Berlin: A Divided City

My final paper was centered around the city of Berlin and how its city planning was affected by the division of Germany in 1949 and its eventual division by the Berlin Wall in 1961.  In the post-war era Berlin became the focal point of the Cold War and the tensions between capitalism and socialism could be seen clearly in the economy, social life and urban design policies.  In East Berlin, they planned according to the three features of Socialist Realism:

  • Socialist Realism is the consistent, necessary, and sole expression of the socialist ideology
  • Socialist Realism is the expression of a totalitarian social structure and an anachronism
  • Socialist Realism is the heir of the Classical tradition in architecture and implies a critique of Modernism.

In addition to this, East Berlin used the 16 Principles of Planning as a guide to planning socialist cities in the GDR.  These principles highlighted three important urban elements, plazas and major streets (Stalinallee and Alexanderplatz), significant buildings ( 365m high TV tower building) and hierarchically structured residential areas.

In West Berlin, the ‘International Style’ was utilized to rebuild the city.  The United States even brought German planners back to the US to study American urbanism.   West Berlin also held planning competitions in order to rebuild the city.  In 1957 the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) rebuilt the Hansaviertel residential zone – contrary to the Stalinallee project.  The planning of this neighbourhood was based on a “city in the park” viewpoint which was counter to East Berlins.  The buildings in the neighbourhood were seen as a success but the IBA project as a whole was viewed as a failure as it involved to many self-referential buildings of various famous architects.  In 1987 the IBA was organized again, this time with two principle concerns ‘careful urban renewal’ and ‘critical reconstruction’.  These projects were successful as they focused on a larger area of the city rather than a specific neighbourhood.

By analyzing the urban planning and the major projects of both sides of Berlin, it could be inferred that the capitalist and socialist governments both used the same device, transformation of the urban space, to prove their success and impact in their territories.

Women Transforming Cities

Earlier today I stumbled across an interesting article in the Georgia Straight (a local Vancouver free newspaper), the article is about women transforming urban spaces.  After reading this article I did a bit of extra reading on the Women Transforming Cities International Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging women’s involvement in municipal politics in order to counteract the current form and structure of urban centers as mostly men have shaped them.  In my extra research I also came across an article written by Prabha Khosla “Gendered Cities: Built and Physical Environments.”  This article critiques city planning in terms of how its physical planning, provision of social services, and economic development, has failed to understand the intersection of the multiple forces of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, religion, language, disability, etc. on city residents.  The inclusion of the excluded – women – in decision-making and physical planning will create healthy cities for all.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Women Plan Toronto, a unique community based organization that worked tirelessly to demonstrate the gendered nature of the city and to enable women’s involvement and decision making in urban planning.  Its work focused on educating planners and councilors about women’s lives in the city, demonstrated how cities could look and be different if women also planned cities, and significantly, lobbied and won the right to bring women’s voices into Toronto’s Official Plans which resulted in changes to planning regulations and guidelines.  Women Plan Toronto raised specific concerns regarding the height of curbs, the difficulty of negotiating stairs in public spaces with wheelchairs and strollers, the need for safe, clean, and accessible public spaces, accessibility for mobility in shopping areas, and the need for proper lighting for women’s safety in the streets and in public spaces.

To relate this back to the course, women experience cities differently than men because traditionally they have assumed different roles and responsibilities.  Women, in all their diversity, have unique perspectives and insights on how to contribute to effective city planning and decision-making.  Using a gender equality lens is a way of looking at the work we do so as to identify ways of supporting the well being of women and men (boys and girls); taking special care to ensure inclusion of the full diversity of women.

Class Summary – September 27, 2012

For today’s class we discussed the response to the conditions created by industrialization in London and the response in Paris, how it was different and similar.

We began our discussion by summarizing Ferdinand Töennies article.  He saw the creation of an unstable social system and the role of the state as a coercive mechanism for cohesion.  We discussed the shift from a Gemeinschaft to a Gesellschaft, the dissolution of traditional ties and norms replaced by self-interests leading to an inherently unstable condition.

We then went on to discuss the role of self-interest in regards to poverty in London.  The middle and upper classes in London owned the means of production and the lower classes made up the main portion of the working class.  This division of classes led Töennies to become afraid of where industrialization was leading society.

Töennies is ‘building’ on the ideas of Marx and Engles in regards to industrialization.  Töennies was not against industrialization but supports the benefits of industrialization in terms of the workers.  Töennies seeks to give back to the people and focus on society not capitalism and ‘big business’.  Thereby the working class owns the means of production (the ability to produce wealth).  In summary, Töennies viewed the modern industrial city as exploitation of people.  Marx and Engles saw it as de-humanizing conditions that would create the state for revolution.

We later discussed different social scientists views of the city.

  1. Emile Durkheim – A French social scientist who had a more optimistic approach and disagreed with Töennies.  Durkheim disagreed with the idea that in modern industrial societies people rely on self-interest.  Durkiem believed the division of labour created a greater interdependence and fostered a better consciousness.  Industrialization should increase ties between people, thus he concluded that instead of having increased interconnectedness he identified ‘anomie’ whereby each individual becomes to feel more and more lonely.
  2. Georg Simmel – a German sociologist, theorized that modern life leads to nervous overstimulation and nervous exhaustion.  Intensification of urban stimuli – noise leads to feelings of indifference not caring about anything.
  3. Max Weber – another German sociologist approved of the city and what the city can do.  He views the city as a place of liberty and autonomy that came into being by a way to defend oneself from feudal society.

We also spent time examining the English response to the slums.  We discussed that the new residential neighbourhoods would be built on greenfield sites on the edge of counties.  The only downsides was the lack of existing infrastructure and transportation into the city.  By 1918 the Committee on Housing had met to discuss the building of suburbs on the green fields.

  • They concluded that the government had to be the main actor, they couldn’t rely on private enterprise.
  • They should build on cheap, undeveloped land near tramways.
  • Build a single family house per acre, making sure everyone has their own private lot that separates them from others.
  • Lastly, plans for the building needed to be approved by architects and local government.

Lastly, our discussion centered around Paris, specifically Hausmann’s Paris.  Following World War I there was a critical housing shortage.  Creation of the office of the Habitations à bon Marché (HBM).  Following the dismantling of a fortification that was built in 1844, a large amount of green space opened up after World War I.  Seeking refuge, the working class built ‘shanty’ towns around the city of Paris.  In this zone the HBM built garden cities and created community.