Rethinking neighbourhood: overcoming polarization through participation!

An analysis of the social components of the development project

In the near future, 1.600 apartments will spring up from the abandoned land at Bayerischer Bahnhof. A district park is to be created whereas a school campus, an elementary school, and a daycare center will emerge. Moreover, high-rise office buildings will fill the area in front of MDR. Ask the people in the neighbourhood about these plans: Yes, they had heard about it. But they don’t know any more details. If they could participate in designing their new neighborhood? They were not sure. The media discourse revolves around the new plans of the investors and the city – but what about the demands and the participation of the residents? And the future residents of the new quarter? After all, for whom is the planned urban space, if not for them?

In our previous article “Where are the people between Südvorstadt and Südost?” we reported of the low appropriation of space. As explanatory factors we suspected polarization and a lack of social networking in and between the adjacent neighbourhoods and of platforms for participation. To verify the theses we examined the city statistics and got in direct contact with the people who currently use the space – and we were able to confirm them.

So what does the neighbourhood expect from the project on its doorstep? And: who is the neighbourhood anyway?

The social structure of the adjacent neighbourhoods

Südvorstadt (own recording) and Zentrum-Südost

The district report and the statistics information system reveal what characterizes “Südvorstadt” and “Zentrum-Südost”.

Südvorstadt: Young, Employed, Well-earning, Single

In 2019, 26,019 people lived in the Südvorstadt at a density of 10,922 inhabitants per km2, while the average for Leipzig is only 2,038. So the Südvorstadt is a large and densely populated district – and still a fairly young one. In 2019 the average age in Leipzig is 42.4 years and in Südvorstadt 36.5 years. We can connect this characteristic to other specific data: In 2017, 58.9% of unmarried people lived in Südvorstadt, which is about 17% more than in Leipzig. Finally, it seems that the standard of living in Südvorstadt is higher than in Leipzig in general. Indeed the median income is 1,866 euros per month in 2019, which is almost 400 euros more than the average income in Leipzig.

Zentrum-Südost: Living alone and studying

The bordering quarter to the east is Zentrum-Südost. With 14,281 inhabitants, this district is also one of the larger ones in Leipzig. The number of 1-person households is striking: with 71.4% is it significantly higher than the city average. Once more we can relate this to the fact that the population of Zentrum-Südost consists of 20% students, which is above average by Leipzig standards. This in turn could be due to the fact that 4 of the 16 student dormitories of the Studierendenwerk Leipzig are actually in this district. In general, there is also a comparatively young population with a majority of single families. Meanwhile, the average net income of 1,230 euros per month is below the Leipzig average.

The districts in comparison

A direct comparison of Zentrum-Südost and Südvorstadt shows that both districts are home to comparatively young and single residents. In Südvorstadt, there are still more multi-person households, while in Südost there is an enormous proportion of 1-person households. We can explain this, among other things, by more shared apartments in Südvorstadt and the many student dormitories in Südost. Significant differences also exist in the average net income, which in Südost is only 66% of the level in Südvorstadt, and in employment. While the employment rate in Südvorstadt exceeds the Leipzig figure by a full 12%, it is below average in Südost. However, we can explain it this time by the proportion of students. Rents in both districts are below average for Leipzig and at a similar level.

Figure 1: Key figures for Leipzig, Südvorstadt and Südost. Own illustration. Sources: Ortsteilkatalog 2018 & Leipzig-Informationssystem (status: 12.12.2020). Data from Leipzig-Informationssystem are from 2017 and 2019, as indicated.

Where does the journey lead to?

This first detailed analysis can give an overview of the actual social structure of the districts Südvorstadt and Zentrum-Südost. In order to be able to imagine the future development of these districts, it is necessary to take a look at their past development.

Population growth, but unevenly distributed

As well as the population trend in Leipzig (+11,7%), the number of inhabitants in Südvorstadt has been rising steadily for years. However, in percentage terms, the increase is less strongly than in the city as a whole. On the other hand, the neighbourhood Zentrum-Südost had a population gain of more than 25% from 2012 to 2017. Along with Neustadt-Neuschönefeld, Volkmarsdorf, and Lindenau, it is thus one of the districts with the largest increase in population.

Figure 2: Population development of the city of Leipzig.
Figure 2: Population development of the city of Leipzig (status: 14.12.2020).

Südvorstadt booming

The average income in Südvorstadt, as in Leipzig as a whole, has risen continuously since 2011. Still, you will notice that there has been a significant raise of the level since 2015 (see Figure 3). In the meantime, rents remained well below the rents in the city as a whole (see Figure 4), despite steady growth from € 5.20 per month and square meter in 2011 to € 6.71 in 2019. If you compare income growth and the increase in rent payments, the gap widens – in favor of the available money.

median income statistics
Figure 3: The increase in income between 2011 and 2019 in Leipzig (on average), Südvorstadt und Südost. Own illustration. Source: Leipzig-Informationssystem (status: 12.12.2020).

Zentrum-Südost: A Loser in Comparison?

Base rents tended to be above the Leipzig average from 2011 to 2017, but have now been significantly outpaced during the jump in city average rents from 2017 to 2019. Meanwhile, the increase in the already below-average personal net income in Südost has lagged even further behind that of the city of Leipzig since 2015. Compared to Südvorstadt, we thus find slightly higher rents here, while incomes are below average. Moreover, the income gap is widening over time clearly. These findings from the social structure analysis reveal first fragmentations.

median rent statistics
Figure 4: Development of basic rents from 2011 to 2019 in Leipzig, Südvorstadt und Südost. Own illustration. Source: Leipzig-Informationssystem (status: 12.12.2020).

This is how residents see their neighbourhoods

In order to capture the voices of the people living in the urban space, we interviewed the users of abandoned land, which forms the interface between the two parts of the city. Among other things, we asked them how they perceived the adjacent neighbourhood. The respondents gave very similar answers. Former students and young families are marking the upscale Südvorstadt, while a lot of prefabricated housing, students, and older people are characterizing Zentrum-Südost. People also perceive a change in the quarters:

Tina Ullmann, 22 years (name changed, repeated from the original)

No one sees social conflicts in or between the communities. People appreciate the open space and they behave respectfully toward each other. For instance, people get quickly into conversation through the dogs – the district is completely insignificant here. Otherwise there is a clear separation between the two districts – to such an extent that they are “like two worlds.” This makes the potential of the abandoned land particularly: it is the point of contact between Südvorstadt and Südost – and could become the integrative part through common platforms and a reduction of the socio-economic divide.

The co-existence

If you ask people about this, however, they are sceptical in this aspect. Indeed, hardly anyone expects a strong community, rather, co-existence and social polarization will remain or be reinforced. On the one hand by the expected rent increases and displacement processes. On the other hand by the different social conditions of the residents of the expensive new buildings and the social housing as well as the students and the families. They also expressed the fear of a new, segregated quarter:

Marion Schubert, 35 years (name changed, repeated from the original)

Listening in: What residents appreciate in the area and want for the future

There was consensus on most points among those we interviewed. Many appreciate the large amount of open space that currently exists in the area, the expanse and the disorder. And they would like it to stay that way. Dog owners, for example, see the place as one of the few places where they can be outside undisturbed and with plenty of space. Others like the fact that there is wild nature here. It’s outstanding in contrast to many very urban and landscaped parks: not all possibilities are pre-structured. People have often stressed the importance of such open spaces, including for community activities:

Jenny Panzer, 23 years (name changed, repeated from the original)
Rainer Hübner, 40 years (name changed, repeated from the original)

However, in parts people also expressed understanding for the planned development of the area. In particular, the construction of social housing, the schools and the daycare center enjoys acceptance. On the contrary, people widely rejected the fact that further areas would be lost for the construction of high-priced apartments (planned average rent: 12.50 euros). Concrete wishes for the design of the area were numerous and various: a dog run, community gardens, restoration of the old factory buildings, good traffic connections between the quarters and in general for cyclists. Finally a community repair workshop that all residents can use with low hurdles.

Participatory planning? Missing!

Finally, the question arises how the respondents articulate their demands and how they can exert influence. Participation in the transformation process can take on various dimensions: information and participation in the debate, active instruments such as petitions and, at best, participation in decision-making itself.

Information as a condition

Our on-site interviews paint the following picture: Only one person knew more about the project. Almost two-thirds had heard about the project in general terms, the rest knew nothing. If information is seen as an important condition for participation, the first deficiencies become visible here. This could theoretically result from both a lack of interest and a lack of transparency. Either way, the target group of planning, which should ultimately be the people of the city, hears very little about the planning itself. Thus the point is to know whether an urban culture planning complies in this context with the principles of inclusion and participation?

Abandoned land at Bayrischer Bahnhof view from the Zentrum Südost (own photo)
Abandoned land of Bayrischer Bahnhof view from the Zentrum-Südost (own photo).

The feeling of not being heard

The point became clearer when asked if there is a feeling of being able to participate in the design of the room and the neighbourhood. The actually unanimous answer: No. Some respondents blamed themselves for not getting enough information. Most of them clearly stated that as a local resident you would not be heard and that they don´t know how to participate. They obviously don´t perceive the citizen forums that have taken place so far as an opportunity to participate. They actually correspond to informal events without a fixed opportunity to participate in decision-making.

An active approach of the planners to the population was desired, from the community survey by the city to the transfer of decision-making and design competencies. It would be important to have contact persons and low-threshold platforms. Openly accessible spaces that would enable communication and exchange among the population and between them and the planners are also necessary:

Marion Schubert, 35 years (name changed, repeated from the original)

Our survey can´t claim to be representative. But it´s striking that such a clear trend emerges from this small view into the field.

Towards an inclusive neighbourhood

Now, on the basis of these analyzes, the question is how an inclusive neighbourhood and participatory urban society can be conceived. By these slogans, we mean a space that is accessible to everyone. It provides transparency, openness and freedom from any kind of displacement and discrimination. Furthermore, it has to allow open-ended spaces and to encourage participation.

Participation through co-determination and autonomy

If you consider the population growth in both parts of the city, it is not surprising that a new urban quarter is to be built on the open space. However, the wishes of the residents should be considered! Addressing and listening to their concerns is necessary for ensuring an inclusive space. The specific ideas of the residents for both the green spaces and the built-up areas should directly flow into the planning process. For the design of the open spaces, this also seems realistic with the use of suitable participation instruments. Transferring the areas to a local association for the creation of self-governed areas (such as the desired community gardens or the repair workshop) would be possible.

Dog meeting place of abandoned land at Bayerischer Bahnhof, own photo.
Dog meeting place of abandoned land at Bayerischer Bahnhof (own photo).

A city administration for the people

In order to influence the built-up areas, the existing ownership structure seems to be obstructive. The areas are privatized and the investors want to earn as much as possible with the development. Thus the higher proportion of social housing desired by the population as well as the rejection of high-priced apartments do not seem real. However, these demands would be very justified if the goal of an urban space that connects neighbourhoods is pursued. The statistical analyzes of the widening income gap between the two districts also support this. However, the city administration has the final word here with the approval of the development plans. Well, it could increase the pressure on the investors. First of all, it could broadly involve the residents. Next, it could formulate their demands with effective media coverage.

Further urban planning instruments, such as the use of conservation statutes, would be possible. Milieu protection, for example, could include measures against luxury buildings and rental price increases. Because the high future rents in the new quarter will raise the rent index for the neighbouring quarters too, massively increasing rents there and leading to displacement processes. Corresponding statutes are necessary in order to ensure access to the quarter for everyone.

Participation through networking

Finally, spaces for information and networking should be created for the local population. Increased information and permanent communication between administration and local contact persons are necessary. Neighbourhood centers and surveys can be useful additions to the desired self-organized rooms. To include the people in all decisions affecting the neighbourhood in an active approach of participation has to become a matter of course.

You will find our conceptual implementation for the Lößniger Piazza in our following article “Lößniger Piazza – space for community!“.

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