Prospects for Trans-European housing activism

Dan Hancox’s excellent piece on Gentrification for The Guardian pinpoints the prospects of Europe-wide action to tackle a Europe-wide (and indeed world-wide) problem. While the article ostensibly revolves around London, the author’s emphasis on housing and housing activism as being at the heart of the whole issue of gentrification, highlights commonalities across the continent.

In the article, Hancox speaks to Nottingham University-based academic Alex Vasudevan, who highlights how grassroots resistance in Berlin has revolved “mostly around ‘very local geographies”, such as saving one particular building, park, housing project, or even fighting the eviction of a much-loved Turkish grocery store.” But with that said, Vasudevan explains that “each victory has galvanised the city as a whole, and made gentrification even more of a common talking point than it is in London.”

Ant-gentrification poster in KreuzbergMatthias Ripp/Flickr

“The challenge now,” writes Hancox, “has been scaling up, making connections, and sharing information between neighbourhoods, and even internationally.

“They’ve managed to get the rent cap by just being incredibly well-organised, and absolutely dogged – and they are also good at talking to each other. You have local working-class Germans who remained in Kreuzberg, and Turkish migrants collaborating; so everything is written in both German and Turkish, they’re all networked.”

The much better organised Berlin housing activists have also begun talking to the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) in Spain, PAH have been incredibly successful in facing down the Spanish banks in their widespread and massive policy of repossession, this year getting their spokeswoman, Ada Colau, elected mayor of Barcelona.

Ada Colau (right) at a rally in BarcelonaBarcelona en Comu/Flickr

As Hancox details, “Spain’s housing crisis has been so destructive that the PAH’s use of community self-organisation and support, and direct action to block evictions, has been copied across the world. I’ve seen Spanish parents in tears in PAH meetings, being comforted by their foreign-born (often Latin American) neighbours, before rallying to take on the banks trying to evict them. I’ve also seen Sí Se Puede, the PAH documentary, screened to housing activists in London…”

The international sharing of both tactics and inspiration highlights globalisation’s double-edged sword: property developers and investors may be operating simultaneously in Berlin, London and Barcelona, but the people resisting gentrification in these cities are beginning to network themselves, too.

As our economies become increasingly transnational so too must the outlook and reach of local communities. It is encouraging for Europe that not only its elites but also the most active citizens in each locality are beginning to realise the power of reaching out fellow activists in communities far away who face the same problems.

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