Saturday, September 27, 2014

Erhaltungssatzung or how to Outmaneuver Gentrification

Remember my blog about Schrippe und Weckle? The vice-speaker of the German Bundestag (parliament) Wolfgang Thierse had criticised that since in Berlin the newly arriving people from Germany's south-west had ousted the original population around the Käthe-Kollwitz-Platz local bakeries had started to offer exotic schwäbische Weckle instead of the common Berlin Schrippe.

What is called gentrification does not seem to be a problem in the States. Red Baron remembers that New York's Greenwich Village changed into a Schickimicki (trendy) quarter such that its original population moved south of Houston street (to Soho). In the meantime other NY quarters became gentrified like Harlem and nowadays it seems that the Bowery becomes a new trendy quarter. Why should one fight such changes since they are generally linked to an upgrading of the building stock?

Well, Germany is quite different from the States. Here much of the historical building stock was destroyed during the war or it continued to disappear in the rebuilding phase in the 50es and 60es. Nowadays urban building authorities watch lynx-eyed that the remaining historical substance of a city is conserved.

When Red Baron moved to Freiburg forteen years ago he was looking for an apartment big enough to get over the loss of house and garden in Geneva. He finally found a place to live in of sufficient size in a part of town called Unter-Wiehre. The house had been built in 1903 and declared a listed building after the war. A contractor had bought the house, redesigned the inside with apartments equipped to modern standards, and sold them to people wanting to make Freiburg their home. In this case the listed entry meant that the developer had to keep the outside of the building untouched except for new painting but was allowed to fit out the attic that had previously been used as a storage room into an additional apartment thus making more money. Red Baron lived on the second floor, the so called bel etage. From my office I looked through a window where the side wings had romanesque arches into the leaves of trees planted along the street. The two downers of the apartment were a missing elevator and the lack of parking space.

Red Baron's apartment on Reiterstraße. Elisabeth is looking out of the window into leafless trees.
It was the beginning of March 2001.
The latter in fact is an important argument with which the planning and building department of a city may intervene in the fight for the Erhalt (conservation) of a living quarter. The necessity of additional parking space for more and bigger cars is just one sign of the replacement of the original population. The potentiality for an upgrading of a quarter will create an appreciation pressure that eventually will lead to the process of displacement of the original population.

Local Erhaltungssatzungen (preservation ordinances) aim to keep the population structure in particular quarters of a town intact but can interact only on the level of urban planning. Hence these ordinances merely present soft means of regulation. They cannot prevent gentrification but will considerably slow down the process in the case of coveted quarters as speakers from Berlin, Hamburg, and Stuttgart at the symposium demonstrated in their talks.

The housing situation in Freiburg is stressed for many people in particular from northern Germany would like to move in. This pushes prices for renting and especially for the ownership of residential apartments. In the final discussion Baubürgermeister Martin Haag said that he did not think that gentrification was a problem for Freiburg yet. He considers the acquisition of residential property a good thing taken the fact that in Germany only 43% of the population live in their own homes compared with rates of 69% for the UK and 65% for the US.

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