Guthmann Estate: Study about mobility in Berlin

In our study, we are looking into mobility processes in Berlin. With a new approach we are expanding the concept of displacement.

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Numerous explanatory approaches, but no clear definition

In recent years the concept of gentrification has attracted high public attention and has been loosed from the purely academic discussion at the time: whether in feuilletons, in regional evening news programs, in electoral campaigns or in protest activities; As soon as it comes to urban developments and the revaluation of the real estate, gentrification becomes a combat term (Krajewski 2015, Bernien 2016).

In fact, there is still no holistic explanatory approach. There are numerous, different and scientifically controversial gentrification discourses, ranging from formation processes and investigation of causes to the progressive form, to the consequences of displacement.
In the German-speaking area, the idea of the displacement is that people with a lower status are displaced by the population with a higher status in a certain residential area. The main causes are the transformation of rental properties into condominiums, as well as the upgrading of neighborhood infrastructure and the increases in value and rent. Resource-weakened households are moving, and households with higher incomes are growing.

Increasing rents, housing shortage, displacement!

Nobody wants to be forced to leave his home. The fear of being affected by mechanisms of gentrification is big in Berlin. That’s the reason why it is so important to differentiate and to gain a multi-dimensional view of the things.
We asked ourselves what the Berliners understand by displacement. In an own study about "Processes of residential mobility in Berlin" we asked people for reasons for housing mobility and feelings of repression. In total, we consulted 243 residents with their residence in the three quarters of Berlin, Rixdorf, Soldinerstrasse and Schöneberger Island. The selection of the three study areas took place according to the statistical evaluation of high mobility rates.
Previous studies on displacement and everyday reports illuminate the discourse more one-dimensionally. Often the impression of inductive thinking arises. We mean individual cases stand for the whole. For this reason, our study included socioeconomic background as well as motives of housing mobility and displacement.

Results of the study

Reasons for housing mobility (period of residence under 5 years)

The analysis shows that most households are moving due to (intern) domestic reasons. Internal reasons are, for example, the increase of the household size by the birth of a child or the move due to a new job or study. The respondents from the age groups 18 to 29 and 30 and 39 years are the most mobile. Thus changes in the life cycle represent the most common motive for moving. In addition, connections between a short period of residence and a higher net household income are discernible.
80.95 per cent of the interviewees, who moved to the study areas due to job, stated that they were not native Berliners and had not lived previously in Berlin. These moves can be classified as voluntary moves.

Not voluntary are moves due to a rent increase. These were indicated by the newcomers who lived previously in a quarter in Berlin. Among them are: Graefekiez (Kreuzberg), Schulenburgpark and Donaustraße (in Neukölln), Elsenstraße (Treptow), Invalidenstraße (Mitte), Schillerpark (Wedding) and the Kollwitzkiez (Prenzlauer Berg).
Also the registration of the owner for own personal use appeared as an indication of the reason for the move and represents an advancement force.
In this way, residential mobility is a complex of life-cycle, environment-relevant factors (infrastructure, neighbors, noisy conditions) and real estate factors (rent increases, registration of owner's own use).
in. Among them are: Graefekiez (Kreuzberg), Schulenburgpark and Donaustraße (in Neukölln), Elsenstraße (Treptow), Invalidenstraße (Mitte), Schillerpark (Wedding) and the Kollwitzkiez (Prenzlauer Berg). Also the registration of the owner for own personal use appeared as an indication of the reason for the move and represents an advancement force.
In this way, residential mobility is a complex of life-cycle, environment-relevant factors (infrastructure, neighbors, noisy conditions) and real estate factors (rent increases, registration of owner's own use).

Reasons for housing mobility and relocation plans

20.57 percent of respondents said they were planning to move in the near future. A correlation between the duration of the stay and an increased desire to move is recognizable, because 74 per cent of the people with a relocation wish are living under five years in their housing unit. All residents who expressed a move are tenants and not owners. The individual reasons for relocation plans can be clustered, as well as the ensued influxes, to life cycle, environmental and economic real estate factors.
26 per cent of the relocation plans relate to movements that take place in regions outside of Berlin. The environmental factors are expanded by suburbanization and an increased feeling of insecurity. The most frequent reasons are life cycle factors (change of household size, job change) both for target areas within Berlin and for surrounding areas. Reasons for a wish to move or plan to the surrounding area of Berlin often include the image of a home in the green, quiet, and still affordable hinterland.

People from Rixdorf and Schöneberger Island looking for more affordable living space

Individuals who want to move to a part within Berlin refer more often to real estate economics and environmental factors than people who want to move to the surrounding area. In Rixdorf and the Schöneberger Island, isolated indications of economic real estate factors were made, for example expiring leases and the need for cheaper housing.

People from Soldiner Strasse feel displaced by crime and foreigners

In the quarter of Soldiner Strasse a frequently mentioned moving motiv was the sense of insecurity. These include: "high crime and foreigners", "less antisocial elements" and "safer environment". The statements of residents in Rixdorf resemble the statements of inhabitants of Soldiner quarter. Muck and public disorder cause respondents in Rixdorf to dissatisfaction. These feelings of insecurity and dissatisfaction seem to increase the pressure to move away.

Differentiated view of displacement fear

The majority of respondents do not feel threatened in their residential quarter (52 per cent). The question was asking deliberately without delineate the words "displacement mechanisms”, so that’s why different associations were formed with the words "threat" and "displacement mechanisms". In all, 23 per cent of the interviewees agree partially or completely to feel threatened displacement mechanisms in their living environment. In a next step, the interviewees were asked to explain their reasons for repression. The result is a multidimensional image.

The fear of the stranger: Migrants feel threatened by Germans. Germans feel threatened by migrants.

In the district of Soldiner Strasse, the reasons for the feeling of displacement were primarily factors such as crime and disorder in public space. In Rixdorf and the Schöneberg Island displacement was described as a feeling of insecurity, which includes fear of the stranger. Predominantly in the district of Soldiner Strasse some of the surveyed residents with migration background feel threatened by xenophobia. Also in Soldiner Straße interviewed people with German citizenship, in Soldiner Strasse feel displaced by "foreigners". Frequently, the perceived threat was associated with crime. 53.33 percent of respondents who are in the category "insecurity in public space" and thus in terms of household-external, environmental factors, affirmed that they plan to move in the near future. As a result, the uncertainty in more than half of the interviewees produces a pressure to move.

Active and passive forms of displacement

A passive migration pressure is to be understood as an anxiety, which results from knowledge of acquaintances and / or media, but without immediate danger to the residents. An active migration pressure or an active force to move describes the situation of people who are directly threatened in their personal situation by domestic-external factors.

Schöneberg's islanders are also unsettled without direct pressure

Most of the displacement fears, which are associated with gentrification, are located in the quarter of the Schöneberger Island. In comparison to the other two quarters, the majority of the young higher-income individuals or families move to Schöneberger Island. However, gentrification sensations were also increasingly expressed in Rixdorf. In Soldiner Strasse, negative uncertainty factors that are relevant to the environment are predominant.

The passive migration pressure can be further subdivided into socio-structural, financial / real estate and political factors. There is a social structural, passive migration pressure, as long as residents feel displaced by the presence of new residents in the quarter. This form is similar to the environmental pressure. The social-structural passive form refers to a feeling of displacement due to a higher-income clientele in the neighborhood.

Life-cycle processes are also perceived as displacement

Both the change of resident structures and trade structures are perceived as a displacement form. This includes the loss of existing tenants (e.g. by deaths) and the influx of residents, who acquire a property, having another socioeconomic position or living in different housing forms. These interviewees are not directly forced to move but still feel displaced in their residential situation. This feeling is attributed to the social structural, passive migration pressure. An additional form of displacement is the financial / property-related, passive migration pressure. In this case residents are informed by their environment of rising rents, condo conversions or luxury renovations, but are not directly affected by them.

The political, passive pressure of displacement encompasses the perceived threat in residential area due to the political situation of the housing economy. In this form people are not forced to leave their apartment. The passive displacement forms could occur partly parallel, so that combinations are possible. In addition, a passive migration pressure can develop to an active migration pressure.

New building: yes! In front of my door: no!

In addition we asked for the willingness to participate in public protests against new construction projects. We did not mention which type of new construction projects, neither new luxury projects nor subsidized housing projects. 54 per cent of the interviewed person with passive migration pressure would participate in these protests. Although some of the respondents complained about the lack of housing offers, the willingness to protest is very high at 47.1 percent within the total sample.

There is an active migration pressure when persons are directly affected by disturbing factors that jeopardize the preservation of their housing unit.
The factors may include personal conditions such as deterioration in the personal financial situation as well as environmental factors such as neighborhood disputes. This form is also characterized by threats of crime and disorder in public space.
Active, real estate driven migration pressure could be localized in five cases of the sample. The form of active migration pressure can go into the form of the active migration force insofar as it has become "impossible, dangerous and / or inexpensive to remain in the neighborhood or the dwelling" (Bernien 2016: 47).

Our ambition: More clarity and not lump everything together!

The approach of our study was to question the reasons for inner-city mobility on several levels. We had no pre-selection of certain population groups or already displaced people.

The results of the mobility motives can be classified into four categories: life cycle, non-life cycle, environmentally relevant and real estate factors. In this context, environmental and real estate motives are characterized by a high sense of insecurity and / or dissatisfaction. From this, develops the two factors: the pressure to move and the enforcement to move.
Interpretations of the concept of displacement opened the three subcategories of passive migration pressure: active migration pressure, and active migration force. The presented model of urban mobility in the investigation rooms provides a complex and transparent analysis of displacement.


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  • Brockmann, Franziska (2017): Innerstädtische Wohnmobilitätsprozesse in BerlinUniversität Leipzig.
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