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Self-Organization as a Resource for Sustainability Transformation? How Co-Housing Groups are Being Managed in the Development of Vienna’s Wildgarten Project

Civil Society
Democracy
Environmental Policy
Governance
Local Government
Political Participation
Public Administration
Felix Butzlaff
Vienna University of Economics and Business – WU Wien
Leonie Bleiker
Vienna University of Economics and Business – WU Wien
Felix Butzlaff
Vienna University of Economics and Business – WU Wien
Michael Deflorian
Vienna University of Economics and Business – WU Wien

Abstract

In contemporary environmental governance and city-planning, the idea of citizens participating in decision-making has become hegemonic. This goes back to the New Social Movements of the 1970s and 1980s and their perspectives and demands to democratize societal steering and development. Consequentially, collaborative forms of housing are proliferating (Tummers 2016, Czische et al. 2020. Lang et al 2020) and incorporated in many projects of city planning and social transformation. This increasing incorporation of co-determination in housing and planning, however, has been conceptualized in very different ways. In the literature on urban planning and urban development the proliferation of co-housing groups has, inter alia, been conceptualized as a signal of shifting participatory demands of citizens on the one hand, and as efforts to realize social change on an everyday level on the other. However, in comparison with earlier, more ideologically motivated experiments to prefigure alternative visions of society (such as the new social movements of the 1970s and 1980s), contemporary forms are described as focusing on more pragmatic ways to address the social, economic, and ecological problems and crises of today (Tummers 2016). Self-organized forms of housing, this is the bottom line, might signal that demands for co- and self-determination of citizens have shifted, and that they might provide much needed innovations for alternative ways of housing and city development. Others, however, have conceptualized the proliferation of collaborative forms of housing not as more democratic citizen participation and co-determination, but as shifting notions of governance. In the governance literature, it is widely assumed that participatory forms of governance operate more effectively and efficiently than traditional government approaches (Newig 2007; see also Blühdorn & Deflorian 2019) and that monocentric and top-down structures of planning and decision-making are increasingly replaced by polycentric and participatory forms of policy-making (Thiel et al. 2018; Saurugger 2010; Bäckstrand et al. 2010). Consequentially, scholars have argued that the arrival of urban governance frameworks signals the transformation from Keynesian to neoliberal forms of public policy, the latter focussing on activating and responsibilizing citizens (and thus: co-housing groups) for the management and solution of problems in urban sites (Mayer 2013; Keil 2009; Uitermark & Nicholls 2013). Therefore, in this paper, we seek to scrutinize the contemporary proliferation of co-housing groups in light of two theoretical lenses: a rise of self-organization and alternative forms of housing viewed as a contemporary shift of participatory and democratic expectations on the one hand, and as a sign of new forms of neoliberal top-down appropriation of previously more autonomous spaces. In a series of qualitative interviews with city planners and members of co-housing groups in a Viennese city development area, we scrutinize different readings of local citizen participation.