An editorial for Omnified by Grace Dobush
This weekend, thousands of people are going to march on Potsdamer Platz to protest evictions and untenable rent increases in Germany’s capital. Nearly 200 groups, from neighborhood organizations to tenants’ associations, have joined forces under the banner of opposing Berlin’s Mietenwahnsinn — rent insanity.
The state of housing in Berlin is dire. The number of state-subsidized housing units is less than 100,000, down from 340,000 in the 1990s. Even market-rate apartments are in short supply, as obvious by the 75 percent increase in average rent in the past decade. Property consultancy Knight Frank released a study this week identifying Berlin as the hottest real estate market in the world, with prices jumping by 20.5 percent last year.
Berlin’s population has blossomed from a millennial slump of fewer than 3.4 million to more than 3.7 million today. But it’s worth noting cities around the globe are growing at a rapid pace. In 1950, just a third of the world’s population lived in cities; by 2016 more that 50 percent did, according to U.N. numbers, and by 2030, two-thirds of all people will live in cities.
I totally get the appeal of urban areas — I’m a recent migrant to Berlin myself. But I’ve also seen how urbanization has changed cities in the United States: The median rent for an apartment in San Francisco is now nearly 4,200 dollars a month. Urbanist Richard Florida calls this the New Urban Crisis: The flow of people and wealth to cities over the past decade has exacerbated inequality.
But American cities have much less in the way of renter protections and government mechanisms than their German counterparts. I believe Berlin has the chance today to become an example of equitable growth for other world cities to emulate. At Handelsblatt Global this week, I’ve told the story of Berlin’s real estate Robin Hood, who is buying up apartment buildings one at a time to secure for the residents of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
City government officials, urban planners and real estate developers all agree Berlin needs to build more affordable housing, and fast, to preserve the diverse social mix that makes this city so unique. Berlin needs to stop deliberating master plans for years and throwing wrenches into plans for new developments and start focusing on our inclusive, equitable future.
Photo (c) Handelsblatt Global