Low Budget Urbanity


‘Low Budget Urbanity’ is an interdisciplinary research initiative of HafenCity University Hamburg, the University of the Built Environment and Metropolitan Culture (HCU) in Germany. The interdisciplinary research network integrates researchers from the disciplines architecture, engineering, planning, geography, history and cultural anthropology at the HafenCity University Hamburg, the Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg and the Hamburg Museum.


The focus of interest lies in the question how city life changes under the premise of austerity. Urban dwellers are increasingly required to find new and creative ways to cope with the withdrawal of communal authorities from welfare provisions, the demise of public infrastructure and expensive or low-quality centralized services in European and Northern American cities. This has lead to the emergence of new urban practices and alternative forms of urban infrastructure often organised under the principle of sharing and saving. The perspective of ‘low-budget urbanity’ aims for a critical understanding of the qualities and characteristics of cities in situations of a financial and economic crisis and explores how current or historical everyday practices are transformed – and how they change or realize urbanity. (Low Budget Urbanity by HCU, 2014)


The Concept Behind Sharing and Saving

In order to ‘save a city’ that is in times of financial and economic crisis and becomes sites of austerity measures, Jamie Peck argues that the imperative to ‘cut back and save’ and ‘work your way out of debt’ results in urban policies such as structural adjustment, privatization, public-private partnerships, and welfare retrenchments (Peck, 2012; see also Peck et al., 2009). While existing institutional arrangements, collectivist, social-state based ideals and redistributive systems are diminishing, there has been a proliferation of collectively organized urban practices, according to Bialski et al. In light of these developments, urban dwellers are working creatively with urban scarcity to develop new forms of organizing the city parallel and/or in contrast to centralized, state-based infrastructure, and are forced to do so with a low budget (Low-Budget Urbanity, 2013).


Implementation of Low Budget Urbanity Principles

The implementation of its principle includes collectively organized urban survival strategies such as car sharing as opposed to car ownership; travelling using online hospitality networks (e.g. CouchSurfing) instead of hotel accommodation (Bialski, 2012; Rosen et. al., 2011); second-hand shopping, cloth swapping and ‘dumpster diving’ versus mass consumption and throwaway culture (Gregson and Crewe, 2003); or DIY-building rather than ready-made (Brodersen, 2003; Drotschmann, 2010). Other examples include urban farming and cooperative gardening (Schmelzkopf, 1995); local currency systems (Hughes, 2005); transport ticket sharing, house squatting (Neuwirth, 2005); up-cycling of sewage and trash, and other forms of re-using and re-valuing urban resources. As the city is made up of multiple forms of organizing, forming an alternative, low-budget solution often means moving away from the more centralized and top-down forms of urban organization into the decentralized, local, and more like bottom up approach (tactical).


A Decentralised Model: Bringing the Awareness of Local Solidarity

Here cultures of frugality and sharing (Botsman and Rogers, 2010; Doherty and Etzioni, 2003) emerge, creating new economic forms that have long-term effects on the urban space. Their emergence poses new questions regarding the relation of these practices to capital, the state, and citizen responsibilities of citizen. For example, how do long-term self-organized projects alleviate and replace the responsibility of state-run systems in favor of the entrepreneurial urbanism (Harvey, 1989) and what are its effect in terms of gentrification processes, splintering urbanism and the loss of urban commonalities (Graham and Marvin, 2001; Harvey, 2012; Brenner et al., 2012)?

While these practices transform the urban setting, the motivations as to why people and communities deploy new forms of budget organizing are not so clear-cut. Such practices are an expression of a lack of material means and imposed abstinence (Oswalt, 2005; Bude et al., 2011), but also manifestations of conscious decisions to save money and resources. Quite simply, these practices can occur out of necessity and/or choice. What these activities have in common is that they bring on a new awareness of scarcity, low-cost and local production, they produce new forms of value, other measures of calculating, smaller cycles of exchange and coordination and collective organization under the principle of frugal living. Such saving practices engage actors in bottom-up, improvised, flexible, local organization (Pacione, 1997) that creates solidarity and new forms of urban cooperation.




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