Autumn Academy Berlin Blog II: Cooperation, Self-organization, Self-governing

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This is the second post of a series exploring how different city actors could act together towards a good city in the organization of an Autumn Academy in Berlin. Follow us for more updates.

Issues that modern cities are facing today are too big and complex for one actor or one sector to effectively manage. New capabilities are needed to help people think and act differently to adapt to rapid change. At present, across Europe city residents are engaged and motivated to demonstrate their ability in creating innovative solutions for important social issues. In this context cooperation between diverse partners from public, private, and community- based organizations is needed to foster equal footing to impact the city. Working together actors could empower each other with knowledge and expertise creating a better city.

Recently The Bartlett Development Planning Unit organized an online conference on the topic ‘How should Urban Design and Urban Designers reimagine post-pandemic cities?’ As a result academics, representatives from a municipal authority, and social organizations wrote the Manifesto together. Among the others, “collective action”, “people as partners, side by side to the government”, “up-scaling initiatives that come from first-hand experiences” were mentioned. This Manifesto shows that general perception for city development changes from top-down decisions developed by groups of professionals to collective and open co-creation.   

Cooperation means common effort. We can see from history an example of the cooperative movement that became a solution for housing development in the first decades of the XX century. Or modern open-source technologies that let thousands of people develop soft products in an agile way to quickly adapt to their own demands and deal with “bugs” without waiting for tech support. These examples to name a few show that people could achieve more acting collectively and sharing responsibilities. Cooperation between different actors is bridging the discourse around the city into actionable urban projects, services, and products. 

Self-organization is another crucial process for modern cities. Why? Contemporary societies are diverse and multicultural; creative solutions are needed to solve major issues while fulfilling diverse demands for a good city. Berlin-based citizens initiatives such as Holzmarkt, Haus der Statistic, or Exrotaprint to name a few are realizing their own ambitions acting towards common good on a city level. 

Self-organized squatters groups create supporting networks within tenants encouraging care of each other and solidarity as a principle of collective living.
While a plethora of community-based projects supports people on a daily basis at the local level. Being proactive these initiatives reflect cultural context and create solutions based on the particular needs of certain groups of citizens. 

Empowerment of self-organization might increase a general feeling of ownership among citizens and encourage them to take more responsibilities. As well as help to deal with general uncertainty. With an understanding of how to act together and what their own powers are, more citizens will be able to support their community and care about it. In this way, the general perception of the city from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator’ might be changed to inspire more people to be involved in positive transformation. 

Cooperation and self-organization build a proper basis for self-governing in the city. To effectively participate in the matters of the local community any actor should be able to consider others’ points of view, external expertise and lead a dialog to achieve consensus.

During our Autumn Academy board discussion, we defined several challenges relevant to different sectors in this regard. 

For municipalities, the new skills to quickly adapt to the market and cultural change, build trust with citizens to avoid “not in my backyard attitude” and involve the private sector in long-term strategies implementation. 

For the private sector, the major challenges we see are competition on the market, the complexity of innovation within the rigid legal framework and business models, and the need for mediation with citizens groups of interests to realize development initiatives. 

While the major stakeholder — citizens — still have a low capacity for change. The reason for that is a lack of time to participate in decision-making and puzzle out сomplex development plans.

In this context, cooperation is a way to overcome existing challenges while exchanging experience and distribute responsibilities. And self-organization is a way to speed up the desirable changes by taking initiative in your own hands. Building proper social contract stakeholders could act together instead of against each other finding win-win solutions.

We invite you to join our discussion on how different city actors support each other both in dealing with the current situation but also in a long-term perspective during an upcoming online webinar. Follow this series and our social media to get an announcement.




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