Milieu Protection against Gentrification

It looks like urban politics, real estate, and the rental market are emerging as a theme of these first weeks in Berlin. Perhaps it’s only this time around the Berlin election that the city seems almost Vancouver’s equal in its obsession with real estate, though the topic doesn’t come up as often in personal conversations.

Policy Responses

As I mentioned previously, Berlin is looking for responses to a lack of rental housing, rising real estate prices, and gentrification. Part of the mix of responses is Milieuschutz, the protection of certain milieus. What? No, this is not a way to preserve petty bourgeois opinions, but it is a decision to actively block gentrification through regulation.

Milieuschutz is explained on a webpage of the Neukölln district council. The term is clearly meant to parallel Denkmalschutz, heritage protection, which is much more restrictive and more interventionist in Berlin than it is in Vancouver.

According to the above webpage, the Milieuschutz is not intended as renter protection per se, but instead is intended to preserve the organic structure of a resident population, a milieu. At its core, Milieuschutz generally rules out the conversion of rental housing into condos. All construction permits are subject to a test that focuses on Milieuschutz.

In the case of Neukölln, a district in the urban core that has some sections that are mostly populated by Turks and Turk-German residents, but increasingly also has some hipster areas, five Milieus have been designated for protection. These areas are described on individual webpages that identify the specific milieu (including architectural features, etc. that is being protected.

Rixdorf as an Example

One of these milieus is Rixdorf. To my generation of West Berliners, the name mostly evokes a brand of Faßbrause, Rixdorfer, the Berlin-specific pop that is a sweet fizzy apple juice (which may or may not involve any actual apples).

The webpage describes the following elements:

  • an area of roughly 3 X 5 blocks
  • significant influx in past five years
  • primarily turn-of-the-century housing stock, limited green space
  • area overlaps with a number of other urban design zones focused on architectural preservation
  • a preliminary report has found that given Rixdorf’s location, gentrification pressures are likely to emerge/increase
  • this gentrification is likely to change the mix of resident populations significantly, thus necessitating milieu protection

Imagineable in Vancouver?

I suspect that this kind of regulation would be perceived to be quite heavy-handed and interventionist in Canada. There is no doubt that it severely restricts the rights of owners (many of whom may be public in the Berlin case, but not in Vancouver).

Given the interventionist nature of the regulation, it seems likely to succeed in its aims, though it is less clear what (dis)incentives for further upgrading of housing stock, for example, such a designation creates.

But the intentions are echoed by many of the objections to construction in the DTES in Vancouver for example, or in Strathcona, I think.

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