This morning we met Dr. Michael LaFond at his office, id22: the Institute for Creative Sustainability on the south side of the Spree River.
As he illustrated the work of sustainability, he introduced us the idea of "co-living, co-working" in the Spreefeld Cooperative as well as another relevant slogan "do it yourself, do it together." In a city like Berlin, these ideas seem so natural and reasonable due to its strong cultural base, a large creative population, and a great amount of independent singles. Under co-living projects, residents live and work together, sharing the working spaces as well as the infrastructures. They not only share the costs, but also share their ideas.
The Spreefeld project is an example of how cooperative housing can promote a more sustainable way of living. The government sold this land to the Spreefeld Cooperative for a model mixed-use, mixed-income project, aiming to attract people interested in living and working together.
The ground floors are public, available for many different activities. The second floors are offices and upper floors are living units. Meanwhile, the open ground spaces are used as the cooperative land, which are under management of a non-profit organization named Spree Anchor to make sure the uses are properly laid out.
Many creative ideas infuse the cooperative. There are various public places such as a dancing room, a carpenter workshop, a boat house refurnished from a former police boat station, and a public kitchen. These "option spaces" allow people to find opportunities for their careers or to improve their living quality. They keep installing new sustainable infrastructures such as a "co-generating system" to generate heat from the ice-melting process and green roofs to reduce on- site stormwater runoff; they plant foods in the community gardens and reserve green roofs for parties. They use "shared-space streets" to incorporate pedestrians, bikes and cars on the same lane and have no parking lots to restraint the car uses; They use long balconies surrounding different living units to tie people closely with a shared public space. "The project should never be finished," LaFond said, showing their passion and satisfaction on this model project.
After a tour of the Spreefeld project, Dr. LaFond then took us to some other sites, each with special achievements in applying the "co-working, co-housing" idea.
We saw a tepee community on a public riverbank offering tepees as an affordable housing option. People who want to move in only need to obey the rule of the community to behave properly. The tepees looked neat, yet I was a little concerned about the shower and toilet conditions and also surprised by its existence in such an important area. It is unimaginable in today's China to designate a public riverbank in city center for housing.
We then visited an area named YAAM where members of the immigrant community have built a recreational park from waste materials and scrap cars, an alternative housing project which converted a former hotel into a concert building, a building renovation project where residents are involved in design and renewal of the building, an shared work complex where individuals can rent a desk for from one day to a year to conduct their own businesses, and different kinds of community gardens. The rebuilt dead strip parks inspired me so much on the utilization of historic traces and the effective memory recalling designs.
In our last site, the Prinzessinnegarten, we saw a highly organized system or urban gardening in the Kreuzberg district. People collect rainwater for irrigating; they plant flowers and foods and sell the seeds; they raise bees with tree hives to pollinate the flowers; they also run bars and restaurants to accommodate the visitors. It is a very lively and peaceful place that is a great model for what can happen with little cost and lots of work.
The first day in Berlin to me was a wonderful start to the whole program. Every place seems to be growing naturally and spontaneous and also in a cleverly organized way. People here are so good at planting ideas and make changes, and also in a good cooperating with the city government and others. I wish I could digest all the ideas I learned today, and see where they could be most properly applied in my future work.
Guest Blogger: Summer Xiang