Antwort von Saskia Sassen auf Offenen Brief

Saskia Sassen, Stadtforscherin und Mitglied des IBA-Kuratoriums, hat auf den offenen Brief des AKU geantwortet. Ihrer Bitte, die Antwort zu veröffentlichen, kommen wir an dieser Stelle nach, eine Kommentierung folgt. Nur soviel vorweg: Leider enthält der Brief für uns nicht viel Neues –

To AKU: Response to open letter by Saskia Sassen (New York, July 26, 2013)

Thank you for your letter. I know you care about the issues you raise, and have devoted much of your time to struggle for housing justice, neighborhood justice, the right to the city.  I am taking your letter seriously, and I will address each of your major points. So I ask from you an equally careful reading of each of my points. My hope is this becomes a conversation that can advance this discussion.

First just as a clarification, most of what I have said, including in the intv with TAZ was about Wilhelmsburg Insel, not about Hamburg – I will use “Hamburg” here to designate the city minus the Insel.

Second, as I have said many times: yes, in Hamburg there has been much gentrification (so please do not say that I said there is “no talk of gentrification in Hamburg.” I also tried to make this clear with the TAZ interviewer, but it seems Hamburg was used rather than Wilhelmsburg Insel (I am not sure how that worked out in the German publication given that you also keep using Hamburg quoting me about items I was saying for Wilhelmsburg, not “Hamburg”, but I certainly emphasized that distinction!!).

Third, IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION: My role as member of the advisory board meant coming twice a year for 2 days over a period of 6-7 years! …In German the word curate might have a slightly different meaning. In English a “curator” is a person who does far more work and has far more direct responsibility than an Advisory Board –a curator is in charge of the project. So, no, I did NOT “curate” the IBA! We the Board played a role, and our opinions were taken seriously. But this was far too complex a project for an Advisory Board to direct: IBA was allocated 61 sites on the Insel, almost all including very technical environmental innovations.)

Fourth, and this is really what matters most, and is the substantive issue that moves me in writing this letter, is my concern with the need to upgrade and detoxify vast stretches of poor areas in cities all around the world, certainly in New York. I do not know German cities so perhaps you have solved this issue, and your poor areas are simply modest/poor, not toxic and degraded. But the Insel had a vast stretch of toxic land, and it has housing areas that could stand some upgrading.  Further, I think that bringing good architecture, and environmentally smart technologies for water and light, is good, also for modest income areas.

I admire what Sergio Fajardo (just to take one of many such cases in the world) did in Medellin when he was mayor: build beautiful libraries and play areas in poor neighborhoods– very poor areas, usually referred to as “slums.” His aim was not to gentrify. His aim was guided by a core belief: that the poor deserve and can appreciate good architecture and good urbanism, and advanced technical systems to ensure environmentally sustainable supply of water and electricity.

In short the big challenge is how do we upgrade, detoxify, and raise the environmental sustainability of it all….. without producing gentrification. Perhaps I am too idealistic, but I refuse to accept that all upgrading is inevitably going to be gentrification and evict the more modest residents and shops.

Is our only option to live in fear of gentrification? No. We cannot sacrifice the possibility of upgrading and detoxifying poor areas. But it must be done with care, and recognizing the threats, and yes, it may well bring some increases in costs for residents, but the effort should be to keep them as low as possible, rather than simply accept: “we better do nothing because otherwise we do gentrification.”

When I accepted to be part of the IBA advisors board, this is what I saw, given the leadership of the project: the possibility of doing and demonstrating that upgrading poor housing and detoxifying land and bringing in high quality technical systems could be good for local residents, that it did not have to be gentrification. I saw the possibility of showing NO, this will not be gentrification, and we will NOT be terrified by the actors involved in gentrification. It is time to fight back, not with protests and fear of change, but by upgrading and detoxifying, and making life better for the current residents. I saw the IBA as a tool to pursue upgrading without gentrification. Why give it away. On the contrary use it to do a good job.

I thought ironically this could actually happen because quite a bit of evidence seems to suggest that most Hamburgers have never been in the Insel ( except for the Garden show, which is a totally different, and temporary situation), and seem to be completely disinterested in the Insel, and know almost nothing about it. Many of the politicians we brought to the Insel  had never really been there. Idem for many of the students from Hamburg I talked to at one or another event.  The reaction SUGGESTED “that is not a place we go to” and that they reacted as if I must be crazy to want to spend 6 years on a board overseeing work in the Insel???? So, yes, I saw the IBA in the Insel as an opportunity to do upgrading without the invasion of fancy people.

Your criticisms of the IBA focus a lot on The “Weltquartier.” I found it a good initiative, carefully designed to avoid gentrification. The units were upgraded and the original inhabitants returned with a very small increase in the rent –recall this is to some extent public money …thus a bit of return to the public bursary is somewhat ok.

So given my hope about the IBA, I was very concerned about your letter,  that the rent went up 20% per square meter in the upgraded units.

But checking the data, it is not 20%. Basically:

1) It is under 1 euro per sq. meter.

2) This low increase is binding for 30 years;

3) Plus, given the renovation, occupants will be paying less for energy consumption.


1) 2007: Average rent before IBA: € 5,12 per square meter

2013: Average rent After IBA is   € 5,65 per square meter.

2014 (when the full renovation is done : there will be : 743 units, 2.000 inhabitants, and average rent: € 5,70 per square meter.

2) VERY IMPORTANT, THESE rents ARE FIXED (german: Mietpreisbindung)  for 30 years (!) in all flats in the Weltquartier.

3) Furthermore, as part of the upgrading residents will spend less on heating: the heating costs should decrease from € 1,30/per sq meter to € 0,90 per sq meter. The monitoring and research of these costs is organized by researchers from 2 universities –from Hamburg and from Braunschweig.

HERE SOME MORE INFORMATION. I also attach the letter IBA sent to all Weltquartier inhabitants about their future rent.

A few more items you raise in your detailed letter.

You say I kept repeating the IBA was not about gentrification. Yes, I did. But why? Because the journalist basically had one question, and she asked it over and over again: “is this not gentrification” dressed in many different clothes, but still, always the same issue. In the email follow up I urged her to make it an interview, not a single questions, and actually helped her. She was smart, but clearly was asking one question over and over. I have done many interviews, but rarely one like this. Indeed, if anyone saw my tweet at the time the Intv came out you would have read my “this was hard work, combat all the way..” Indeed the interviewer knew there was something not completely right since she suggested at some point, perhaps it is best not to publish the intv. And I said,”No, you are a journalist, even if the person you are interviewing does not like the interview at all, you publish it.” I support journalism: it has a very important role, even if, as in this case, I find there are too many sliding meanings…or perhaps it is your letter that made the meanings slide. I did not read the final German version—I never read my interviews or books after they are done… there is too much work to do.

Again, what matters most to me is the challenge of upgrading and detoxifying without enabling gentrification.

Saskia Sassen, New York, July 26 2013

 Attachement Weltquartier:

Quote: Die BewohnerInnen wurden während der Sanierungsphase überwiegend in anderen Wohnungen untergebracht.

  • Yes, the discriminations during the building process would have been harmful and noisy.
  • 4% got a flat on the Elbe island – with great effort by SAGA GWG. The other 16% wanted to leave Wilhelmsburg and the former highly dilapidated Weltquartier (*see attachment 1)

Ein unbekannter Anteil der BewohnerInnen ist wieder in das noch unabgeschlossene Bauprojekt zurückgezogen.

  • 100% had the possibility to move back and were asked this question in 2007.
  • 65% said in this first interview, that they want to move back (without having seen the new flats and gardens).
  • 50% said right before their move, that they want to move back, mostly because they want to move only once.
  • No more than a week ago one person moved back, although he said in 2007 that he doesn´t want to.
  • One example: In more than 90% of the flats, which we finished between 2009 and 2012, people (from 25 nationalities) lived in the Weltquartier before.

Diese Menschen erhalten dann neue Mietverträge, die nach unseren Recherchen bei der m2-Kaltmiete um bis zu 20 Prozent über den alten Mietpreisen liegen. 

  • 2007 (before): 800 units, 1.700 inhabitants, 31 nationalitites,
  • average rent: € 5,12/qm
  • 2013 (now): 500 units, 1.350 inhabitants, 25 nationalities,
  • average rent: € 5,65/qm
  • 2014 (finished): 743 units, 2.000 inhabitants, average rent: € 5,70/qm
  • Due to the passive house standard in the new buildings and the energy efficient reconstruction in other houses, the heating costs should decrease from € 1,30/qm to € 0,90/qm. A monitoring, guided by two universities from Hamburg and Braunschweig, researches those costs at the moment.
  • •          The fixation of the rents (german: Mietpreisbindung) runs for 30 years (!) in all flats in the Weltquartier.
  • •          See *attachment 2 -> an information letter to all the inhabitants with their future rents.

Im Gegensatz zu dem, was Sie behaupten, haben sich zunächst sehr viele MieterInnen der Kündigung ihrer Mietverträge verweigert

  • After the finishing of the show flat and the communication of the future rents (see above) there were less than ten people who didn´t want to move out.

Denn eine Beteiligung der MieterInnen beim Gesamtkonzept des Umbaus dieses Quartiers hat an keiner einzigen Stelle stattgefunden.

  • Sorry, but this one is a cheeky lie.
  • With great effort, multilingual students, international workshops, tri-lingual letters and information brochures etc. we achieved a very high standard of participation.
  • One example: See the attached plan (*attachment 3) from the international workshop in 2007, which later became part of the architectural competition in 2009. And compare this to the situation today – most of the wishes are implemented. The pavillon ist the only IBA-project which is financed by IBA by 100%!

Zur Transparenz: Ein „attachment 3“ war in Saskia Sassens Mail nicht enthalten.

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