Wilhelmsburg – managing accessibilities and governmental strategies

Andrej Holm and Henrik Lebuhn have shown that and how the diagnosis of exclusion and disaffiliation in urban areas such as Wilhelmsburg has been translated into the governmental programme Soziale Stadt (Social City). 1 This programme had been developed in the late 1990s by Germany’s Ministry of Building and Construction while it was consequently put into practice by local organisational forms that were called Quartiersmanagement (management of the quarter). Although this programme was aware that integration is a constitutive aspect of urban development, it failed to negotiate migrants and the urban poor and their particular practices and patterns of being active as equal to their German fellow citizens. Organisations set up to manage participation were not able to offer points of interaction for migrant self-organisation processes. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of governmentality (gouvernementalité) 2 , this clearly demonstrates how specific spatial models of the city coincide with specific ideologies of how the city should be managed – and are then presented as objective knowledge.

With this context in mind, the planning department of the municipality of Hamburg, in a broad participatory process involving Hamburg citizens, experts and administration, developed a white book ‘future conference Wilhelmsburg’ (Weißbuch der Zukunftskonferenz Wilhelmsburg) and laid the groundwork for the International Building Exhibition IBA Hamburg operating from 2007 to 2013. The IBA further translated this plan into three guiding themes, namely, MetroZones, Cosmopolis and Cities and Climate Change. Let’s take a closer look at the example Cosmopolis. The main question behind this ideological framework is how ‘an increasingly urban society’ is enabled to ‘release its powers.’ While we don’t know what powers this refers to in this context, the main target here seems ‘to demonstrate what the future of cooperation in the metropolis might look like’ by concentrating on the strengthening of diversity. While it is correct to state that Wilhelmsburg is home to people from more than one hundred and fifty nations, the aim to provide these people with ‘diverse opportunities for development’ is ill defined. Even less clear is the postulation to solve identified problems such as cultural barriers or demographic change ‘by means of urban development and architecture’. The heroic stance is amplified by the military notion of the Bildungsoffensive (Education offensive). This programme sought to develop ‘new teaching approaches and concepts for improving the education situation in districts with high percentages of immigration, and to facilitate the establishment of new, ground-breaking educational facilities with the main focus on the protagonists’ networking.’ Taking Cosmopolis and Bildungsoffensive together, one can state that, while new themes and techniques are involved, we are still confronted with an approach that interprets the urban as externalised territory or as container within which solutions for identified problems are to be implemented. Chances are and history shows that this strategy is likely to create twenty-five new problems rather than solving deeply entrenched social inequalities.

  1. Andrej Holm and Henrik Lebuhn, ‘Die Stadt politisieren. Fragmentierung, Kohärenz und soziale Bewegungen in der “Sozialen Stadt”’, in wohnen ist tat-sache. Annäherungen an eine urbane Praxis, ed. wohnbund e.V. and HafenCity Universität Hamburg, 2013.
  2. Michel Foucault, ‘Governmentality’, trans. Rosi Braidotti and revised by Colin Gordon, in Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (eds) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press 1991, pp. 87–104.