Squatters Take on the Creative Class Who Has the Right to Shape the City?

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Part 4: Change without Unrest


In Toronto, Florida, who prefers to be called Rich, is wearing a pale denim shirt and motorcycle boots. His face is still tanned from a recent visit to Miami. He makes double espressos in the large, open kitchen at the institute where he works, and gives a brief lecture on Karl Marx. The large windows offer a view of Toronto in the snow.

Florida set up the institute, which is affiliated with the University of Toronto, three years ago, calling it the Prosperity Institute. One of its goals is to examine the issues that relate to how people live together, questions like: "What can we do to enable cities to change without triggering unrest?"

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Photo Gallery: Hamburg's Polemic Makeover

His staff of 20, which includes geologists, economists and social scientists, study capitalism and how the conditions under which it exists have changed at a time when the Western economy is no longer sustained by physical labor in factories, but by intellectual and creative work.

Florida has devised a number of tools for cities, including the "three Ts formula," which he insists cities should never forget: technology, talent and tolerance. He has developed a "creativity index," a "gay index" and a "Bohemian index," which he says should be used to evaluate cities.

"But the point is not to simulate these values," he says. "The point is to have them. You can't put a T-shirt with a catchy slogan on a fat man and suddenly claim that he's cool. I've never talked about marketing in any of my books. And I don't want to provide any recipes for gentrification."

Blurred Distinctions

But it is precisely the fact that Florida does not provide precise instructions on how to transform cities that troubled Björn Bloching, the head of the Hamburg office of Roland Berger, from the start. These concerns prompted him to sit down with his team of management consultants and try to figure out how to make the Toronto guru's principles applicable to Hamburg. In the end, not much came of their efforts.

In the meantime, Hamburg has given up its "City of Talent" slogan. Trends, it seems, are quick to come and go in the city's administration. "That was the last government's slogan," says one city official. The guiding principle of the current CDU/Green coalition is "Growth with Foresight," with growth being the CDU's goal and foresight the Greens'.

Bloching was disappointed, because he had believed that he could help Hamburg turn itself into a city of talent. But then he had another new idea.

He meets SPIEGEL for an 8 a.m. breakfast in a hideous Hamburg designer hotel. He parks his bike outside the hotel, and his casual black wool sweater makes him look like someone who has just cycled over from the Gängeviertel. He is living proof that the distinctions between members of the protest movement and the establishment have become blurred, more than 40 years after the late 1960s, when the leftist protest culture first became an identifiable presence in Germany.

Christine Ebeling, the spokeswoman of the Gängeviertel squatters, reveals the same blurred distinctions between the groups. With her high heels, black nylons and business skirt, she looks more like someone who might be working for Roland Berger.

Bloching says that he met her recently at a spaghetti dinner that takes place regularly and is an institution among Hamburg's cultural elite. Bloching and Ebeling are officially adversaries: he, the management consultant and turbo-capitalist, advising the city on how upgrade its neighborhoods, she, the artist and squatter who helped force the city to change its plans for the Gängeviertel.

High Horse

"But she seems completely reasonable," says Bloching, recalling the time when he suggested to her that Roland Berger, the consulting firm, open an office in the Gängeviertel. Now that would be something. It was nothing but an idea, one which he has since discarded, but it shows how blurred the boundaries have become between super-capitalism and squatting.

"It would have been brilliant in the Gängeviertel," says Bloching. "We would have set up an open space, handed out grants to artists and had artists-in-residence. Our clients would have served as a market for the artists to sell their work, and they in turn would have inspired our consultants." Besides, he adds, it's a short trip from the Gängeviertel to the airport.

But somehow his proposal didn't quite hit the mark, not with the city official in charge of cultural affairs, and certainly not with Christine Ebeling -- something which is hardly surprising.

"Perhaps they don't find it worth discussing," says Bloching. "But morally speaking they should come off their high horse."

Indeed, some might ask what exactly gives the artists the right to demand studios more or less for free in a prime downtown location. After all, those who care about social issues -- and that describes the core of the anti-gentrification movement -- might also argue that the buildings could be put to better use accommodating other, needier people than middle class artists for whom squatting is little more than a lifestyle choice.

"At the dinner, I said: Why don't the artists go to Dulsberg, where it's cheap?" Dulsberg is a gray neighborhood in the east of Hamburg that sustained a lot of damage during World War II.

One of the squatters apparently replied that they couldn't be creative in Dulsberg.

"That's naturally something of a problematic argument," says Bloching.

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