By Mark Minkjan
The recent release of the documentary coincided with the publication of the strikingly matching book In Defense of Housing, by David Madden and Peter Marcuse. The book and the film are perfect companions for anyone who wants to grasp the housing crisis that currently exists in all big cities worldwide. InIn Defense of Housing, Madden and Marcuse argue that housing is under attack today. That is, if your idea of housing is that it should provide a home for people in need of a place to live. Housing has become one of the primary drivers of global capitalism, through commodification and financialization, making its function as real estate more important than its use as lived, social space. It is the result of spatial developments being market-driven. Madden and Marcuse: ‘Housing is not produced and distributed for dwelling at all,’ but ‘as a commodity to enrich the few.’ The result, for millions of households, is anxiety, chaos, disempowerment, discrimination and oppression. For them — and this goes for people well into the middle classes — shelter, personal safety, and a sense of identity, order and continuity are at risk.
For people dismissing In Defense of Housing as fictional pessimism or Marxist nonsense, for those who are not the reading types, or for anyone interested in the urban housing game and its players, Die Stadt als Beute is the documentary to watch. For four years, filmmaker Andreas Wilcke has observed Berlin’s real estate market by following and interviewing people who play an exemplary role in the housing drama. The result is anastonishing mosaic story that has the power to amuse and upset viewers, often at the same time. The film features investors, developers, real estate agents, politicians, residents, protesters and people looking for a home, and is edited in such a way that the stark contrasts within a dynamic housing market are illuminated. Depending on who is talking, the same Berlin can suddenly change. One moment it’s a vibrant, up-and-coming city that is getting prettier by the day, a perfect place to move to and invest in. The next minute Berlin is under pressure, losing its social and cultural face, and making it harder for people to find a home or even to survive.
Die Stadt als Beute provides many scenes from the profiting and suffering ends of the spectrum. It shows how housing is increasingly reserved for people who can pay for and make money from it, rather than for those in need of a place to live. A unique asset of the film is that it not only portrays the hardship of the losers in this game — it also offers a rare glimpse of the dark side of the housing market. And are those playing the game and profiting from it really to blame? In In Defense of Housing, Madden and Marcuse take aim at the game and propose a fundamental transformation of the housing system. ‘People do not live in homes. They live in neighbourhoods and communities. They occupy not only buildings but also locations in a social fabric. A radical right to housing must affirm and protect this web of relations,’ the authors write. They propose a broad overhaul of the current system that would ‘decommodify’ housing, democratize it and put it under the control of residents again. In Berlin and everywhere else, small innovations — however smart and well-meant — are often presented as quick fixes for the housing crisis, but such optimism obscures the dominant political culture that intentionally produces scarcity and enables exploitation. Luckily, in the midst of this clusterfuck, Die Stadt als Beute is also simply a fascinating and entertaining documentary to watch.
Mark Minkjan is editor-in-chief at Failed Architecture. A longer version of this article was published on Failedarchitecture.comDeel dit item