Here she tells us about her exciting job as a neighbourhood coordinator, which deals with the details and challenges of everyday life in Berlin’s Gewobag districts. It is a job that, on the one hand, calls for work directly on-site and on the other hand, provides the opportunity to think about development, to take time and space for the question: how can neighbourhoods function in cities today and in the future? And: how can neighbourhoods develop in a city like Berlin, which is characterised by growth and heterogeneity?
What does neighbourhood (“Kiez” in German) and coordinator actually mean for you?
“Kiez” is what they call the neighbourhood in Berlin; at Gewobag, we also say district. You live there, shop there; your kids go to nursery and school there. It’s at the centre of life. You should have everything that you need and feel happy there. People in Berlin identify strongly with their neighbourhood. But that can also lead to conflicts because neighbourhoods change. For me, coordination above all means making connections. Between people, between tenants and Gewobag or between participants in politics and committees. We are networkers and try to create a balance of interests. I like the term development in this context: where do you want to go? We want to constantly improve the situation of our tenants.
Which aspects do you think are involved in a city’s socially fair development?
The challenge is that everyone should find their place, especially in a city like Berlin where the most diverse lifestyles are reflected. All residents should be able to do their own thing and make a living. For me, creating this basic prerequisite is part of fair urban development.
There’s a lot of room for manoeuvre at the moment. There’s a lot of construction going on. The city is developing very dynamically. This is a great opportunity. The idea of sustainable urban development is to contribute to society together and see what can be made possible in terms of meetings and living together.
Which neighbourhoods do you work with?
I look after two neighbourhoods in Spandau and one in Schöneberg. The Georg-Ramin-Siedlung in Spandau is a lovely, laid-back neighbourhood and housing development from the 1950s with extensive green spaces and very intact neighbourliness. People greet each other, help each other and know each other. Things are going quite well there. We’re talking about a district of 300 rental units and more. There is also a tenants’ council that represents the interests of the tenants. The elected tenants’ councils provide consultation hours and advice, collate tenants’ concerns and organise neighbourhood activities.
The requirements, topics and areas of activity in our districts differ. We have the whole range in our portfolio: large and small, central and suburban, districts of old buildings and residential estates.
For example, we are currently planning redensification in Mühlenberg, a neighbourhood in Schöneberg, and one of our smallest districts. This has been met with some resistance. Those who have an apartment often don’t want any change – some feel powerless and experience change as loss. These feelings must be taken seriously but, at the same time, it must be made clear that new living space is urgently needed in Berlin.
How would you describe your job?
I work in the neighbourhood development department. Our team is a colourful mix of cultural, political and social scientists, geographers, urban planners, social workers and economists. Between us, we have close and respectful exchanges and an understanding for respective points of view. For example, neighbourhood conflict counselling is the responsibility of colleagues with a socio-educational background. You have to be able to moderate.
Every day with us is new. You never know what to expect. It’s not for the faint-hearted. You’re frequently confronted with difficult situations and conflicts and have to be able to react quickly. This is not a job where you can hide behind your desk. We are visible and approachable and we pick up on a lot of things. We sometimes even stand between parties. That’s not always easy. Processes must continue, numbers must be right, and in the process, the view of specific people can get lost. We are on site with the tenants. We lobby on behalf of the tenants, even here at the company. That is valued in the building.
What does good neighbourliness mean to you?
That you can feel safe and have a safe haven. Despite the anonymity that a city has, I think it’s nice if you know your neighbours, if you’re able to ring their bell to get support when you need help. That there are places where you can meet, you go out, there’s a nice bench. You sit down and by chance you meet someone. Good neighbourliness should encourage people to take responsibility. It is socially disastrous if you give up your personal responsibility. If you manage to establish a neighbourhood in which you feel like getting involved, you feel more comfortable.
How do you think neighbourliness will change in the next few years?
In Berlin in particular, neighbourhoods are feeling the growth of the last few years. It has become denser. The heterogeneity is also very noticeable. We have a lot of people with different lifestyles, not only with regard to their origin. Can we manage to focus more on the similarities than on the differences? I think that is the big challenge we have now. It starts with little things like the house rules. Society is developing and we often stick to rules that were made when there was still a consensus in society. House rules are really a good example. Either I stick to rules because I find them worthwhile or because I am afraid of sanctions. At the moment, both are difficult. A building is like a cell, then comes the block, a neighbourhood or district, the city the country, etc. It’s the same wherever you go. And here we are with the small cell house, very close to seeing how we can manage to create a consensus. What do people want, where do they want to participate, what don’t they care about?
What impulses can you give as a neighbourhood coordinator?
I am personally a fan of Gewobag’s parks. The investments are small while the parks, the areas are there and the effects are huge. Many people have small apartments. It has become noticeably much denser. That’s why parks are so important; the fact that you can go out again, the children too, like a kind of second living room. We have a project like this at the Georg-Ramin-Siedlung, for example. There is a lot of neighbourhood interest in the issues of biodiversity and sustainability. The residents have created a wild flower garden there. A table reserved for regulars to discuss plants was set up, and a three-by-three-metre insect hotel has been built. People get together to talk about parks and plants. It is not a burning issue and it’s low-threshold. There are just things that are fun to do together – it’s nice to see something grow and take care of something.
In your opinion, how important are participation and involvement for districts that function in the long term?
Everyone should have the opportunity to participate if they want to. Actions should develop from interests. You have to think beyond language barriers to find ways to mediate participation. It’s about having a mix of methods to develop formats that appeal to the people. These include established formats, such as the tenants’ councils or district councils, but also short-term, event-related formats that directly address participants’ interests.
What is district development and social commitment like at Gewobag?
It’s about integral development and close cooperation between the company’s different departments. What social developments are there, what can we incorporate? For me, social commitment is a cross-sectional task. I like working at Gewobag so much because we have the expertise, the specialists from a range of different areas. You’ve got engineers, administrative staff, all here. I enjoy the cross-departmental cooperation; it’s the only way we can address all the issues.
Why does your portfolio also include university cooperation and student projects?
Our everyday business is tough and we deal with a wide range of issues.
Our telephone numbers are on the internet. Many tenants want to talk to a person. We are also a gathering place. Sometimes we don’t have the time to delve deeper. As part of our work, we organise the parties, run neighbourhood drop-ins very close by. When we cooperate with universities, you can sometimes see things from the outside. There’s time and space there. There are no other tasks than to chase up a defined question. For our project in the Ringslebenstraße district in the south of Neukölln, where there will be modernisation and redensification, we conducted an outreach survey with the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences. What are people’s needs, what kind of common rooms do they want, etc. The results are different from the questionnaires we usually work with and which are often answered by the older generation. Young people were also actively interviewed for the outreach survey. As a result, other perspectives are discovered. I found that really exciting.
“You have something tangible on-site, in conversation, in everyday conflicts, you go deep into it – and the next day you have a conference at federal level and the chance to introduce and articulate this perspective there.”
What is a day in your job like?
Every day is different. I am out and about in the district once or twice a week, at tenant’s council meetings and events, or I meet with tenants or partners.
You have something tangible on-site, in conversation, in everyday conflicts, you go deep into it – and the next day you have a conference at federal level and the chance to introduce and articulate this perspective there.
What do you want for Berlin?
I hope that we will seize the opportunity and help shape society. That we will think of new ways of life for patchwork families or senior citizens’ communities. That we experiment. And the issue of equal education and equal opportunities is very important to me. That children who now come from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t have to repeat the biography of their parents. That’s what I really want for Berlin; that this succeeds and that a lot is invested there.
Thank you for talking with us!