“Without Trust, We’d Get Nowhere”

Can you transfer PlanBude’s success to other projects and locations? And what role can art play in the process of making wishes a reality? On Display discusses these questions with artists Margit Czenki, Christoph Schäfer, Renée Tribble, and Lisa Marie Zander.

ON DISPLAY: There is opposition to building proposals in many cities. But only in Hamburg has the protest been transformed into a successful project in which city authorities, investors, and residents are working with rather than against one another. What is the secret of this success?

MARGIT CZENKI: PlanBude’s success has a lot to do with art. Without artists the project may well have run into the sand, like many local initiatives. Residents demand something, don’t get it, and continue to complain about the proposed works, but their protest ultimately fails. It was the artists’ idea to look for another way. We threatened to start up a parallel planning process. But we didn’t want to create an obstacle; we simply wanted to get the whole neighborhood involved in the plans.

Margit Czenki © Frank Egel 2017

CHRISTOPH SCHÄFER: The fact that art in Europe enjoys a great deal of freedom is a major factor in our being able to do this, too. In art, artists make up their own rules. Art’s role is to show new perspectives. When a designer or architect tries to do everything differently, he or she quickly runs into difficulties, because everyone assumes that architects and designers are service providers. A normal planning office tells the client what kind of results he wants. This isn’t how PlanBude works; it’s a project in which art plays a major role.

MARGIT CZENKI: In PlanBude, architecture, art, and social work come together. Through these things we can integrate the interests of St. Pauli locals in the planning process.

We didn’t want to create an obstacle; we simply wanted to get the whole neighborhood involved in the plans

ON DISPLAY: So is PlanBude a good example for participating and achieving greater democracy on the local level?

CHRISTOPH SCHÄFER: We’re interested in the city as an organism that enables a wide variety of sometimes contradictory activities without the need for these to be coordinated. We’re delighted with the result. The contradictory nature, the variety and diversity that we associate with democracy is increasingly dominated by capitalist structures and the accompanying monotony and normalization. A city needs people—collectives and teams—who can promote the wishes of the masses. It’s a case of reshuffling the cards and promoting diversity.

Christoph Schäfer © Frank Egel 2017

RENÉE TRIBBLE: At the end of the day, it always comes down to negotiation. Urban design and urban development always affects every resident in the immediate vicinity. But there are very few ways of contributing to design decisions and residents often feel they can’t engage with the processes because they are not easy to understand. Our goal is to make these “other” voices heard. We wanted to give voice to those not normally consulted during the development process. And that’s democracy: The people living in the city are heard and have the opportunity to influence how it’s developed. It’s not about specifying absolutely everything, but rather about making different interests visible and then negotiating. It’s a given that the investor wants to make a profit. And it also ought to be a given that normal citizens have interests. Yet for the most part the city and administrative authorities don’t want to risk engaging in any real public involvement initiatives because they’re afraid that they will end up with a load of utopian nonsense or unreasonable demands—or that things will get out of hand. But we believe that you just have to take that risk.

PlanBude, St. Pauli, Hamburg © Frank Egel 2017

ON DISPLAY: PlanBude proved a great success in Hamburg. Along with the residents you developed the St. Pauli Code, which served as the basis for the architectural competition. Could this approach be replicated for building development projects in other cities?

LISA MARIE ZANDER: I don’t know whether it’s transferrable. Without the resources on offer in St. Pauli, it wouldn’t have been possible. First off, the fact that Park Fiction was already there helped enormously during negotiations with the city authorities. And a huge amount of support came from the district as a whole. Lots of people came to the events, took part, and are now firm supporters of the St. Pauli Code. 

Lisa Marie Zander © Frank Egel 2017

MARGIT CZENKI: That’s only possible when you’ve got a good network among the city authorities and the local people. Simply setting up as a temporary office and using the tools developed in Hamburg doesn’t cut it. Networking and trust among the locals are absolutely crucial.

We wanted to give voice to those not normally consulted during the development process

CHRISTOPH SCHÄFER: But it’s still important to replicate the PlanBude model elsewhere. New tools would have to be developed depending on the location. You would have to ask yourself: Who here will be dramatically impacted and should perhaps be more involved? How do you make voices heard that are systematically too quiet? To support a PlanBude, the mayor must decide in advance to give less influence to those voices we always hear—those of investors and property owners. In terms of public welfare, it’s important to redefine urban planning and to shift the weight toward the civic side.

Renée Tribble © Frank Egel 2017

RENÉE TRIBBLE: That requires the city and administrative authorities to take a leap of faith. In a process where the results are not predetermined, you’ve got no choice but to rely on the knowledge of large groups of people, without knowing what will emerge in the end. This trust in citizens is fundamental to democracy, since the general population is usually not heard as much as it ought to be in the triangle formed between government, economy, and civil society. We’d get nowhere without trust.

The interview was conducted by Friedrich von Borries and Jens-Uwe Fischer.