Eva Maria Hierzer
This should not become a manifesto for Gstettn as potential areas for
intermediate use or temporary public spaces, because there have already
been manifold publications on this issue. Instead, this should become a
reflection on Gstettn as usable urban space, also in the context of Graz,
in which man, animal and plants find freedom in a personal urban space
or biosphere apart from the controlled and designed public space of a
Apart from temporary intermission spectacles and productions of urban acitivists, the Gstettn is of use for the diverse inhabitants of the city in every day life. This might not conform with the aesthetic ideals of city planning, as the respective usage does not serve an aesthetic purpose but that of common use. In most cases those places are used anonymously. They do not
want to open towards the city; on the contrary, they are opened and used as a personal and secret place for expansion within the urban realm, by those who are often unwanted in public spaces, cannot find other places for alternative use, or who do not want to conform to the rules of composition and habitus within the public space.
The Gstettn is regarded here as an urban fringe, a futile urban space. It is a temporarily uncontrolled space, which only exists for a limited period of time. This period could be longer or shorter. But the existence of a Gstettn is finite. I want to describe here how Gstettn could be located within the cultural spheres of cities, how they emerge, what defines them as free zones and by whom they are used.
Per definition, the Gstettn is an untamed and scruffy natural space in the
city. It has marginal, strange and dangerous connotations, as opposed
to the parks and green spaces of a city, which are well-planned, tidy and
neatly arranged natural spaces for recreational pleasure. The parks are
part of the well-planned and designed areas of a city, in which every
area is part of a zoning plan and ascribed with a certain purpose of utilization.
Gstettn are, like fallows, peripheral spaces and ruins of buildings,
part of the urban fringes. Cultivated areas and uncultivated areas build
the contrastive pair of a city: “the term plan is associated with cultivation,
government, general public, control, order, overview and fixation, around
the ‘margins’ of power imbalance, inequality, poverty, but also spontaneity,
free zones and mobility.” When the cities (polis) emerged, people
started to separate these places clearly from nature and the contrastive
pair of the city as a well-planned and cultural space and the fringes as
parts of a “dangerous” nature or as impoverished suburban areas arose.
With the fall of town walls and the growth of the cities’ peripheries came
the interweaving of city centres with fringe areas. Particularly in times
of industrialisation and urban sprawl, gaps and fallows emerged in the
factories, business enterprises and housing spaces of the cities. Today,
the urban fringes are not just situated in the periphery but also in the
Gstettn are witness to the rapid transition and transformation process of urban planning areas to the fringes and back. They do not just form transition zones of places of former utilization and their, partly uncertain, new utilization, but are also part of a wider cultural and social transformation process within the planning areas and fringes of the urban realm. Many American cities, such as Chicago, Detroit or Philadelphia, are good examples of this transformation caused by social change. From the beginning of the 19th century until the 1950s and 60s, the upper – and middle class of these cities drifted from the city centres to the suburban areas, in so-called white flight. The abandoned inner-city areas were populated or occupied by the poorer parts of the population. With the migration of those who could afford it, governmental control and security also disappeared. Consequently, these urban areas became fringes. A good example for a transformation through cultural transition would be the reintegration of natural space within the urban realm. In the Middle Ages, nature belonged to the outskirts of a city, but then became part of the planning areas, in the shape of parks and green space, where nature was restrained and assigned utility. Thus, we can foresee that the future role of the Gstettn and fallows, which we find in the innercity areas of European big cities, will not be that of fringe areas, but transform through processes of cultural transition to areas of municipal planning and places with high potential for urban development. The receding romantics associated with industrial ruins in the 19th century were caused by the progress of postmodernism. The spirit of urban activists, which longed for expansion, transformed former industrial areas, such as those in the Ruhr district, Amsterdam, Berlin or Paris, to parts of the urban cultural space, hence, to urban planning areas and areas of potential. But still, we are talking about Gstettn, as parts of the fringe and not as potential areas or even planning areas.
Gstettn mostly emerge from infills, abandoned areas of railway stations
or industrial zones, around ruins and abandoned buildings, in allotments
or former tracks; in short, they emerge in places people have turned
away from, have withdrawn their interest from, places people do not
use anymore, which means that these places no longer have exploitable
purposes. They become futile urban areas and thus degraded as fringe.
Places in which Gstettn emerge served a specific purpose, were defined by a specific utilization which must cease in order for the Gstettn to come into being. These places were once part of urban planning areas. Thus, if we talk about utilization, we define the purpose and use of a certain place. One example would be the residential purpose of a place: as soon as we use a place for living, we give it the purpose of a human dwelling area. Purpose and use are independent from each other, even if we use the building not
as a living space but as workplace, it is characterized by a specific from of utilization. However, if the building has just one purpose, which is that of representing a store of value, then it is not used and the place is not characterized by a special form of utilization. Here, we distinguish between official and unofficial utilization. The official utilization is characterized by the specific purpose and use a property owner or trustee assigns to it. The unofficial utilization is characterized by the fact that the use of the place does not conform to its purpose (which is also defined as informal utilization). This also means that if a place has the purpose of being a repository, a parking site or a store value, but is used as a playground, lane or garden, it is
characterized by unofficial utilization. The official utilization is location–independent, as it could be located anywhere. The unofficial utilization is location–dependent, as the utilization is always dependent from place, its surroundings and the respective agents, but not from the purpose. If we talk about the utilization of Gstettn now, we always talk about the unofficial
utilization. The physical place has the purpose of being a capital investment of private property, but is not used officially. Unofficially, Gstettn become a biosphere for animals and plants, but is used by man as rubbish dump, shortcut or playground, and thus gains a new unofficial utilization. It is dependent from the soil and the location, which plants grow there and the kinds of animals which settle there is dependent from the food and shelter they find, and how humans use the place is dependent from the urban location, its accessibility, and the demands for utilizations which the surroundings do not offer. Gstettn as parts of the urban realm are always in interaction with this realm and could thus not be regarded as islands within cities.
The places of origin of the various Gstettn are as heterogeneous as Gstettn
themselves. They may seem identical at first, but they differ not only regarding
their surrounding urban space but also regarding their history.
As a former part of the planning area, Gstettn could not be understood as
Non-places but as places with a unique history and identity which can be
found in obvious or hidden tracks. A Gstettn is similar to a piece of paper,
from which the handwriting has been erased. One can still partly read the
writings and partly not, depending on how much pressure the hand used
while writing. The pen has left glyphs on the surface of the paper, which
can still be traced. Likewise, we also find old tracks, ruins, construction
waste, slabs of concrete, and much more inside a Gstettn, its glyphs of
history and identity. Through the growth of plants a new layer, a new
lettering emerges, which overshadows the former glyphs of the Gstettn.
Even if the layer of plants on the surface remains the only visible layer,
there are many additional anonymous and informal layers, which label
the Gstettn anew through the various forms of its informal utilization. It
consists, like many other places of the city, of different layers of history,
although just the superficial layers are visible in the present moment. As
a consequence of the superficial non-utilization of a place in which a
Gstettn emerges, it appears as a non-place, whereas it is per definition
according to Marc Augé, and as described above, an anthropological place.
Thus, Gstettn are not futile areas, but cultural areas of cities.
By the withdrawal of interest and through erasing the former utilization, an apparently “empty” space emerges, which offers possibilities for new labels, apart from normalized and controlled official registrations – a space of possibility originating through the potential use of free space. In contrast to general public space, such as streets, parks or squares, Gstettn form, due to the lack of public observation accompanied by regimentations of use and behavior (normalization), free zones. The multitude of possibilities which arise allow for new ideas of utilization, which are not possible in controlled space (street, square, park), but also not in private space (shopping mall, amusement parks and so on). Here we need to distinguish again between the modes of official and unofficial utilization. Official utilization can only be performed within the framework of a given rulebook and, thus, does not adjust to the local conditions of a place, but to the conditions of those who control the space. Rules of behavior and use are defined hierarchically by those who control space, not by space itself. By contrast, unofficial utilization does not follow the frameworks of rulebooks made by officials; it follows the rules of local conditions instead and thus forms a free zone without hierarchical order. Unofficial utilization is marked here by individual reflection and individual use, which constantly changes and redefines. How Gstettn are used depends not only on the place itself, but also on the sociocultural background of those who use it. The great variety and differing extents to which Gstettn are unofficially used can be demonstrated by
comparing Graz with Berlin. The social and cultural occupancy of Gstettn, fallows, infills and empty buildings dates long back in the history of Berlin and now shows a variety of new forms of utilizations of free zones. In Graz, however, this socio-cultural background is non-existent. Gstettn are used to nowhere near the extent and intensity as they are in Berlin. Whetherthe bourgeois mentality of people, the lack in population density, or the abundance of green space is the reason for this is impossible to answer without extensive anthropological and cultural analysis.
The most common utilizations of Gstettn in Graz are anonymous, which
means that the agents (animal or human) do not want to reveal their use
of the place publicly. They often want to use the place secretly. While
animals and plants are using it as their undisturbed habitat, man uses
this free zone in many different ways. Some visitors only want to act in
secret, some demonstrate their use of the place outwardly, and some
just use it because it is there. Others use it as an anonymous mass. Those
who show their use are most probably urban activists, urban pioneers
or artists, who intend to create an awareness of the place itself through
their public use. They are those who temporarily create new public
spaces and thus pursue urban development by supporting the heterogeneity
and utilizations of urban space. This form of use, however,
hardly exists in Graz, although Gstettn form a new free zone for anonymous
utilizations through single agents, small groups or masses of
people. The more intense the utilization through the agents becomes,
the more they leave obvious traces inside the Gstettn. Examples of
such traces are beaten paths, fire pits, garbage, fields for dog-walking
or deterioration of fences and entry zones. Graz’ Gstettn show
many traces of anonymous utilization, as long as the access for the
inhabitants is guaranteed.
The modes of unofficial utilization and specific use through different agents emerges from the accessibility, visibility, given physical structures like plants, buildings, population density of the surroundings, and the number of potential users ofthe place. The emergence and use of a Gstettn is not just dependent on the place itself, but also on its surroundings. The possibility space – the un-used space – from which the Gstettn originates is a place, a free zone, which is used by those who come from outside, who do not actually live there, but come from the surroundings. A Gstettn can be used as an extended urban area (playground, soccer ground), or as alternative urban area. Alternative urban areas supply the urban population with offers for utilization which
the public space or the private property market do not satisfy, or which are unwanted in controlled public space. Often, they are also used unofficially because the users are not equipped with the necessary economic means they would need for official utilization of public places. They are used by Punks, homeless people or other marginalized groups. Therefore, Gstettn are not just untamed green space, but – as far as they are used – free space, which satisfies the desire for utilizations which are not offered within the rest of the city.
In other European cities, Gstettn are by now part of the urban cultural
landscape. Temporary space, and its use, has become an effective tool
for city planning, an instigator for a revaluation of city areas. But the
staging of the “un-planned” as urban lifestyle allows those places to
become further narcissistic spectacles for city planners rather than
places of real expansion.
The fallows and infills of a city, of which Gstettn are one example, are often glorified as potential areas for alternative methods of city planning – as instigators for gentle city development – which is not initiated by planners, but by those people who actually use the urban space. Gstettn are, without a doubt, ideal stages for temporary space and have proven the potential
of alternative city development space. However, this approach to Gstettn sees them as planning areas and not, as described here, as fringes. Cities like Berlin, Vienna, Paris or London appreciate the staging and playability of Gstettn, fallows and industrial ruins by urban pioneers and make those become – involuntarily – instrumentalized means of revaluation. The senate administration in Berlin published a book called Urban Pioneers in 2007, which preaches not just the practical but also the cultural advantages of such temporary utilizations for the city governments. Another example is the European research project under the title Urban Catalyst, which consists of an analysis of the potential of temporary use of urban fallows within the Vienna City area. Both examples propagate the active reintegration of futile areas into the urban realm and consequently, a reintegration into the planning areas of cities. However, the principle of non-planning is misunderstood as a “quick functional and yield fulfilment”, which always leads to “short-dated architectures” which “are abandoned as soon as the conditions change”. This development represents “an accelerated functionalism […] that strings together apparently ideal situations, without being able to interlink them”. Gstettn are, as described above, urban fringes, futile areas, which do not underlie a hierarchical diction, but which are used individually and uncontrolled, according to local conditions and premises. They do not mirror an ideal of fictional situations – what we want – but reflect the ordinary – what we need.