Urban Alternatives is launched by a collaboration of different actors which are united in their efforts to create a more democratic, just and sustainable world. This map seeks to highlight initiatives that work towards this goal. Proposal for initiatives not listed yet can be made directly on the website. This process is open to new collaborations.


Stadt von Unten – kommunal & selbstverwaltet

Democratic Remunicipalization

What challenges did this initiative look to address?

The engagement of the initiative Stadt von Unten focuses on a 4.7 hectare area in Berlin-Kreuzberg, referred to as “Dragonerareal“. The name dates back to its 19th-century military background as a barracks area. While a number of small businesses have existed on the site for years and decades, it is one of the last inner-city sites in Berlin still to be developed for housing.

Back in 2004, the SPD-led government at the time had opted for an austerity-driven policy of selling off all federally owned land to the highest-bidding contender. In summer 2014 the highest-bidding contest was launched to sell the Dragonerareal that was property of the Federal government of Germany.

Stadt von Unten formed in early 2014 with the objective of promoting a model project called "communal & self-governed" (in German, the word "kommunal" means both “communal“ and “municipal“, and both meanings are intended). This model project aims at coming up with new institutional arrangements that combine the democratic structures of self-governance of tenants with the wide reach of public housing in order to overcome the limitations of both and by making self-governance and meaningful participation in decision-making available to broad segments of tenants – beyond the usual self-governed middle-class-dominated, social-capital-centred housing scene.

The initiative also (re-)claims the democratisation of public housing companies that they accuse of equally following the neo-liberal logics of profit-maximising and advocates municipal housing that is still unaffordable to large parts of society. Thus they demand 100% affordable (public) housing as well as self-governance and participation in decision-making for tenants.

What has changed?

A key success as well as a necessary precondition for the initiative’s model project was the first-ever rejection of a case of sell-out of public land by the majority of Finance Ministers meeting in the Federal Council in 2015. This vote concerning the Dragonerareal actually opposed the decision of the then Federal Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, to privatise the site. It took the Ministry of Finance and the administration until the end of 2016 to accept this vote and offer the lot to the state of Berlin (the city of Berlin is one of the 16 states of Germany, its districts are municipalities) to which it was finally transferred at the end of 2018.

Successfully fighting the privatisation of the Dragonerareal site, has laid the groundwork for the model project “self-managed and communal”. The city of Berlin restarted the public financing of housing construction, but not (yet) in alignment with the radical claims of Stadt von Unten who ask for affordability of 100% of the housing stock and the installation of self-governance mechanisms for the tenants.

How did it happen?

The model project by Stadt von Unten is based on a set of 100% claims including: 100% rental apartments (no private ownership), 100% real affordability (which they define as affordable for recipients of social welfare), 100% long term affordability (in Germany, social housing and its affordability is usually only regulated for a limited period of time), 100% participation (different from cooperatives, no need to bring in private capital).

In order to pressure the implementation of the model project the initiative had to prevent privatisation of the area. To that end they engaged in a wide variety of political tactics, created a lot of media attention and public pressure on elected officials, took part in the bidding contest by offering one (gigantic) Euro and a social development vision for the area, delegitimized the narrative of austerity-driven urbanism by offering a counter-narrative of the need for real affordable housing, especially in the inner city area, delegitimized the highest bidder and exposed its organisational structure as a stock company, and made sure their protest was scaled up as much as possible, e.g. by allying with other tenant protest groups and by linking the challenges they were facing with broader claims, such as putting an end to all privatisation of public land.

To further promote the model project and their more global demands, Stadt von Unten on-going activities include:

  • Arguing conclusively for a de-legitimisation of the discourse of "social mixing", which is frequently used to invalidate calls for 100% affordable housing;
  • A physical and symbolical use and appropriation of the site for reunions and gatherings, festivals, urban gardening… ;
  • Engaging in a planning process from below and in opposition to the official participatory process;
  • Running “Plangarage“ (borrowing from Hamburg‘s Planbude) – a workshop/event venue in one of the garages on the site to hold meetings and events;
  • Organising with the neighbourhood and groups that are interested in taking part in the model project and organising a collective learning process on the political set-up and the institutional arrangement of the model project.