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<nettime> Open letter to Saskia Sassen
targetautonopop on Tue, 23 Jul 2013 05:38:21 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Open letter to Saskia Sassen

(forwarded message)

Dear Ms. Sassen,
In an interview with the German daily *tageszeitung* published on May 
25th, 2013 you answered extensively with regards to your position as 
Curator of this year's International Building Exhibition (IBA) currently 
underway in the Hamburg borough of Wilhelmsburg. Throughout the 
interview you emphasize that there can be no talk of *gentrification*. 
You virtually refrain from corroborating your statement with hard facts 
beyond your repeated statement that the managers of the building 
show *goodwill* and that it is their *declared aim* to not drive out the 

We were quite surprised to read this. Judging by a few of your texts 
which we have studied, it was our understanding that it is your 
intention to point out a growing polarization as a result of the 
development of *global cities*. In the interview published by the 
*tageszeitung* you point out your experience of Latin American cities, 
amongst other, and mention that you have seen *the full brutality of New 
York's gentrification*. Surely these experiences are significant. 
However, the situation of people who are evicted from their homes or who 
have to pay an increasing share of their household income for their rent 
is hardly alleviated by pointing out that it can even be worse 

We don't doubt your answer that you've seen much of the world. However, 
in your role as curator for the building exhibition you obviously seem 
to have had your eyes closed. Simple research would have shown that 
since 2000 the rents in our city have risen in a degree overshadowing 
all other German cities. The developments in Hamburg have even surpassed 
those of Munich which is well-known for its continuously rising rents. 
It wouldn't even have been necessary to talk to representatives of the 
*right-to-the-cityâ?? movement or to our own initiative. The very 
publications of the IBA itself assert that rents have risen in 
Wilhelmsburg comparatively more than in other similarly poor boroughs of 

Indeed, new tenants in the boroughs on the islands of the Elbe 
(Elbinseln), i.e. those where the IBA has developed most of its 
activities, are faced with rents that have doubled throughout the last 
decade whilst wages of low-paid workers as well as incomes of the 
unemployed have remained stagnant. In our view it is cynical at best to 
call this an *upgrade without displacement* while at the same time 
referring to *Latin America* as a negative example.

In our view there is an undeniable relation between these developments 
and the IBA.
The IBA must be considered a strategic instrument which is intended to 
improve the image of the borough not just by means of newly erected 
buildings but also beyond those as part of the Hamburg Senateâ??s 
campaigns *Growing City* (Wachsende Stadt) and the envisioned *Bridging 
of the Elbe* (Sprung über die Elbe).

We assume you might agree with us when we say that an improved image has 
repercussions for the housing market and we are therefore surprised to 
find that an *upgrade without displacement* is sufficient in itself to 
not be looking more closely at local developments. The project you refer 
to, i.e. the so-called *Global Neighbourhood*
(Weltquartier), comprises flats that have been substantially 
refurbished. During the
refurbishment phase the majority of the residents were relocated to 
other flats. An unknown number of tenants returned into the as-yet 
unfinished project. These tenants receive new contracts which, according 
to our information, oblige them to pay up to 20% more for their basic 
rent as compared to the old contracts. Claiming, as you do, that it is 
only to do about *a few cents more* clearly shows a lack of information
about the borough's current situation on your part. Additionally, 
tenants have to pay higher rents because of the enlarged flats. Contrary 
to your claim many tenants initially refused to have their contracts 
rescinded. This in itself was a strong
pressure tool which considerably slowed down the construction process 
and may have prompted the SAGA/GWG to make more concessions with regards 
to compensation, provision of funds for removals and the tenants' right 
to return to their flats.

This development has a lot to do with the tenants' attentiveness and 
their self-organization and nothing with *participation* as there has 
been no participation of the tenants in the redevelopment of their 
borough whatsoever, may the landlords and the IBA representatives claim 
whatever they wish to. Whether or not the
development of the *Global Neighbourhood* will result in displacements 
cannot finally be ascertained as of today. This is, of course, no 
surprise in gentrification processes which take place over years or 
maybe even decades. However, the numbers you give in your interview seem 
to be completely unfounded in our view. Not even the IBA has published 
them anywhere.

The interviewâ??s headline runs â??*We have protected the people* and you 
thus provide a legitimation for the city's urban development schemes in 
general and more specifically for its realization in Wilhelmsburg while 
at the same time delegitimizing the critics
by mentioning *young people from the anti-gentrification movement* whose 
arguments supposedly are not well-founded. In our view, your interview 
casts doubt on your status as a critical scientist. Given that rents are 
rising all across the market these newly constructed IBA buildings 
hardly provide a protection: the basic rent for flats in these buildings 
is three times as high as it was in Wilhelmsburg ten years
ago. And nobody will earnestly suppose that the residents of a 
working-class neighbourhood characterized by high rates of unemployment, 
labour migration and low-paid jobs will have an opportunity to move to 
the newly erected high-priced owner-occupied flats in other boroughs. 
Have you had a chance to talk to the inhabitants of the Korallus 
neighbourhood (Korallusviertel) who are obliged by the real estate 
corporation GAGFAH to pay ever rising rents for continuously 
deteriorating flats? And
have you had the chance to speak with at least one tenant of the *Global 
Neighbourhood*? In our view critical science is characterized by taking 
sides for these very people. You, however, are taking sides exclusively 
with the officials of the building exhibition. Critical Science must act 
truthfully with regards to facts. However, you have not provided any 
evidence for your claims. It remains incomprehensible to us why a 
critical urban sociologist simply ignores obvious policies meant to 
attract so-called middle-class tenants or rent increases resulting from 
symbolical upgrading and talks of an *upgrade without displacement* 
without providing any evidence whatsoever. It is similarly 
incomprehensible to us why a renowned urban sociologist shows no 
intention to at least keep a minimal critical distance to development 
projects she is invited to participate in.

Given that the idea of critical science is still of importance to us and 
given that we hope to establish a communication on urban development 
projects in Wilhelmsburg and the Veddel, we encourage a dispassionate 
assessment beyond allegiances and third-party funding, in the hope of 
opening up spaces where neoliberal urban development projects can be 
named as such. In this sense we hope for a lively discussion on urban 
development in the global cities of the Global North and for a science 
that becomes less complicit with urban development strategies, thereby 
making it less complicit in enforcing exclusion processes that are being 
criticized elsewhere.

We would very much appreciate a response at the following address:

aku-wilhelmsburg {AT} riseup.net
Arbeitskreis Umstrukturierung Wilhelmsburg
This open letter is supported by other initiatives, who are part of the 
right to the city network in Hamburg:

undogmatische Linke, BUKO-Arbeitsschwerpunkt Stadt Raum Hamburg, Centro 
Sociale, Gängeviertel Hamburg,Keimzelle Hamburg

The original interview in the tageszeitung is to be found here:
More information about the developments in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg:

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