Since the earth’s population became more urban than rural the word gentrification is buzzing around in cities around the world. Ten years ago it was still an obscure phenomenon, now it is urgent to be aware of this unacceptable and destructive process which is noticeable in a lot of different aspects in society. Our 7th futurological symposium unveils effects, resistance and solutions against gentrification and focuses on the importance of saving the gentrified free cultural spaces. A three days symposium at the ADM 20th birthday festival about “Degentrification: a manifesto in action”
After symposia were held in Ruigoord, the Netherlands, at the Boom Festival in Portugal, in Christiania in Denmark and in the Free Republic of Uzupis in Lithuania, this year the symposium took place at the ADM site. The ADM celebrated its twentieth anniversary as a free cultural space and is right now threatened in her existence. With the 7th symposium we wanted to come up with a number of concrete proposals to the municipal authorities regarding the need to maintain free cultural spaces and to create new ones as well.
A concerned audience and about 50 presenters from academies, movements, and of course free cultural spaces from all over the world gathered in the inspiring surrounding of the Robodock exhibition at the ADM.
Free Cultural Spaces promote diversity and mutual solidarity. No homogenization of the ab-normal, but a welcoming of the extraordinary. People of all walks of life meet each other in Free Cultural Spaces. These spaces are particularly well suited for exploring the unknown and pushing boundaries. Their personal charisma reinforces the bonds between urban, rural and neighbourhood dwellers, and their hospitality fosters a versatile cosmopolitan society. Free Cultural Spaces are not just festivals and squats, but include many intentional communities, eco- and organics initiatives, free schools, creative nomads and more.
At the symposium several representatives of free cultural spaces talked about their specific situation in the light of gentrification:, the Independent Republic of Užupis (Lituhania), Christiania (Copenhagen), Ruigoord (Amsterdam), Erf 81 (Capetown), Poortgebouw (Rotterdam) and the Institute for (X) (Aarhus), the organizer of next years futurological symposium.
All these are places where you can feel free in a visible and tangible way. However, free cultural spaces all over the world are threatened by gentrification, each of them in their own specific way.
But gentrification affects a lot more different aspects within society as it encompasses problems of all kinds, ranging from the reduction of social housing, alienation within neighborhoods, commercialization of city-centers, diminishing the variety and color of the city, dedication to overconsumption and a culture of greed, in short social and cultural exclusion.
Cody Hochstenbach (NL) for example did point out how gentrification directly increases inequality. Thus also the breeding ground for creativity and new ideas and these are needed to prevent the city from degenerating into humdrum.
He stated that gentrification is certainly not an automatic process like many policymakers want us to believe, but a deliberate composed strategy developed by the ones with power instead.
Over the last thirty years a shift from social democracy to liberalism took place in Amsterdam. Wouter van Gent (NL) showed us that the gentrification frontier advanced and working class voting blocs diminished in the last decades which permitted a new middle class hegemony to institute policy changes to further push gentrification.
At the same time people are fighting back like Brian Doucet’s presentation showed. Late last year, a diverse grassroots movement emerged to oppose the city’s housing plans from Rotterdam with a referendum. For several reasons the referendum was ignored by the city council, but because opposition and resistance was focused on a city-wide issue, rather than a specific development or estate, gentrification and displacement became major topics of conversation. As a result, the question: “Whose city is Rotterdam?” was discussed across the city.
In Berlin we see that the lack of rental housing, rising real estate prices, and gentrification did result in for example a “Milieuschutz”, the protection of certain milieus, a law to actively block gentrification through regulation in five areas in Berlin. Andrej Holm (Ger) did show us how he is active in this process and tries to re-arrange and improve more existing laws for fair and social housing in Berlin in such a way that the results of these laws cause less gentrification and inequality.
We also learned about initiatives to combat gentrification in Milan, Lisbon, Barcelona, London, Berlin, Vilnius, Copenhagen, and towns and cities in Serbia, Poland, Russia, South and Detroit. Doucet stressed the need for indigenous, radical ‘activist-leaders’ in Detroit. Many of these people also operate on the edge of the city (or at least outside its downtown), but the message from his book “Why Detroit matters” is that if we want to have a fair city, then these visions need to be much more central in our collective thinking about public space.
Marko Aksentijević (Ser) tells us that more and more people from Belgrade have learned to be deeply suspicious after decades of dodgy sell-offs. Now they are protesting against the expensive housing on the waterfront with their group “Don’t Drown Belgrade”. Sometimes thousands of people are protesting with a big plastic duck as a symbol. “The word duck in Serbian means fraud” explains Aksentijevic, “it’s a symbolic way of saying the project is really Belgrade Water-fraud.” Despite all these demonstrations the waterfront development still continued, but many people get aware and engaged in their movements.
Also some unexpected forms of gentrification were presented. The influence of urban greening demonstrates that such initiatives, while positive for the environment, tend to increase inequality and thus undermine the social pillar of sustainable development tells Roberta Cucca (Aus). Although greening is ostensibly intended to improve environmental conditions in neighborhoods, it generates green gentrification that pushes out the working-class.
The living streets (Leefstraten) in Gent are an example described by Cedric Goossens (Be) of degentrification. It is a grassroots greening initiative (Leefstraten) to examine how greening initiatives can be entangled with or engender processes of gentrification and displacement.
Degentrification implies decentralization of (often historical) centers. The centralization of suburbs is not always covered by city councils. If we want to make a city bigger or smaller, we have to consider it in its entirety. Trans-industry exceeds industry. Trans-industrial landscapes lie in the margins of cities, just like cities lie in the margins of trans-industrial landscapes. A trans-industrial landscape is characterized by synergy between, for example, culture and nature, between the center and the periphery. That’s why Freeport Ruigoord has been saved. Enclaves of freedom like Christiania, Ruigoord, ADM and Uzupis are places of attraction for Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Vilnius, respectively. Ownership management sees competition as a driving force for the economy. If competition plays such an important part, let’s not compete for being ‘better’, but take care of places where individuality and difference can still blossom. The free cultural space is the first link in the creative (thinking) process. Industry and trans-industry are the last links.
At the end of the FCS Symposium, we managed to issue a Manifesto entitled ‘Pretty Vacant’ in praise of the extremely diverse range of Free Cultural Spaces around the world.
A number of concrete proposals regarding alternatives for an again livable and creative city. The preservation of the last free cultural spaces in the margin is at stake, but attention to a creative drip for the city center is also required. It is not just about Amsterdam. The statement to be made about the importance of new free cultural spaces in the inner cities will be sent to the municipal councils of various major cities at home and abroad, so that they will be infected with the ‘freedom virus’.
Ps. It’s a manifesto in action, so to be continued. See you next year in Aarhus and soon on the streets of Amsterdam!
Thanks to Maik ter Veer, Alan Dearling, Ralf van der Schaar, Menno Grootveld, Eric Duivenvoorden, Ernst du Pon, Frank Sol, Hay Schoolmeesters, Patrick van Ginkel and Aja Waalwijk
A manifesto on Free Cultural Spaces
1. We are the inhabitants and users of Free Cultural Spaces. People of all walks of life meet each other in Free Cultural Spaces. These spaces are particularly well suited for exploring the unknown and pushing boundaries. Their personal charisma reinforces the bonds between urban, rural and neighbourhood dwellers, and their hospitality fosters a versatile cosmopolitan society.
2. There are Free Cultural Spaces on land, at sea and in the air: walls, buildings, plots of land, canals, the ether, the world wide web. Free Cultural Spaces are every-persons-land.
3. In an (over)regulated society the autonomous value of Free Cultural Spaces as a major force behind new creative developments needs to be recognized. There is a need for ‘freespatial culture’: for permanent, temporary and nomadic spaces where people can come to their senses.
4. The attractiveness of cities is not only based on our identity as owners and consumers, but also on our identity as creators. A creative atmosphere, a green environment and a free cultural climate are therefore at least as important as economic considerations. An unbounded experience of space and time always “pays off.”
5. A free cultural climate is at odds with the proliferating gentrification. Instead of attempting to eject (less affluent) elements in order to upgrade neighbourhoods or districts, Free Cultural Spaces promote diversity and mutual solidarity. No homogenization of the ab-normal, but a welcoming of the extraordinary.
6. In opposition to the increasing pressure of rules and gentrification, Free Cultural Spaces emphasize the production of disorder, bringing life back into soulless urban landscapes. Sometimes making way for metropolitan development is unavoidable, but it is in the interest of all communities to keep the values and the functioning of free cultural spaces intact.
7. Inhabitants and users of Free Cultural Spaces readily assume responsibility for their realization and internal organization. It is, therefore, in the best interests of civic administrations to provide suitable space for and to play an active role in the enabling of new Free Cultural Spaces.
8. When city councils foster an even distribution of Free Cultural Spaces, spontaneous Zones Of Opportunity (ZOOs) will arise everywhere, in city centers as well as on their peripheries. And it must be “the responsibility of the community as a whole” to provide alternative locations whenever existing Free Cultural Spaces disappear.
Manifesto by: All participants and audience of the 7th Futurological Symposium on Free Cultural Spaces, Amsterdam, October 2017.