To put it in a nutshell: What is it all about CIT Collective?
„The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice.“ Appandurai 1996, p 31
Our city does not need a masterplan, it does not need a strong leader, or yet another housing bubble. Our city needs citizens who form collectives, collectives to collaborate on transforming the urban environment. Vienna is getting more and more privatized and I want to tell you why it bothers me.
The longer version…
I myself was born in Vienna and I work here. I want to contribute to an environment that is safe and friendly to collaborate and live in. I planed to share a space and create a supportive network of people that go their own way. But me and my friends had a hard time finding a space that would fit our plan. Most places are only affordable to artists or cultural activities that are not commercial, if they promise to move out after one year or maximum two. We did not want to invest all our resources into a space that in the end we would have to leave behind. We did not want to accelerate gentrification. We were determined to stay and build networks for the long run.
Can I now just quickly ask you a question? If you today had 13 hectars of land in the middle of Vienna, what would you use it for? It is not in use since more than ten years.
A private airport? Gardens? A circus? A pool? A youth center? Children’s playgrounds? Artist studios? A woman’s shelter? A place to live for refugees?
The question is not random. This is vision is real. There actually is 13 hectars site in Vienna, that is empty, that is open. And we want this site to become a space in which creative processes can spark, emerge and evolve. A creative district in Vienna dedicated to experimental, process-based city planing and self-organized grass-root approaches. I’m talking about the Gaswerk Neu-Leopoldau, an over 100 years old abandoned industrial site with 15 empty houses and vast empty green zones in between.
With my question – what would you do with 13 hectars? – we reached out to many people in Vienna: to NGOs, collectives, individuals, locals, temporary inhabitants and artists. We cultivated a debate among all these different citizens. In meetings and on mailing lists talked for hours and we shared our dreams and tested strategies, we collected best practice examples of similar creative districts in other countries, because our dream actually exists already in other places, urban commons. It is about time that Vienna gets one too. And yes: Our network was flourishing, people’s answers radiated a promising synergy. We called ourself: CIT COLLECTIVE: Culture is Transformation.
Since 2011 artists, architects and spacial planners joined in a interdisciplinary collective called CIT COLLECTIVE (‚Culture is Transformation‘). We demanded open access to the empty industrial site at the north-east border of Vienna: the Gaswerk Leopoldau. The struggle for access to the empty Gaswerk Leoplodau serves CIT as breeding ground to collect and push globally emerging ideas on Open Culture. CIT wants to implement collectivist practices and ideas of Altermodernity (Hardt&Negri, 2010) inside these extremely promising premises. The empty industrial area presents a tangible platform to articulate and explore concepts of an inclusive, non-capitalist, environmentally sustainable and open district within Vienna. This open culture district could be organized through a network of manyfold small groups that together produce Commons. At this exciting point we communicated our requirements to people in the city government. We met them, we explained our concept and our motifs. But over the time we learned to mistrust their friendly statements.
We chose instead other alliances, universities, citizen groups, international activist networks. And in the course of that we found out that we are actually very privileged. We learned that in other parts of the world land grabbing is a cruel daily realitiy, in particular for indiginous people and privatization of land is actually one of the most dramatic global problems. The conditions are really desperate in places such as Indonesia, where large IT companies just grab the land that people live on since generations in sustainable and self-sustained ways.
In recent years activists have learned from third wave feminists, queer culture and the Open Source movement that tools, as much as identities are not stable, but will always be newly invented with the change of societal structures. Therefore the essence of resistance is not anymore to fight something, but rather the development of new ways of co-existing and collaborating. These processes will naturally create new tools, practices and identities. The product of these processes is not profit, but community and Urban Commons.
By demanding access to the empty industrial site, CIT highlights the general lack of urban Commons in Vienna and tries to tackle the problem on three different levels: First by creating public interventions: in form of artisitic, performative and tactical articulation that point to the fact that there actually can be room for new and open approaches in Vienna. The second level embraces press and media work as an essential tool for change: CIT talks to journalists, informs worried citizens, gives workshops, writes articles, negotiates with politicians and stays in contact with key players of the Viennese city government. The third level means taking on the role of an outside critical voice, documenting the way the Gaswerk Leopoldau is becoming a toy in the hands of powerful institutions, parties and an election campaign and how it is finally threatened to get privatized, fragmented and sold in small pieces to big investors. On another level CIT is publicly voicing critique on Vienna’s general lack of bottum-up run, self-organized creative areas, while there is a simultainously increasing number of viennese shopping malls and privatized entertainment zones. On this level CIT is generating theory about how city planning processes could be changed into a more democratic and transparant endeavour that allows communities to grow instead of profits. CIT fosters a network among a multitude of agents, ranging from artists and architects to activists and neighbors, youth workers and communal councillors. This network is currently testing new alliances between groups of people who usually don’t collaborate.
Yet while finding out about all these outrageous processes we also experienced that there is a large worldwide movement of people. A movement of people who share a clear vision. And we became part of this network, as a small node in Vienna.
Informed by this international network the our small local node came up with an epic yet detailed proposition of how all the local creative groups in Vienna, all these little collectives that are desperately trying to find a space to work in, could independently, yet collectively share the 13 hectars and make a district that is mind blowing. In the last three years many self-organized groups that do urban garding, debating clubs, dance, youth work and many more contributed their ideas. All groups articulate their specific requirements to this new part of the city and it’s own economy of knowledge circulation. For example: it should be accessible with wheelchairs, powered with green energy, some suggest it should allow travelers to stay and participate in maintaining this process-orientated environment, as new-comers bringing in their valuable experiences and skills. An environment in which to be safe and welcome to try out new, unheard of ways of living and working together. An open environment. In which community is important. A participatory city development as bottom-up process. In order to provide fluidity and openness when it comes to who is involved and in which practices we juxtapose openness a stabilizing factor: a grounding, stable and common space. It enables the agents involved to define themselves not through income, identity categories or age, but through physically being on site. Everybody on site is part of the process that we call city.
Since then CIT Collective focus on strategies to acquire spaces that will allow self-organized, independent initiatives to practice new ways of urban living, working and collaborating. This action research project describes how groups emerge and organize in their own pace, trying to avoid the economical exploitation that usually goes hand in hand with the organic rise of creative districts.
The city is not a designable entity. We understand city as socially produced and performed by all. This is why we can only talk about the city as in constant transformation, encouraging a dynamic, organic, fluid development rooted in a stable space, acquired collectively as urban commons.
Experimentation means to accept and overcome fears and uncertainties. It means we can create something new, if we independently, yet as a collective nurture the creative process from which transformation can emerge and evolve.
It needs courage to not buy into zero-sum capitalism. But it is worth all the effort.
Last month the newspaper published the city governments documents for the Gaswerke Leopoldau: 2500 Squaremeters are dedicated to the kind of explorative, transformative and creative urban commons site that we struggled for.