Citizens against Google in Berlin are missing the bigger picture. And missed the opportunity for a new model of ‘Collaborative Corporativism’.
The creation of a disruptive collaborative model between a corporation like Google and the citizens would have proven the dynamism of Berlin and it would have opened a window for other companies to follow suit. I call it ‘Collaborative Corporativism’.
News and opinion articles about the reversal of Google’s plans for a new campus in the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg in Berlin have been flowing the past few weeks.
To me it seems like most of them enjoy celebrating a victory against the odds over a big corporation taking over the city. The main concern shared by those who opposed the Google Campus in Berlin was the gentrification of the neighbourhood.
However, gentrification in Berlin like in many other popular cities is still on the rise, with or without the Googles. Affordable housing is a much more complex problem that require Governments, Municipalities and citizens to come up with disruptive ideas and solutions. The clock is ticking and we are running out of time. Google’s decision to cancel the campus project did not stop the clock in Berlin either.
Some have claimed that Google would be welcomed differently if it would move to the outskirts of the city or to a less-hip district. Although, I think the bottom line would be the same. Let’s face it. Students, employees or any other actors around the Google campus would be likely to move to Kreuzberg anyway since it is one of the hippest neighbourhoods in the city; just adding another drop into the gentrification process.
The fact is, Berlin is sexy but not so poor anymore (as former mayor Klaus Wowereit once coined the city) and global citizens just want to move in. And most of them can afford higher rent prices than the locals.
Kreuzberg has already been under considerable stress even before Google announced the campus project. The German newspaper ‘Der Tagesspiegel’ already reported alarming high rent prices in 2008.
The Kreuzberg neighbourhood is unique and complex. Some areas are not called ‘Kiez’ for nothing (like the well-known Bergmannkiez). But what is really a ‘Kiez’? A ‘Kiez’ is an area not defined by the municipality or government, but rather by the inhabitants, and therefore doesn’t necessarily coincide with administrative divisions.
Even a Study of the Humbolt University in Berlin couldn’t agree on one definition: “The ‘Kiez’ is a local discourse and arises primarily in the direct exchange of a group of city dwellers. The participation is open and individually different, but can also take an organised form. “ or “The name of the ‘Kiez’ also gives me a sense of pride that an individual feels for the environment with which he can identify.”
I do believe that the best neighbourhoods are unique and an endangered species, and they must be preserved. But they also have to reinvent themselves and adjust to the new challenges and conditions that each period brings with itself. Kreuzberg has already done that throughout its history. People in cities, which have been ravaged by wars or terrorism, use their creativity in a more inclusive way.
Out of this drive for creativity and urban resilience, the extraordinary happens.
In 1941 in der Methfesselstraße (Kreuzberg), Konrad Zuse, the “Father of the Computer”, built the world’s first fully operational program-controlled electro-mechanical digital computer.
The interest of Google in Kreuzberg would have been a golden opportunity for the neighbours of Kreuzberg to boost a model based on the flourishing collaborative spirit; how a campus could have looked like in Berlin’s model that cares about the community where it operates.
They would have sent a message to the corporate world that companies are part of the communities where they live, and they must build up a relationship that has been neglected for such a long time.
And it would have proved that Berlin is a dynamic, edgy and progressive city that definitely plays by its own rules.