies and
existing buildings quickly and unconventionally.

10. Refugees have a right to the city.

A referendum against big housing complexes for refugees is no solution.
We say: stop it! Hamburg needs neither local Seehofers in the disguise of being
pro-integration nor right-wing radicals sailing on the lee side. Dissociate
yourselves! The referendum boosts the wrong debate – one that frames refugees
only as burden. Instead we need construction projects that have a surplus value
for a quarter, that provide space for informal appropriation by the
neighbourhood, that offer places for contact and platforms for exchange. Let’s
develop innovative solutions together, with pragmatism and brave visions for a
housing that’s socially secured indefinitely, in a city that must and will
change. A great number of refugees will stay and become part of our city. They
have a right to the city. Let’s push politics towards an urban planning that
allows for new spaces, participation and development for us and our new
neighbours. Let’s defy the brutalized self-pity of the AfD supporters.

Can we do it? No, we want it. We want a city that wants it.

Plenum of the Right
to the City Network Hamburg, 9 February 2016