16.1. Short description
The innovative core of NM is combining spatial and urban planning with sectorial policy interventions in a defined territory (see above). Hence, the background approach of NM is mainly about networking among stakeholders and the pooling of local resources within districts with special development needs. The project is financed by a federal-regional programme called “Socially Integrative City”. We have studied NM via a real example in Kreuzberg Zentrum, an area that is home to some 8,000 inhabitants. The majority of people have an immigration background. In this area, NM treats persisting local problems in a new way – such as high numbers of youngsters without a school degree, immigrant quotas in kindergarten and schools of up to 90 percent, and a milieu that lacks overall access to decent education and jobs. The NM team, consisting of a full-time manager and two employees, facilitate contacts and exchange between local authorities, service providers (TSOs), cultural associations, and residents in order to support informal cooperation and non-bureaucratic help. For instance, the NM invites headmasters from local schools and kindergartens on a regular basis, in order to encourage discussion on comprehensive educational concepts for the district. However, it is worth noting that NM does not follow blueprints or best practice models that are prescribed top-down but sets its own agenda in each neighbourhood.
16.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
As a low-threshold, neighbourhood located and participative project NM teams invite everybody – inhabitants, communities, professionals and the local economy – within a locality to contribute to urban revitalisation and social cohesion. By providing the infrastructure (rooms, resources, etc.) and organisational guidance, NM teams address inhabitants of social hotspots such as Kreuzberg Zentrum as “owners of their neighbourhood” and encourage them to participate in local projects. Many different levels of involvement exist though. For instance, “being involved” may merely mean taking part in a photo competition searching for powerful pictures of living together in the Kiez. More commitment is asked of youngsters considering being graffiti artists or residents devising a campaign to keep the neighbourhood clean and safe. Beyond such creative-practical hands-on-offers, locals are addressed as people who associate and develop their own small-scale offers. To realise promising ideas such as a workshop on intercultural learning or the planting of flowerbeds in concreted backyards, the NM has an ad-hoc fund at its disposal (up to 1,000 euros per project). Furthermore, local inhabitants are called to become part of the actual management of the neighbourhood. As elected members of so-called neighbourhood boards they have a say on the issues to be dealt with and how budgets are distributed. All in all, the NM approach addresses people as volunteers and co-producers for the common public good in their neighbourhoods. In practice, however, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s NMs struggle to find sufficient people competent enough to participate in boards or in conceptual workshops. “People in the neighbourhood need consultancy and support to master their life. Only a few are able to contribute something to the community”, states Werner Oehlert, a local expert for urban planning.
16.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
If one looks at NMs staffing levels it becomes clearer how dependent they are on volunteer contributions. The NM Kreuzberg Zentrum has only three employees: a full-time manager and two half-time office workers. Other NMs in Kreuzberg, responsible for larger areas, operate with up to five employees. The core of the management work is to find the right balance between three main tasks of the NM: to be a well-known, low-threshold meeting point in the Kiez; to support residents with daily-life problems through easy-to-access-services ranging from after-school homework supervision to consultancy for various social and bureaucratic problems (employment, housing, care, etc.); and to build up networks among local stakeholders. Local people – kids, youngsters, adults, families and women – who visit the NM at its friendly, café-like office receive bundled information about existing service offers in the neighbourhood, of which only few are provided by the NM. “We don’t need more offers but more knowledge on services that are already there”, says Laila Atrache-Younes, manager of the NM Kreuzberg Zentrum.
Networking activities also include exchange and time for reflection with (bordering) NMs in Kreuzberg. However, the real challenge for NM staff is to keep up an infrastructure where all stakeholders are in regular contact and learn from each other through mutual exchange. In this respect, good networking means, e.g. to facilitate exchange between the biggest local housing company and a parents initiative or organising coaching for pupils with learning deficits. In this real case, the housing company provided free office rooms in order to support the initiative. In other cases, though, effective steering of networks is more difficult, particularly collaboration around issues such as child care, schooling and the composition of classes. So far, solutions do not exist how to avoid so-called “left-over-schools” where up to 100 per cent of the pupils are immigrants and where the quota of dropouts without a school certificate is out of proportion. “Headmasters of those schools have more urgent things to do than reasoning about a problem that needs foremost structural reforms in the allocation of school places”, reports Ms Atrache-Younes.
16.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
Despite having a “good grip on reality” in the neighbourhoods, the impact of NMs on the governance of local welfare systems is limited. NMs are in an odd situation: as junctions of thematic networks they accumulate detailed knowledge about social problems such as segregated schools or long-term unemployment. Nevertheless, NMs are not “real players” in the local governance system, able to change structures that do not work in practice. Instead, they are “add-on institutions” working parallel to traditional authorities and welfare providers. While the latter mostly still operate alongside sectors and policy fields, NMs are insulated counterpoints to the pillarisation of welfare and urban planning. They provide non-bureaucratic support, work in cross-sectorial networks, and involve citizens at eye-to-eye level. The crux of this innovative approach is that NMs, being not fully recognised by politics, lack large-scale results and are practically not allowed to take up hot policy issues. In this respect, the problem of increasing rents in Kreuzberg is a telling example: NMs, financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), the federal state and the Land Berlin, lacked the clout to bring the burning issue to the agenda. Instead, a group of protesting tenants, camping permanently at the Kottbusser Tor, has become a political player in the debate on social housing. “NMs are determined to help-out where traditional social policy has failed. Political recommendations or even critical comments are not requested by the contracting entity”, says Werner Oehlert, missing, in particular, a stronger interlocking between NMs and sectorial policies: “Cooperation among schools is good but without support from the competent authority it is nothing.” In summary, the innovative character of NMs is weakened by their low impact on the local political system that forces NMs to leave out issues that move people. Vice versa, the actual work of NMs becomes neither evaluated nor benchmarked while public claims concerning the approach are not communicated effectively.