Political Conflicts over Hamburg’s Urban Spaces

The Hidden Principles of European Urbanity?

(Last modified August 2012)

Urban development is especially contested in Hamburg. The commercial strategy of the "growing city" whose paradigm has largely defined Hamburg's urban development policy over the past decade is encountering limits and contradictions. Since summer 2009 numerous political initiatives have joined together to oppose a development strategy dominated by attractiveness-enhancing initiatives and gentrification processes and demand instead a "right to the city for everyone." Reregulation attempts by political/administrative actors seeking to bolster the challenged legitimacy of urban planning by applying modified forms of participation are regularly trounced by interventions that deliberately transgress that frame of urban governance.

But what are the conditions for this antagonistic constellation to emerge? To answer that question this project examines the practices of urban development conflict. What actor-specific conceptions of (European) urbanity, urban planning, and urban space are actively involved in the struggle for the city, and what knowledge about the city, its inhabitants, and their "development"? These questions explore a field of power relations that is constituted by through institutionalization and intervention practices in which specific ideas of urbanity, political strategy, and technologies of knowledge production operate.

Using document analysis, participant observation, and qualitative interviews, this empirical study examines conflicts concerning two urban development projects initiated by political/administrative instances where neighborhood initiatives intervened in the planning process. It seeks to identify the conditions that make these conflicts possible and the knowledge repertoires that lead actors to propose or reject normative positions and political strategies. Attention is thus directed to actor-specific rationalities of urban planning and urban development policy as well as to normative ideas of the common good. The discursive figures of "urbanity," "participation," and "representation," along with the hierarchization of knowledge turn out to be central dimensions of the debate over the "good city" and its production. The issue revolves around on the situated knowledge and rationalities of action of the actors whose conflictual struggle shapes urban development. In the course of the conflict the temporary power constellations observed here alter and renew the specific structuring of the power field of urban development policy within the democratic capitalist city of Hamburg.