Dr. Heidi Fichter-Wolf

IRS - Institut für Regionalentwicklung und Strukturplanung


Border Experiences and Knowledge Cultures

Polish-German Collaboration in Higher Education in the Twin City Frankfurt (Oder) - Slubice


The project focuses on processes of social construction of space in the German-Polish twin city of Frankfurt (Oder) – Slubice. By establishing a joint university, the ‘Collegium Polonicum’ (CP)  in Slubice, a special signal has been set in the precarious border situation. The self-declared target of the CP is not only to contribute to academic teaching and research, but to play an active role within the process of Polish-German convergence. This collaboration has all signs of a “laboratory” which allows research about the opportunities and threats affecting the building of a joint institution between and within different European knowledge cultures.
This study explores the options and obstacles of the collaboration by taking a view from a sociocultural and sociospatial perspective. We assume that a closer look especially at the informal parts of the interaction process will allow a deeper understanding of the institution building and the contribution to new ‘landscapes of knowledge’, grounded in an European knowledge culture.



Dr. Sandra Huning

Technical University Berlin

Center for Metropolitan Studies


Social and political activity in urban space. Awakening, stagnation or fall?


In the German debate on urban public spaces, which has been rather fierce among urban planners and urban sociologists in the 1990s, these spaces were declared to have undergone a severe decline. Based on the works of German theorists such as Jürgen Habermas, Hans-Paul Bahrdt, and Alexander Mitscherlich, and American theorists such as Jane Jacobs and Richard  Sennett, mostly dated from the late 1960s, experts took up a rather critical and pessimistic stance towards the changes of the public realm in general and the physical public space in particular. They argued that privatization and surveillance of spaces on the one hand, and crime and safety issues on the other hand, were threatening the “functioning” of public spaces and their playing their generic role within society – however, usually without defining which role exactly this could and should be.
In the meantime, this pessimistic view has turned into a more pragmatic perspective which acknowledges that past normative ideals of public spaces cannot be expected to live up to today’s expectations, and modern sociological and historical approaches are not sufficient to fully understand the social, political, or even economic role public spaces hold today. On the contrary, it very often seems that reality contradicts theory: today, it seems, public spaces in German cities are claimed and appropriated as frequently and creatively as they have not been for a long time, and they seem to be functioning fairly well as places for private and public representation and perception as well as for certain types of communication.
My paper tries to describe and understand the role of public spaces in German cities today. On the one hand, this means to find explanations for the increased desire to occupy and use public spaces in the cities. On the other hand, this “rise” has to be related to increasing efforts by urban politicians and planners to regain control over public space by privatisation and surveillance, and to discipline public behaviour in favour of a safe and tidy environment. My search for answers will be inspired by recent discussions on “postmodernism”. By taking into account both new potentials and threats, I trive to come to a balanced understanding and conceptualisation of public spaces and their current as well as their potential significance for (democratic, “postmodern”) society. The paper is based on my PhD thesis “Political action in urban public spaces”, which focused on the political dimension of public spaces, and on further empirical observations related to the use of public space in German and other cities.



dr Jörg Dürrschmidt and Andrea Gerhardt

Kassel University, Germany


Between Europeanization and Marginalization – nested urbanism’ in a German/Polish border city


Scepticism towards the claim that globalization was forcing convergence in social and spatial patterns on a ‘global city’ model, has triggered a new interest in the variations, contradictions and complexities of urban and regional development. This has led to a revitalized interest in the ‘ordinary city’ that is not at centre stage of a networked global society. Rather than transcending their hinterland of national political institutions and regional cultural landscapes (as ‘global cities’ are supposed to do), ordinary cities are ‘nested cities’, deeply entwined in the complexity of global connectivity, national developmental model, regional cultural landscape and local tradition. In our paper we claim that the border cities along the German-Polish border provide a vivid example of ‘nested urbanism’. A closer look at these cities shows that they are not sufficiently grasped by terms such as ‘shrinking’ and ‘marginalized cities’. Instead we have to relearn to think in contradictions: global links and attempts towards European integration go along with long-term deindustrialization, and shrinking population development features alongside attempts to revitalize a post-socialist civil society. Based on ethnographic research in the Polish/German border town Guben/Gubin we will further outline the processes and actors involved in ‘ordinary city’ development. Moreover, we shall indicate how much the nested character of this city influences its inner landscape, from patterns of social inclusion and exclusion right down to its architecture. The argument will be focused around the current controversial debate on a shared city centre development scheme in Guben/Gubin.   


Dr Jarosław Mikołajec

Politechnika Śląska


Revitalization of cities of Katowice agglomeration in the context of regional restructurisation


Katowice agglomeration is a typical coal conurbation just like many others created in the west of Europe in the 19th century. It is situated in the east of the European industrial core. Traditional industry regions such as Katowice agglomeration are characterized by industrial monostructure, degradation of natural environment, rigid institutions, cultural desert, shrinking traditional industries. Katowice agglomeration, like other traditional industrial regions in post – communist states underwent economic decline after 1990.
200 years exploitation of coal resulted in creation of chaotic structure of urban space. This chaos manifests itself in an inconvenient mixture of dwelling – houses and industrial areas. Huge groups of blocks erected during the time of Polish People’s Republic are neighbours with “familoki” – traditional workers’ residential districts.
Revitalization is an activity which consists in bringing degenerate urban areas back to life. But revitalization of traditional industry regions constitutes an entirely new category of city revitalization problems, e.g. the problem of adapting industrial objects to flats, catering business, trade, recreation. A new sphere of postindustrial areas revitalization is tourist utilization of buildings and other objects, for example as museums of industry. A good example can be the underground mining museums in Zabrze and Tarnowskie Góry.
Revitalisation of Katowice agglomeration can make use of the experience of similar postindustrial areas in Western Europe, especially old coal conurbations like the Ruhr region in Germany.


dr Konrad Miciukiewicz

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań


Pólwiejska Street in Transition: Revitalization or Gentrification


The paper is aimed at finding and interpreting the ongoing processes of spatial and social transformation, that have been recently taking place on Półwiejska St. in Poznań. Półwiejska St., known to the wider public of the “Old Brewery” shopping centre and the minority demonstration  called “the March of Equality”, has become the leading example of the ongoing urban change in Polish cities. The paper reports on the empirical findings from in-depth interviews, commenting  both on socio-spatial transformations and their cognitive mappings. The  case of  Półwiejska St. is described in the light of two interpretative grids used for understanding urban change  in social theory: 1)  gentrification and 2) revitalization. The empirical study on  identifies the traces of both gentrification and revitalization practices, which overlap in the process of urban change on Półwiejska St. Author argues, that the two notions not only address the processes of urban renewal, but also are employed to construe discourses on urban change. 


Dr Katrin Großmann

UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig


Urban ‘shrinkage’ in East Central Europe:

Benefits and limits of a cross-national transfer of research approaches

(Paper prepared in cooperation with Annett Steinführer, Annegret Haase, Sigrun Kabisch)



An enlarged European Union also means broadening horizons. This is not only true for daily-life experience but also for scientific concepts and approaches. The outside perspective brings in a fresh breeze, new questions are raised, conventional explanations are challenged by other approaches and interests. Because these research interest origin in a different context, it is crucial for the quality of the research result to continuously reflect on the appropriateness of the approach, the terms and concepts applied. Careful attention has to be paid to similarities and differences between the contexts.
In our paper, we want to present a case in point for such a transfer of research approaches from the field of urban studies. In this area of research, in recent years a relatively new phenomenon gained ever greater attention: ‘shrinkage’ as a path of urban development distinct from the ‘normalcy’ of growth. Urban shrinkage first and foremost refers to significantly declining numbers of inhabitants within relatively short time-periods, rooted both in negative migration balances and changing demographic behaviour. In the mid and long term, this process has profound implications for the urban fabric, the technical and housing infrastructure, the socio-demographic composition and the municipal budget of the cities concerned. The most prominent example of urban shrinkage is eastern Germany where in the period of post-socialist transition most towns experienced sharp declines in their population numbers. But there is evidence that this process will also affect other post-socialist societies. Taking into consideration the development of Polish and Czech cities, the paper will discuss whether the concept of ‘shrinkage’ is appropriate for the ongoing urban transition in these countries.


Dr Michał Nowosielski

Institute for Western Affairs, Poznań, Poland


Social activation in the context of Polish cities


Creating and developing local communities especially in the urban context seem to be one of the conditions of robust civil society which is able to cooperate with other social actors like the local government. Looking at the poor condition of civil and social spirit  among citizens of Polish cities it seems that there is a need to undertake some actions which will aim at increasing their social activity. Such activation programs might be an important tool of creating active urban communities which would take part in developing cities, their economic and social potential. There are few possible agents who might carry out activation programs: the state, local government, or civil society organizations.

The analysis of Polish activation programs shows that in most cases only the third sector is interested in developing social activity among citizens of Polish cities. This results in limitation of range of such programs focused mainly at street, or district communities.    


Dr. Marek Nowak
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań

Post communist Citizenship? Generational  view of social microactivism based on surveys conducted in Poznań

The problem of civil activism is analysed in the context of evolution of Central European civil society, being a cyclical process of losing and gaining social subjectivity. Such a way of tackling the problem of citizenship seems to contrast the Central European view on civil society as a subjectivity gained through mass activism of a revolutionary character with a view that is common in Western Democracies (See Th. Marshall’s view). Sociological research which is currently conducted in Poland show that a “social stillness” is one of the consequences of the transformation project that has been carried out for several years. The “social stillness” is understood as a crisis of cooperation and spreading of individualistic strategies together with lack of trust not only within relations between individuals but also towards most social institutions. This phenomenon can also be clearly seen at a microsocial level in neighbourly relations and in the attitude towards collectively consumed goods. The problem is seems to be far reaching, and basically should be seen in historical manner. We suggest three types of cultural patterns which belong to the past and direct peoples behaviour.  
These behavioural patterns, which we described are as diverse as the age of the respondents, which may indicate a change in perception of social microactivism over the last several years. The suggested elements of a diagnosis will be illustrated by the results of quantitative and qualitative research projects which were carried out among the citizens of Poznań in 2003 and 2006.