Urban planning processes are not subject to fundamental citizen involvement. New parks, new public spaces and new institutions pop up to the surprise of citizens who do not know how to enter, use and shape these new places according to their needs. How can these places become locally accepted and actively used by citizens?
Recognized gathering formats — with a twist! — was the approach of Team Berlin in their project to introduce a new park and cultural institution to the diverse residents of Moabit.
With a central location in growing Berlin, Moabit is an area of the city undergoing transformational change. Massive investments like Berlin’s main train station and federal government quarter share proximity with industrial canals, manufacturing spaces and family-owned shops in a district home to people of many different incomes and ethnic backgrounds. All of them are feeling the pressure as Berlin grows and changes.
In response, the German government initiated a plan to strengthen social cohesion in the neighborhood. One of the projects funded includes the “Center for Arts and Urbanistics” (ZK/U), opened in 2012 at the district’s edge. The challenge of Team Berlin was to put ZK/U on the mental map of the local community, to let all residents know the center was theirs.
How does a new cultural institution become a gathering place for all kinds of Berliners? By leading with universal Berlin favorites: football and flea markets.
With Actors’ support, Team Berlin initiated what has now become a tradition of free public Football World Cup screenings – but with a twist. At ZK/U’s “Fußballaballa,” matches are shown on ‘old school’ TV sets, with Turkish, Arabic, German and other languages offered. ZK/U offered food, documentary screenings and discussions alongside the viewing of the games to extend the conversation into relatable urban development topics. Games from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were screened side by side with live protests by Brazilian citizens, followed by a facilitated discussion with Berlin planners, activists and citizens which focused on concerns arising from event-driven urban development.
Flea markets are another Berlin favorite. Team Berlin and ZK/U launched a “Gütermarkt” — again, with a twist. Team Berlin invited local craftspeople to offer services to repair and enhance used items bought at the fleamarket. Tailors, carpenters, bike mechanics and others promoted the idea of recycling, upcycling and repair. Artists in residence at the ZK/U offered crafts such as a tailoring national flags into transnational costumes.
The football activities introduced the park and ZK/U to local citizens, who had previously not been aware they could use the compound as a gathering place. An additional benefit: Team Berlin’s project created a greater understanding between the neighborhood management department and the ZK/U, which had previously had a rigid and distant relationship of grant giver and grant receiver. Collaborating on the Actors project allowed them to understand each other’s needs. As a result of the project, public, civic and private sector partners and many in the community have been brought into a fruitful ongoing conversation and effort to make ZK/U serve evolving needs of the Moabit and broader Berlin communities.