Gestaltung (shaping, designing, forming, creating, organizing, planning) needs to be understood in terms of actors and those empowered to act. In this light, Gestaltung offers scope for political action, but it also generates exclusion and exclusivities that must be called into question and overcome. Gestaltung also means access to reservoirs of knowledge and opportunities that create a privileged position of belonging.
Self-shaping cities might be explored as an alternative to current urban planning procedures marked by accumulations and gatherings of supposed “experts.” Events like trade fairs and conferences often take place in the absence of those to whom processes of participation and co-shaping are addressed. As a result, attempts to ascertain needs and communicate knowledge about sites and buildings under planning often miss their mark. The requirement for project developers and investors to organize formats for information gathering and participation is already a step in the right direction.
A first question, then, would be: when and where does Gestaltung begin?
In most cases, bringing empty lots and condemned buildings to market is not part of such a process. The preliminary stages—purchase, administrative steps required to make possible any discussion of alterations or redevelopments—create a fait accompli and a regime of time and action in which co-shaping participation begins too late, if at all.
Assuming that such a process begins in places where funds are already finding their way into the urban space, then conventional understandings of Gestaltung in the context of urban development must be called into question. Opening up such patterns takes time and involves reappraising institutional structures, the distribution of roles, and established procedures. Such a path might begin with the learning processes of a non-institutional “school of the city” that produces knowledge about and enjoyment of the urban spaces in which we live.
Jan Lemitz (born 1971 in Düsseldorf) works as a photographer and artist in Duisburg and Berlin. His projects take landscape, architecture, and infrastructure as points of departure for studies of media archeology. Since 2017 he has been part of the “Stadt als Fabrik” research project at FFT Düsseldorf; as part of the theater’s move to a new venue, the project explores the history of the new location and processes of urban transformation in the neighborhood around the central station and on the periphery.