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.


Planbude Hamburg

Citizen Participation Mechanism

What challenges did this initiative look to address?

The so-called ESSO-Häuser were built in the 1960s on the Reeperbahn in the then-typical Plattenbau style (made from prefabricated slabs). The block was situated at Spielbudenplatz in the popular St. Pauli quarter, part of the Hamburg red-light district, and contained several buildings including 110 flats, retails, a hotel and several clubs as well as an underground car park and the Esso gas station the area was named after. In 2010, the entire complex was bought by the investor Bayerische Hausbau that announced the demolition of the existing houses to make way for new buildings. A broad civic alliance formed in opposition to these plans. The tenants initiative Initiative-Esso-Häuser-wir-sind-kein-Objekt (“Esso-Houses – we are not an object“) protested against their eviction, supported by neighbourhood initiatives like SOS-St. Pauli, by the film makers of the movie “Buy Buy St. Pauli“, and by the Megafonchor. Nonetheless, on 15 December 2013 the houses were suddenly cleared – allegedly for being in danger of collapsing – and their inhabitants evacuated. The inhabitants of the ESSO-Häuser were strongly supported by the neighbours and the protest against the evictions took to the streets. In January 2014 the demolitions of the buildings started against all odds.

What has changed?

As a reaction to the demolition, an independent community meeting took place in the ballroom of the Millerntor stadium, hosted by the local football club FC St. Pauli. The claims of the assembly included the ensured provision of flats for former tenants in the new buildings and an involvement of neighbours in the planning processes: “We want to take the planning into our own hands”. The neighbours founded a planning committee, wrote a concept and went into negotiations with the district mayor and the department for building.

Finally, the administration and local parliament agreed to commission the freshly founded PlanBude, a team of six that combines local planners, artists, architects, cultural scientists, DJs and community workers, to organize the planning process for the development of the 28.000 square meter large area of the former ESSO-Häuser. The conditions for the accomplishment of their task were fixed as part of the commissioning: independence from client’s presumptions, open and community-based process, preceding any decisions by authorities and owners.

In 2016, a jury chose the five architecture teams NL (Amsterdam), BeL (Cologne), Lacaton & Vassal (Paris), IFAU & Jesko Fezer (Berlin), Feld72 (Vienna) to build “real difference” – based on the St. Pauli Code as an outcome of the planning process that was organised by PlanBude.

How did it happen?

The participatory planning process organised and accompanied by PlanBude is quite unprecedented. As they were first and foremost accountable to the neighbours at any stage, they reached to organize a most credible process that actually involves the local expertise and the interests of the neighbours. Thus, the team developed a new open process called Wunschproduktion (wish production) and related innovative planning methods: models out of clay and LEGO bricks, photo research, sound walks, a “night map“, doorstep interviews, seminars with the local school, inspirational readings, events and questionnaires for all households in the community.

PlanBude collected none less than 2.300 wishes and other contributions – designs, statements, drawings, models from the neighbours. The results were compiled, condensed and presented at a community conference – and negotiated with the state and the owners only after the local public had agreed upon them. The outcome was the so-called “St. Pauli Code”: Diversity instead of Homogeneity / Small-scaling / Low-budget instead of Luxury / Originality and Tolerance / Appropriation and Vibrancy / Experimenting and Subculture / Open space without consumer pressure.

Eventually, in 2014, politics, planning authorities and the private owners agreed to accept the neighbourhood-developed “St. Pauli Code” as a briefing for the architectural competition. The results are 40% social housing; 20% cooperative experimental housing; 40% rentable flats; 0% privately owned apartments or “condos“; a neighbourhood and subculture cluster; some public roofs for basketball, leisure, kids, skateboarding, a climbable skyscraper wall, no shopping chains; towards Reeperbahn, smaller spaces for St. Pauli style business; a public balcony. 2530 sqm will be reserved for the return of subcultural institutions like the Molotow-Live-Music-Club, and for neighbourhood oriented, social and cultural purposes: The FabLab St. Pauli, a Community Canteen, the Rock‘ n Roll Hotel Kogge, and other functions for the common good. By now, PlanBude is a much acclaimed example of how to instigate a credible participatory process that goes far beyond the usual top down administrative or private planning processes and can lead to outstanding results.