Empowerment / Encouragement

2021 Type: Glossary

Empowerment and encouragement involve processes, strategies, and practical steps with which urban inhabitants express and actively campaign for their interests in a spirit of autonomy and self-determination, and also jointly advocate for their shared interests. An Urban Practice geared to this supports and encourages processes of self-organization and/or creates framework conditions that set such processes in motion and make them possible. Empowerment is therefore different from all forms of representative politics, in which elected or self-proclaimed “experts” act for those affected, even when this is done with the best of intentions.
Experience has shown that even in urban initiatives and movements, it is generally individuals who stand out because of speaking skills, for example, or education; that is, through their social and cultural capital (in the sense of Bourdieu). At the same time, such actors also generally have at their disposal enough time or the required material means to allow them to become involved in initiatives, projects, and campaigns. They are in a position to define situations, specify goals, and decide the direction such activities should go in, what forms they should take, and what issues to address.
That is why empowerment aims to make sure those whose voice is usually not heard, those who have not (yet) spoken out or become involved, are able to be heard, and that they are encouraged to become active themselves. In urban districts, for example the Oberbilk area of Düsseldorf, which has an above-average percentage of migrants among its population, it is a big challenge to bring this demographic group in particular into the public debates about what city “we” want to live in. Until now, the migrant population has either not been a part of this “we” or has only existed on its margins.
Empowerment strategies aim to overcome feelings of powerlessness and helplessness that can be triggered by external events or developments that are, in turn, perceived as incomprehensible and inaccessible. A first step can be the practical experience of not being alone with the problems and conflicts one goes through individually, such as racial discrimination or the loss of your job or apartment. Individual concern can thus develop into collective concern. The feeling of being less powerless within a group can ultimately instill a desire within someone to participate in collective actions themself. This experience may come when attending gatherings, rallies, or demonstrations, by talking to others who face similar predicaments. Empowerment strategies aim to create spaces where such experiences can be had.

Helmut Schneider: Research and teaching at the university level in Economic and Urban Geography (regional focuses: Southeast Asia, Greater Düsseldorf, Ruhr Region); after retiring in 2016, cofounder of an urban district initiative “Runder Tisch Oberbilk,” the history association “Aktion Oberbilker Geschichte(n)” and, since 2019, active in the Düsseldorfer Bündnis für bezahlbaren Wohnraum, which campaigns for affordable living spaces