2021 Type: Glossary

Triviality of Quartier

Can a word depoliticize urban space? Or at least the way we look at it? Language changes, and that’s a good thing. Words change their meaning, are cast aside, replaced, or (particularly annoying) become clichés. What words and terms should we fight for?—The common good. What ones are we sick of hearing?—Creative. And what words have crept into the discourse but will never belong to us?
The word Quartier, which is used in Germany as a synonym for a city district or quarter, is rather uncommon in everyday use. It is a term used by property developers in their advertising texts to promote new, lively, and creative ‘quarters.’ It is also a term used by the municipal administration, which nowadays no longer refers to residential areas, but to ‘residential quarters’; or in top-down urban development, as in ‘quartier management.’
Because the new inner-city districts in Berlin that tend to be referred to as ‘quarters’ mainly consist of wide shopping streets, tourist attractions, office buildings, and hotels with dark facades, it is difficult to give the word the same meaningfulness as more familiar terms such as: the area where you grew up, the neighborhood bar, your block, your hood. By contrast, the ‘quartier management’ organizes “participation meetings at which, although more experts than residents attend them, are celebrated as moments of political engagement by the local population. Or information events, where critical opinions voiced by the local population come up against the opinions of highly qualified and professional urban planners” (MÖSSNER 2015, 308). Mössner describes this as an instrument of depoliticization in the neoliberal city, which puts urban society’s criticism of ‘quartier management’ pretty much in a nutshell.
As such, the everyday term ‘quartier’ in reference to the city is primarily linked either to the utilization of space or to the administration of the city’s inhabitants’ willingness to participate in shaping it. If, from the perspective of the political movement around the urban space and rent prices, we ask what terms we should (re)appropriate, then we should also ask ourselves, what terms we should avoid!
Experience shows there is nothing emancipatory associated with a ‘quartier’; there is no self-empowerment. It remains a word that conveys the sense of a bird’s-eye view, lacking the political dimension of the STREET as a place of encounters and diversity, of gathering and of protesting.

Jenny Goldberg, Stadtteilbüro Friedrichshain, is a spatial activist and interdisciplinary artist from Berlin. Her work focuses on methods of collective production processes. She is particularly interested in the role of community arts centers as informal actors of urban development. Since 2020 she has been hosting the monthly freeform radio show “Fassadenfunk”.