(Unwanted) Emotions As Vital for the Collective Production of the City: The Case of Park Am Gleisdreieck in Berlin, Germany
Flavia Alice Mameli
The influence of emotions is often neglected within the firmly structured and institutionalised planning processes of urban design. Labelled as unprofessional and highly individual, they are the elephant in the room when it comes to the everyday practices of building the city. Yet, analysing emotions sheds light on questions about the power and powerlessness of civil society in the collective production of urban space. Drawing on a case study of the Park am Gleisdreieck in Germany’s capital, Berlin, I investigate the paradoxical relationship between well-accepted tools for civil participation and a growing demand for the right to the city 1. This article reflects on emotions as necessary catalysts for the urban. I discuss how the inclusion of conflicts in the collective production of the city is vital to democratic urban planning processes.
Emotions as urban catalysts
The influence of emotions is often neglected in the firmly structured and institutionalised planning processes of urban development. Considered unprofessional and disregarded as highly individual 2, they are the elephant in the room in the everyday practices of building and appropriating the city. However, emotions greatly influence the collective production of the city. Psychology defines emotions as psychophysical movements that are triggered by the conscious or unconscious perception of an event or situation. An emotion is behavioural and variably expressed depending on the importance of the situation; it can be consciously perceived and—in contrast to affect—be influenced by various determinants 3. Urban design, especially open space planning, welcomes a range of positively-connoted emotions like relaxation, joy, and ease when creating specific spatial atmospheres 4. Other more negatively-connoted emotions like fear are also considered (and avoided) by designing “safe” spaces 5. When looking at renderings of future open spaces, one gets the impression that cities are designed as a habitat of well-being, togetherness and happiness. Yet, people experience so many other emotions as they go about their everyday practices of living in and appropriating the city. How do these other, possibly undesirable, emotions materialise in urban life?
In 2010, a wave of protest movements, now known as the Arab Spring, ignited global political forces. An outraged civil society protested against repressive living conditions and the regimes in their home states. These movements soon inspired the 15-M movement in Spain, and later, the Occupy Movement in North America. When Occupy Wall Street protestors occupied Zuccotti Park in New York City, the previously insignificant semi-public park in Manhattan was appropriated as the physical centre of a global protest movement. Similarly, in Istanbul, thousands of people gathered in Gezi Park for two months. This was not a random location from which to base Turkey’s nationwide protests. The general dissatisfaction with the Turkish government was expressed particularly well at this location, since the planned re-development of the park was part of the ongoing environmental destruction devastating Istanbul. Critique of the conservative Islamic ruling party’s authoritarian politics did not culminate in or around government buildings, but rather in public space, on the streets. Such examples show how the city – and its design and planning – has become the central site of negotiation for the right to civil participation. Presumably, challenging emotions like anger, unrest and belligerence expressed at the local level helped to raise international awareness about the right to the city as a human right 6. Contested open spaces like Zuccotti or Gezi Park are not only occupied urban spaces appropriated for protests; they represent the spatial materialisation of a range of emotions expressed by civil society.
Though the right to the city is now widely used by global activists with heterogeneous motives, the expression was first coined by French philosopher Henri Lefebvre 7, who generally understood it to be the right to a “different” and diverse city in which social justice and participation in civil society are collectively renegotiated. In his time, Lefebvre built on the anti-Fordist discourse motivating the student riots of 1968. The political scientist Margit Mayer and the geographer Christian Schmid 8 have noted that Lefebvre did not consider the right to the city to be a strictly legal right, but rather a criticism of Fordist industrial society and functionalist urban living environments. Lefebvre (among others) theorised what we now understand as the relational concept of space 9. His theory on space production consequently assumes that “social space is a social product” 10. The term product centres Lefebvre’s focus on practices and process-based, dynamic understandings of space. Applying this practice-based view to the everyday production of urban open spaces redefines our understanding of various actors’ roles. Traditional power relations between urban decision-makers and civil society are being democratically renegotiated. Civil activists and initiatives are now relevant stakeholders in the collective production of the urban—they offer new and controversial perspectives on “how things should be done”. To investigate the relationship between these “other” civil perspectives and emotions, this article examines the recent development of the Park am Gleisdreieck, a public urban space in Germany’s capital, Berlin.
The emergence of a citizens’ park
The story of the Park am Gleisdreieck is fascinating: 60 hectares of former inner-city wasteland were transformed into a much-lauded public park between 2006 and 2013. Caught in a paradoxical space between West Berlin and East Berlin (the railway still belonged to the East German “Reichsbahn” (German Empirical Railway), but the Gleisdreieck was located in West Berlin territory), the site became an urban industrial wasteland in the decades following World War II. Because of its seclusion, many special ruderal plant species were able to reappropriate the area. Yet, the “Gleisdreieck wilderness” attracted only researchers, eco activists and a handful of local residents who considered it an urban ecological treasure. These local citizens participated in four decades of resistance 11 to keep the site from being transformed into a city highway during West Berlin’s car-friendly infrastructural programmes of the 1970s and 1980s. Today, Gleisdreieck’s 32 hectares serve the public as a highly-visited park. Praised by the architectural and planning community as the “citizens’ park of the 21st century” 12, the Gleisdreieck Park undoubtedly offered much-needed green space to the surrounding neighbourhoods, connecting with other public parks to a “green belt” through Berlin. Needless to say, the development of the Gleisdreieck as a new open space also affects the surrounding neighbourhoods, leading to new conflicts of revaluation and displacement.
The Gleisdreieck case showcases the emotional snares that lie within the negotiation of public space. The open green space would not exist without civil activism and the planning and realisation process utilised a lengthy civil participation process. However, it also serves as a good example for the subtle neglect of rather unwanted needs and wishes of civil society.
This study, partly drawing on my doctoral research and mostly based on interviews conducted for the anthology Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin (see references), investigates how several decades of civil activism at the Gleisdreieck and a highly emotional debate influenced the subsequent planning and designing of the public park. The research design was inspired by a discourse analytical approach. According to Michel Foucault, discourses are a game of balance and power 13. Within discourses, actors can (de-)stabilise power relationships and strengthen or marginalise discourse positions. Applying this social-constructivist concept to the Gleisdreieck case complements the relational perspective on the production of space. I analyse the relationship between the debating stakeholders, practices of civil appropriation, and urban design. In my doctoral study, I evaluated numerous protocols, documentations of participatory activities and their evaluations, plans, renderings and private notes. Using the theoretical sampling approach, which was developed within grounded theory methodology 14 I structured all sources and statements along the most prominent lines of conflict between actors. What expectations did they have about civil involvement in this planning process? Which planning decisions were highly contested and why? Within this article, I mainly refer to the above-mentioned semi-structured interviews with most relevant stakeholders, from civil activists to administrators 15 to examine how the stakeholders expressed their arguments (and feelings) and how their positions materialised into the built space of the park. By looking at the details of this case, I discovered something I did not expect when starting my research: the importance of emotions as a mostly underestimated factor within planning debates.
Participation versus cooperation
The project to create a park, commissioned by the Berlin Senate Department for urban development and environment in 2005, utilised a participatory approach which was quite unique at the time. During a multi-stage participation process various tools encouraging citizens to express their needs and opinions were used. The (self-proclaimed) aim of the various participation formats was to ascertain the perceptions, attitudes and usage preferences of the civil public regarding the future park 16.
At the start of the process, in preparation for the two-phase landscape architectural competition to be launched, a postal survey of local residents was conducted using a questionnaire that had been tested in focus group interviews. Guided walks at the site were also offered on two days in 2005, after which those involved could contribute their ideas in workshops. Using the results of these first participation formats, an online forum—a so-called “discourse machine” 17— was established for interested citizens to present their ideas for the future park. The suggestions were edited into digestible bits of information and provided to the participants of the landscape architectural competition announced thereafter. In a second stage of the participatory process, interested citizens were invited to participate between the two stages of the competition as part of a “citizen participation weekend” in 2006. At a public exhibition of the 11 intermediate winners of the first phase, the citizens provided feedback on the architectural proposals and expressed their opinions in online letters. The Berlin-based landscape architectural office Atelier Loidl won the design competition with a plan that featured a dense array of activities (and initiatives) at the park’s borders and vast open spaces at its centre.
The “first-generation” activists, who had committed themselves to the Gleisdreieck since the 1970s, did not participate in these first two stages of participation. However, during the third stage, the so-called “project supporting group” (Projektbegleitende Arbeitsgruppe) was launched as a participatory tool. This group consisted of architects and planners, representatives of the aforesaid first-generation civil initiatives and administrative officers. The group met every two weeks for more than four years to monitor the planning and construction of the new park. The outcome of these meetings was regularly made public within so-called “planning forums”, additionally an onsite office was installed to be approachable during all planning phases.
By matching the “course of events” in the design and planning of the park with an analysis of the group protocols and other documents related to the participatory process, I uncovered a paradox within the Gleisdreieck debate led by the project-supporting group. Despite an elaborate participatory approach, the decision-makers only allowed emotions and arguments into the negotiations so long as they were “productive” and supporting the officially intended planning. This wicked and apparently unsolvable situation was often noted by the Gleisdreieck activists. Consequently, it is not surprising that various representatives of the civil initiatives involved in the project-supporting group suggested that it was never a truly cooperative planning process. As the following statement from a Gleisdreieck activist highlights:
- “In autumn 2007 we assumed civic participation to have failed completely (…). The Senate administration did still call it participation but we did not really have a say. It was obviously more a kind of participation that has been invented in neoliberal state schemes: You talk about it, but you do not actually practise it.” 18
The planning critic Klaus Selle calls such stalemates “particitainment” 18, a practice used to avoid “angry citizens” 19, by turning them into the compatible and creative partners that one wishes to listen to for prosperous urban development processes. One spatial materialisation of “controlled appropriation” at the Gleisdreieck might be the choice to build the skate bowls in the shadow of the park manager’s office. As the architect Philipp Oswalt outlines 20, while planners and investors usually see participation as a bureaucratic complication to their work, the residents and their representatives experience a frustrating powerlessness because while they can have a say, they cannot actually shape projects. On the contrary, Almut Jirku, the employee of the Senate Administration who was entrusted with the conception and implementation of the design competition, justifies the participation process as democratic “adjustment.” She notes, “that’s why we organised diverse civic participation, because it was clear that those doing all the talking belonged to a certain age and life-style group and were not speaking for everyone, even though they said they were” 21.
Although the Gleisdreieck activists were praised for their long-term endeavours by the Senate administration planning authority, an analysis of the project-supporting group’s bi-weekly protocols reveals that deeper involvement in the planning process of the future park was not automatically assumed. Although the activists clearly and repeatedly expressed their interests in both short- and long-term involvement—including caring for and co-managing the park—they were only given small “islands of autonomy” like allotment gardens and an intercultural garden project. This was a disillusioning experience for the activists, who relentlessly tried to integrate themselves as decision-makers at the Park am Gleisdreieck. As Matthias Bauer, a representative of the initiative Arbeitsgemeinschaft Gleisdreieck put it: “at Gleisdreieck park the visitor is a consumer. That works quite well, but anything that goes beyond consumerism doesn’t work here anymore and no one gets new ideas.” 22
Barbecues and flower beds
The first phase of the multistage participation process, before the landscape architectural competition was announced in 2005, reveals more about whose emotions were heard and legitimised within the Park am Gleisdreieck project. The outcomes of extensive surveys, focus group interviews, and workshops were sometimes surprising. The postal resident survey and the focus group interviews revealed that many residents with a migration background 23 such as Kreuzberg’s Turkish community, wanted the park to have open spaces that allowed public barbecues. Many of these residents also asked about fountains and other water features and favoured “representative planting” (e.g. in the form of flower beds). However, no one in the project-supporting group lobbied for these requests, so there are no barbecue areas, fountains, or representative flowerbeds in Gleisdreieck Park today. Of course, one could argue, with compelling facts, against these items. However, a critical assessment must question whether a true “citizens’ park of the 21st century” should have taken such desires into account.
The question of (il)legitimate claims within the Gleisdreieck planning process is closely connected to the emotions expressed within the project supporting group. These are partly documented in the bi-weekly protocols that circulated between the stakeholders and which were later reflected on by all the interviewees. Not only the activists (who are expected to be outraged, critical, or passionate) but also the administration, planners and others involved engaged in emotional discussions. Christoph Schmidt, the chief executive officer of Grün Berlin GmbH, the project developer for Park am Gleisdreieck, recalls his surprise at the situation:
- “To be honest, I was very surprised by the intense emotionality with which the topic of civic participation was dealt with. It came from locals who had known Gleisdreieck for a long time, had become fond of it and definitely considered it their own exclusive, very exciting and romantic location. The battle was fought at an incredibly emotional level. The question of whether we are called upon to open up a project in the name of public welfare and to offer a wider-scale participation, did not necessarily enhance goodwill on all sides. That was an especially remarkable experience for me. Up until then, I had not experienced urban society in that way and the to some extent aggressive tone at the beginning of the project was new to me.” 24
Schmidt’s comments reveal the normally understated role of emotions in participatory planning. They are considered an impediment to a smooth and professional process. Downplaying emotional positions became a strategic manoeuvre within the Gleisdreieck planning discourse. As the landscape architect, Leonhard Grosch reflects, “I consider sentimentality a bad adviser in planning matters” 25. Another landscape architect, Felix Schwarz, who managed the project, sympathised with the civil initiatives on a very personal level:
- “I could really understand the fear of loss that was voiced in the planning process. The previous location had many great qualities, but was very exclusive, only for the few. On a nice day you could see a handful of people walking their dogs. It was a kind of privilege – their own garden. A hidden location, a white spot on the map of Berlin. That did have a very special appeal. But it was clear: If this wonderful, undefined state is to be given a use and if the location is to be made accessible to many more people, then this level of quality can’t be kept up. All the same, I think it was right that an approach designed to make the area accessible and usable for a greater group of the population was given priority.” 26
Although his statement expresses much emotional empathy, it does not professionally consider the quality of the civil initiative suggestions. In fact, the initiative’s original concept was to transform Gleisdreieck into a public park for everyone—they just had a very different approach to the preservation of the ruderal vegetation and railway relics. The architect Leonhard Grosch interpreted this approach as follows:
- “The citizens thought sentimentally about the railway habitat. Nothing should be changed, no public, no opening of the park. Naturally, discussions were extremely difficult with this group. There was little or no interest in sports activities or similar things and interests were too narrow. There was a lack of participating citizens who were able to visualise the overall picture regardless of individual interests. Landscape architecture is, of course, a difficult subject, because everyone thinks they can join in the conversation. The necessity of expert knowledge and experience is often denied. Our work is often underestimated by the public.” 27
This statement outlines the lack of dialogue within the project supporting group and the “clash of cultures” between the representatives of the civil initiatives and the landscape architects. It also reveals an underlying fear of losing expert competence and status by listening closely to other perspectives. This fear of losing influence is directly addressed by landscape architect Bernd Joosten, who was part of the team:
- “And these are actually often colleagues. Not landscape architects, but architects and urban planners, who try to influence our work via civic participation. We had to watch out for this and at the beginning be at pains to avoid this, as it were, bilateral planning contact. We spoke a lot to the civic participants. What was missing were clear rules from the beginning. At first, everyone is allowed to say something, and that’s OK. But as soon as the planning phase starts, the rules must be made clear. When can they join in the debate and when can they not?” 28
The civil initiatives’ protests against redesigning the pre-existing wilderness into an urban open space might be objectionable when planning a public park, but they should be respected as valuable positions within the debate about the future open space.
The (previously unplanned) integration of a colony of allotment gardens on the Gleisdreieck that had existed since the early post-war years serves as another example of how emotions challenged the decision-makers’ planning process. In the original division of space for the future park, the gardens would be replaced by sports areas to compensate for an undersupply in the surrounding districts of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Tempelhof-Schöneberg. After strong opposition by the gardeners, with the help of civil initiatives and support from a benevolent district government, the allotment gardens were eventually integrated into the park. This saved numerous fruit-bearing trees and vegetation and opened space for a community-run “marketplace”, which includes a small café and serves as a meeting point for gardeners and others.
Conclusion: consensus kills
The Gleisdreieck case highlights a dilemma of contemporary urban planning processes. Participation tools are now widely accepted and much effort goes into understanding civil desires. However, as the analysis of the Gleisdreieck reveals, these participation tools do not necessarily reflect the social reality of a space. They do not capture people’s emotional and local attachments to a specific site.
Self-determined spatial productions have a permanent place in the city today. The spectrum of appropriation practices ranges from temporarily tolerated projects to actors who emancipate themselves into builders and owners (Berlin is a city with many of such initiatives). Nevertheless, institutional urban development still finds it difficult to adequately incorporate civil society’s self-determination into planning processes. The problem lies within the participatory tools themselves: civil participation methods are designed to find consensus, not equipped for controversial positions.
In this context, this paper foregrounds the often-neglected role of emotions in planning projects and the collective production of the urban. After years of intense struggles, losses, wins, and compromises, the (emotional) conflicts between various stakeholders (collective space producers) ultimately created new and productive ideas for the urban space. If planners and institutions had designed this public green space without these conflicts, some of these features would never have come to fruition. The debate about the Gleisdreieck park shows how emotions factor into every planning process. Details like the integrated allotment gardens reveal how initially undesirable emotions and claims can materialise into advantages. Ultimately, these “unwanted” emotions foster a truly democratic production of the urban—in the Lefebvrian sense, an oeuvre 29.
1. Lefebvre, H.(1996), “The right to the city”, in Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. (eds.), Writings on cities, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 158.
2. This statement is drawn from the author’s extensive research on Berlin’s commons and open spaces.
3. Puca, R. M. (2021).Dorsch. Lexikon der Psychologie [online]. Available at: https://dorsch.hogrefe.com/stichwort/emotionen [Accessed 14.06.2021].
4. Böhme, G. (2013). Atmosphäre. Essays zur neuen Ästhetik, Berlin: Suhrkamp.
5. Rother, J. (2020). Mit Landschaftsarchitektur gegen den Terror? [online] Stadt + Grün. Available at: https://stadtundgruen.de/artikel/mit-landschaftsarchitektur-gegen-den-terror-13886.html [Accessed 14.06.2021].
6. In 2016, UN Habitat, the United Nations settlement program, called for the right to the city in a new urban agenda. They defined it as a sense of an inclusive place worth living in for all people. United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III Policy Papers: Policy Paper 1 The Right to the City and Cities for All (New York: United Nations, 2017), www.habitat3.org [Accessed 14.06.2021].
7. Lefebvre, H. (1974). The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
8. Schmid, C. (2012): “Henri Lefebvre, the right to the city, and the new metropolitan mainstream”,in Brenner, N., Marcuse,P. and Mayer, M.: Citites for People, not for Profit: Critical Urban Theory and the Right to the City, p. 29.
9. Löw, M. (2000). Raumsoziologie. Berlin, suhrkamp.
10. Lefebvre, H. (1991).The Production of Space, Blackwell, p. 26.
11. There are numerous initiatives associated with the Gleisdreieck, some of the most important groups are: Bürgerinitiative Westtangente (BIW), founded 1973; Arbeitsgemeinschaft Gleisdreieck (AG Gleisdreieck), founded 1988; Interessengemeinschaft Gleisdreieck (IG Gleisdreieck), founded 1991; Aktionsgemeinschaft Gleisdreieck, (AG Gleisdreieck), founded 1998; Parkgenossenschaft Gleisdreieck, founded 2004.
12. Grosch, L. and Petrow, C. (2018). Designing Parks: Berlin’s Park am Gleisdreieck or the Art of Creating Lifely Places, Berlin: Jovis.
13. Foucault, M. (1966). The Order of Things. An archeology of the human sciences. Trans. Tavistock/Routledge, 1970; Keller, R. (2011). Wissensoziologische Diskursanalyse. Grundlegung eines Forschungsprogramms, Wiesbaden: Springer VS.s
14. Glaser, B. and Strauss, A.(2010). Grounded Theory: Strategien qualitativer Sozialforschung. Göttingen: Huber.
15. Some of these interviews have been published in Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript.
16. Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung (2005): Park auf dem Gleisdreieck Berlin. Offener landschaftsplanerischer Ideen- und Realisierungswettbewerb, Auslobung Teil 2 – Situation und Planungsgrundlagen, p.48.
17. An E-participation tool designed to open the discussion among interested Berliners via website chat and blog posts.
18. Selle, K. (2013). Über Bürgerbeteiligung hinaus. Stadtentwicklung als Gemeinschaftsaufgabe? Analysen und Konzepte, Detmold: Rohn-Verlag.
19. In Germany, these angry citizens are often called “Wutbürger”, a term that first became popular in the media during a large German railway project that was strongly opposed by local citizens. Rucht,D. (2010). Kurzbericht: Befragung von Demonstranten gegen Stuttgart 21 [pdf] Available at: https://protestinstitut.eu/projekte/demonstrationsbefragungen/befragung-stuttgart21/ [Accessed 9 May 2021].
20. Oswalt,P., Overmeyer,K. and Misselwitz,P. (Eds.)(2013) Urban Catalyst – Mit Zwischennutzungen Stadt entwickeln, Berlin: Dom Publishers.
21. Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript, p. 121.
22. Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript, p. 165.
23. The social structure of the surrounding neighborhoods is heterogeneous to this day. Compared to Berlin’s average, it is characterized by a high proportion of unemployed people, welfare recipients and citizens with a migration background, mainly of Turkish and Arab origin. [pdf] Available at: https://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/planen/basisdaten_stadtentwicklung/monitoring/download/2015/MonitoringSozialeStadtentwicklung2015.pdf [Accessed 13 July 2021].
24. Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript, p. 136.
25. Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript, p. 111.
26. Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript, p. 111.
27. Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript, p. 112.
28. Lichtenstein, A. and Mameli, F. (2015). Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin, Bielefeld: transcript, p. 112.
29. An oeuvre, for Lefebvre, meant understanding urban spaces as a common resource, where diversity and multiple perspectives are free to thrive. Lefebvre, H. (1974). The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991. Lefebvre, H.: “The Realization of Philosophy”, in: Kofman,E. Lebas,E. (eds.): Writings on Cities, p.175ff.
Flavia Alice Mameli graduated as product designer at the Berlin University of Arts and has worked in the field of design and architecture ever since. In 2015, she published an ethnographic and visual arts portrait of a former wasteland in the middle of Berlin: Gleisdreieck / Parklife Berlin (transcript Verlag Bielefeld, together with landscape architect Andra Lichtenstein). Currently she is a PhD candidate and scholarship holder at the School of Architecture, Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Kassel. Flavia’s research interests lie in the intersection of (landscape) architecture, design theory and urban studies, particularly focusing on the role of designers.
Volume 5, no. 2 Jun-Dec 2022