Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
I linked a couple weeks ago to a series of video shorts on Detroit. One of them was a documentary about the city’s techno heritage. The same producer created videos of other techno scenes as well, including the one below of Berlin.
It’s an interesting overview of a slice of Berlin’s famous creative scene, but I wanted to highlight a couple points about it. First, per the video, the thing that originally drew creatives to then West Berlin was a West German law that residents of West Berlin were exempt from compulsory military service. Second, a key catalyst for the explosion of the techno scene was the collapse of the Berlin Wall. This led to a mass exodus from East Berlin that left many abandoned structures with no clear legalities around their ownership or use. The curious and creative Western draft avoiders then went to explore these and ended up creating the techno scene.
I think this is interesting in assessing policies to lure the creative class and what you need to do to support a creative scene. There was no policy to attract creative people to the city. They came on their own to exploit a loophole in a law wholly unrelated to creativity. Once there, they took advantage of cheap, available spaces with few restrictions on what to do, catalyzed by a massive social upheaval.
This suggests the genesis Berlin’s creative environment was an accident that can’t be replicated by others. The one item that seems amenable to copying is cheap spaces with few restrictions. Indeed, this is sort of what we see playing out in Detroit at present. It’s hard for cities perhaps to produce the spaces in the first place, but they can make a choice to keep their hands off when people start experimenting. Detroit did this unintentionally through government incompetence and severe resource constraints. Whether other more capable city governments can resist the urge to intervene is a question yet to be answered. For more thoughts on this, see Detroit as Urban Laboratory and the New American Frontier.
Here’s the video: If it doesn’t display for you, click here.