The American newscaster David Brinkley, a man well acquainted with controversy, once said: “A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her.”
Indeed, when standing amongst the rubble that lies in the wake of controversy, one has two options: to let it lie in heaps and mourn the mess, or use it to build something stronger than what was once there.
I am a believer in the latter option, which is why I see great opportunity in the discussion that has begun in the past few weeks in Berlin.
As most of you reading this likely know, to say that the Lab’s forthcoming presence in Berlin has been politicized would be a gross understatement. Indeed, the Lab has found itself as the spark reigniting debates everywhere, from neighborhood cafes to newspapers and even parliament, about some of the most important and urgent issues in Berlin today, namely housing affordability and gentrification.
The Lab has not yet opened in Berlin and begun tackling these issues there, but with such an important discussion already started, it would be a wasted opportunity not to join in right away.
Gentrification and affordability are by no means new problems. Nor are they problems unique to Berlin. Exact English translations of the antigentrification slogans I have seen spray painted in the streets of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain can regularly be found lacquered onto the garage doors of new houses and pasted onto the lampposts of my own neighborhood in Vancouver. They grace bathroom stalls in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In Mumbai, the Lab’s next stop, dhobis (washermen) face off against heartily backed foreign condo investors in a David-versus-Goliathesque battle for the land they work on, now priced higher than land in Manhattan.
But despite the ubiquity of these problems, their roots differ greatly in each city. In Berlin, as in other cities, they are old debates in new clothes, and in order to productively partake in a forward-looking discussion about these things, context is essential.
And so over the coming weeks before the Lab opens on its new site in Prenzlauer Berg, I’m looking forward to using the Lab | Log as a platform to do just that—to explore and better understand the past and present of gentrification, rising rents, and other affordability-related issues in Berlin.
I won’t kid myself and pretend that I’m going to find a one-size-fits-all solution here and now. I would argue that issues around affordability are some of the largest, most debated, and most present issues happening in large cities around the world today. But they are also some of the most complicated. If the answers were simple, we would have already implemented them.
I simply hope that this will be a space for thoughtful and constructive discussion with those who care deeply about these issues, who can provide personal insight, help me learn, and learn with me.
There will be readers who write off this post and refuse to partake in this discussion. You might squirm with discomfort at the idea of engaging in meaningful debate with those under the name of the project at the center of this current controversy. But in the spirit of the Lab’s theme, Confronting Comfort, I challenge you to push past any preconceived ideas that you might have about how this conversation might go, and help to shape what it becomes.
Together, let’s take this opportunity to use the bricks around us to build something that will help us understand how life in Berlin might be a realistic future for those who really want it.
Photos: Christine McLaren.