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State Recedes, Civil Society Steps Up

 

This sixth issue of What’s Shaking focuses on Germany and its SEiSMiC network. For at least the last two decades, Germany has seen a “withdrawal of the state”, as have other countries in Europe. This might be more neutrally described as a “slimming down of the state”, or, more positively, even as the “activating state”. In any case, the crucial point is the decline in social involvement by the state, while civic involvement is clearly on the rise.

Grassroots initiatives have emerged all over Germany, reclaiming and trying to revive urban spaces. How these initiatives organise themselves and what consequences they have, especially for (collaboration with) city administrations, are key issues for the German SEiSMiC network: It is, at its core, about conditions for good life in cities and patterns for co-creating urban space.

It is obvious to German network members that top-down approaches in urban development are a thing of the past. On the other hand, bottom-up approaches also seem to have seen better days. However, everyone agrees that tensions exist between city-organised participatory planning and development versus self-organised civil initiatives. Debates in the German network have brought up a number of new perspectives, concepts and ideas about valuing and seeing cities differently.

Another issue that has casually come up is the use of mapping for collecting, providing and visualising data. With the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, innovative forms of providing information for refugees and volunteers have been developed, most often using maps as their central feature. Our article on this issue showcases some related projects, including an especially promising initiative by a German network partner.

In urban research, alternative forms of production and consumption are a hot topic, with more and more initiatives striving for fairer and more sustainable models. Research has not yet provided an adequate overview of this transformative movement. A member of the German network introduces a grassroots effort to establish an open pool of data to locate transformative initiatives. He invites urban researchers to engage with citizens through action research to co-produce a relevant knowledge commons.

Brownfields, abandoned buildings and other unused urban sites have long characterised city landscapes. However, only in recent years has the role of city administrations and governments in the revitalisation of such areas been challenged so forcefully by people with innovative and often very different urban planning ideas. A member of the German network portrays and promotes re:Kreators, an association that brings together civic developers and pioneering initiatives with various backgrounds and from across Europe. In the belief that urban dynamics are similar from one European city to the next, re:Kreators focuses on the exchange of practices and expertise behind the collaborative development of previously malfunctioning areas.

More news of recent SEiSMiC activity comes from the UK network. The partner Firesouls announces the pilot of the Social Value Exchange Platform, a project that brings together traditional government suppliers and local civic projects with the aim of adding social value to publicly tendered products and services. More background on Firesouls is available here.