On the ties between participation, innovation and occupation

Drop of membership and participation in structured political processes and organisations coincides  with Rise of Protest movements and Rise of social innovation.

All over Europe and beyond we are seeing young, and not so young people attempting innovative ways to address challenges in their lives and those of others. Some, like Elf Pavlik, are modeling non-transaction based economies. Others, like Jacky Mallet are attempting to reverse engineer the banking system from a systems engineering perspective. Taken as a whole their efforts are building the future we will all be living in tomorrow. I would argue that if we really want to understand how to address youth unemployment we should be asking how to better support our young in their future-building exercise. Why? Because as we have seen from the research carried out in Edgeryders, occupation is not what the older generation thinks it is. Adventurous, innovative young (and not so young) people are inventing new ways to work – ways that are not necessarily within the job-in-corporate-hierarchy paradigm. This sounds like good news – until the vested interests, which they disrupt in their quest for a fairer and more just world, fight back. And they do fight back.

A recent article about the newly deceased Aaron Swartz pointed out how America has grown less tolerant of its genius eccentrics who push the envelope on issues. In Sweden we have our own case with the persecution of Peter Sunde, a free information activist and dissident, by prosecuting him for doing  essentially what Google does. The Pirate Bay project was and is deeply political: making information freely available out of a deeply embedded sense of social justice in the Internet age. And let’s not even get into the Julian Assange issue, which is still the subject of a much heated national and international debate. The list of examples is long: the establishment pushes young people towards dreaming up new ways of working, thinking, living. But when they do find them, it strikes them down in anger and fear.

With highly progressive unemployment rates and little chances of the trend being reversible, full occupation remains a myth; yet grassroots initiatives such as the Unconditional Basic Income do bring in prospects for increased security and better welfare conditions. As argued by its advocates, it would also make it easier to practice a freely chosen occupation. If given more space like that, young innovators could work their way to build up responses to more complex needs, such as the need for more resilient structures (food security, community networks), and ultimately the search for meaning in one’s working life. Some other examples of the kinds of initiatives that people might do more of if they didn’t have to hustle so hard are :

  1. Refurbishing public spaces and  building homes for the homeless in Stockholm by upgrading existing disused spaces and making them cosier or more artistic under what seems to be a “guerrilla architecture”, with no legal permits to do so.
  2. Using excess capacity to build bottom up social infrastructures like urban gardens in Berlin or appropriating disused buildings to provide community services in Naples.
  3. Building intentional communities like the Edgeryders unMonastery, or the Freelab in rural Poland that serves other groups, especially the local community, by offering social and technical support and education (hemp growing and processing or building rocket stoves).
  4. Engaging directly with politicians and participate in legislative initiatives. The anti ACTA mobilization last year, although triggering the reversal of governments’ plans and using some non-orthodox methods as well, managed to get people and the civil society into an organized process of dissent, engaging through formal channels even if solely to disrupt them. The Polish example stands as exhibit a, but the pattern has spread rapidly .

Maybe some of the world’s leaders will help to build support for our young. I don’t know about you – I am not holding my breath. Given the deep structural and ideological rupture between how political institutions and how new generations envision change, it comes down to what you, me and everyone we know can do to help broaden the hard-won islands of change. With the Internet and new technologies increasing our ability to process and understand political information, being part of the change is often at click distance.

So the question we’d like to leave you with is what examples of good people, places, projects or processes do you know of that are trying to affect positive change in their communities? We’d love to hear about them so we can showcase them and spread awareness about the great work they are doing and see if we can rally more support around it. Especially if they are based somewhere around the Baltic Sea area, tell us!

Where does this all go? In preparing an anthology on youth, the labour market and democracy we will be hosting a research workshop on the 15th of March in Stockholm. The workshop brings together labour market and democracy researchers, people in the academia and other European experts, alongside YOU. The workshop discussions will be heavily based on this online conversation. A limited number of selected contributors will be invited to the workshop, with their travel expenses covered by Global Challenge. After the workshop, we envision these contributions to be further developed into individual articles (2500 words), meant for publication with an ISBN number this year. Each article selected for publication in the book will be paid for.

All the comments and reactions to this post will be valid submissions for a workshop invitation, provided they are published before February 11. The more relevant your point is and the more active you are in the conversation, the better. If you have questions please send us an email at edgeryders@gmail.com.



It starts to be more and more visible that actually this crisis was inevitable in order to make people understand of their resources, priorities, possibilities and duties.

There are several examples and processes that one can observe looking at people either experiencing strong crisis, or becoming – not that much due to the crisis, like in Poland, where not much changed because of it, but rather because of general social tendencies of pushing away young people and creating so called “precarious class” – raising awareness and disagreement for reality.

  • talking about innovation, we’re trying to fight with the system, that provided us with some definite solutions which are not suitable and far from innovation at the moment. Talking “me” as part of “precariuous: indeed, PhD student who finished compeltely inpractical studies – Political Science with Journalism, who tried her best to get as much experience as possible, and who is now failing with finding a job that would be suitable to my needs, competences and schedule. Due to corporational and traditional thinking of working employers, who believe the only motivation for people to work and fulfill their routine, dull work, is to force them to the 8-hours schedule, which might turn out to be a complete fail soon enough. With amazing access to new technologies, IT equippment, preparation we are usually encouraged to give up any creative environment, we’re cut off from ideas of being mobile and somehow free to organise yourselves: in reward we are given this amazing chance of being part of OK paid system, in where many things are at least quite certain. As educational path does not equipp us with courage and ability to break-out from the pattern, this is the common expectation of young people finishing studies: fitting in the system is a great idea.

But those who were courageous enough, have a great chance of doing something amazing with their lives, provided they are ready to live in uncertain circumstances, afford risk, prepare themselves for financial disciplne, etc. They will not end up in front of a desk in the office – maybe sometimes, when it’s a small office they started, or their private desk is the same one. They will struggle with success to detach themselves from the obligation to go to work every morning – they want to live in different places and do some things, that so often do not require being at the spot anyway. And they will have incentive to constantly develop and adapt. I think fact that so many of us is being left outside from the jobs – due to many reasons, from devaluation of educational degrees from lack of competences and different market needs than offers – will chose this way and start enjoying the effects of the crisis. At the end of the day market will be able to accept the facts it overlooked so far, keeping us busy and obedient.

Innovation has been an interesting response to the problems. All these actions that were mentioned in this post remind me of one amazing initative of US people who decided to support disadvantaged communities by helping them developing their own bike workshops: the idea is simple, people from places in Africa for instance (but this idea is a solution for so many places around us) are given a job, are taught skills, have a chance to overcome the exclusion from means of transportation, which is a great step towards breaking the visious circle of social injustice and exlusion. One Street, which is the name of the initative, bring a vital response to the question on social potential: civil society is able to use its resources in such situation, give an appropirate answer to the questions what should be done, help the state, which fails unfortunatelly quite often, to fulfill the needs of the society, look after the needs. We live in an abstract world that tells people around how equal it all is – while not being able to even differences and problems. it is not that I have definite answer. But I believe in grassroot action and small scale activities, mentoring, ideas exchange – they will help us improve at first.

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Celebrate unemployment


That post got me writing and here are a ton of ideas.

Start a business that rents out rooms for US$ 100 equivalent per month where unemployed and freelancers with unreliable clients and artists and researchers can live and utilize community resources such as private studios, co-working spaces, kitchen collectives, common space and access to each other for skill sharing and collaboration.

I know of an empty building in Latvia. I’m friends with the owner and I casually pitched him on doing this concept there and he was interested. He had on his own thought about starting some kind of an artist community someplace anyway. Maybe as part of this effort I could get him on board and we could renovate the building and propagate it with a few dozen people to try out the concept. I suppose a grant from the government would be a nice facilitator of this although it would need to be a no-strings attached grant where documentation on the experiment was all they wanted. You don’t want the government tampering with your lifestyle so them designing your living and working space isn’t ideal. But funding it, why not.

The key to these spaces though is that they be low cost to the individuals and each person pays rent rather then the government paying their rent for them. This way they are free to travel, stay with friends and family, move in with a lover or do what ever they want and they still get their unemployment checks. You’ve got to give people control over their lives. Cash is the best way to support the unemployed. I know there is fear they’ll just spend it on drugs, alcohol and other frivolous things but you can’t use policy to fight self destructive behavior you have to let culture do that. The more there is to look forward to the less self destructive people will be.

So I think that the role of government is just to take from the tax pool and help people with no job keep afloat by giving them unemployment checks each month for at least $300 us dollar equivalent. The more the better but not so much it’s a big tax burden. People don’t like too much taxation.

Do you now what someone in Latvia can get when collecting unemployment? It would be good to know what each country in the region provides.

Here is another idea. Collapse borders a bit for the unemployment. So have essentially an unemployed visa in which a person is allowed to live in a country as long as they want as long as they don’t get an official job. But allow them to work for free. This way people are encouraged to travel to other countries and gain work experience.

Travel increases the value of someone in the freelance marketplace. To get more travelers leaving the country it might be smart to get some entering too. So for example you get Latvia to make a deal with india for a one to one trade on people who can stay as long as they want. So for everyone willing to go immerse in India there is someone who can come immerse from India. Someone developing IT programming skills could really benefit from a program like that.

Skills are naturally and organically passed along when people live and work together even if they aren’t working on the same projects. When you need help and can ask someone that knows there is a natural mentorship that takes place.

I’ve worked at start up companies and the missing resource is always IT. So anything that increases IT talent can increase the overall economy of that place. So if I were these countries I’d be strategizing a race to develop the most IT talent. So that’s programmers, developers, coders, iOS & android developers, UX design and all aspects of digital software design. So allowing others with any of these skills into the country on an unemployment salary would put them most likely elbow to elbow with other unemployed who would then start to gain their skills.

Tunisa is a good example where these skills are learned but then there are no jobs that can utilize these skills so people end up living with their families. If those people were invited to say Latvia there would be a culture clash for sure but it would be a really interesting opportunity for them to share their skills with other unemployed people.

I know it’s counter intuitive to spend money allowing foreigners to live in your country but the more you create international groups working together the more you improve the hire-ability of everyone involved.

I’ve personally gone up in value just be exporting myself to places where my skills were less common and then each new place I go the perceived value goes up becomes of places I’ve worked.

Another idea is crowd funding projects with government funds. It’s what Max is doing. It’s a great model. Make the people who want more then a normal amount of funding have to participate in a grant process where the application is public on the web and functions as a crowd funding campaign. As people donate money to projects that money is tripled by a governmental match. That’s a little different then Max’s model but I think it’s good because it causes people to commit to some of their own money to help make a project happen but not as much as if it was a pure crowd funding campaign.

Also a free labor directory where people learn through doing and building collaborative networks. DIYdays.com will have in a few months a directory like this that will slowly be opened up beyond event goers. If it’s not universal enough then a new one can be made. Linked in is already pretty good actually. But lacks in the department of assisting people to find free labor.

Imagine a directory where people list their skills and get discovered to be a part of projects they then choose to accept or decline based on their level of passion for the work.

You said something to this effect. You like not getting paid because then you don’t have to do with people tell you if you don’t want to. By creating an ecosystem of projects that only happen when people have the passion to make them happen the over all catalog of projects should dramatically improve.

Then you get the media to hype up successful work and a snowball effect begins.

This should of course be a world wide network so it’s also getting people international experience.

Here is another good one:

Take them to burning man. I know this is a radical concept and unlikely to be funded by any government but it’s been reported that people often solve their monetary problems after a trip to burning man. I think that because it’s a survivalist event it ignites a dormant survival mechanism dead in our modern brains. When you have to build a yurt and survive vicious dust storms and remember to bring water every where and build a kitchen from scratch and live with no electricity or running water you get really good at taking care of yourself. This skill I think translates directly back into real life as one is lining up their life to provide all of the things they need. Plus you start to look at what you need differently. You realize how minimally you can really live. How simple a living accommodation can really be. Even the food rationing you do at burning man can translate to your default life and improve ones rationing of money and relationship to food decreasing how much they think they need to eat. Plus many camps rotate cooking shifts and I’ve camped with people who’s first experience cooking was at burning man. And they were well into their twenties. Google Burning man regional events to see events closer and cheaper to attend then Burning Man. Any survival based event would instill these skills. So governments could provide scholarships to survival skill events or workshops.

Also… more on the food topic. It might not be so much about getting jobs for these people as it is about improving the quality of life they can achieve on the small amount they get in their unemployment checks. So maybe scholarships for cooking classes? Or maybe funding for a book called, “the unemployed cookbook” teaching people to cook rich food while broke. The book could celebrate not having a job and having lots of time to cook really good food that costs almost nothing and makes the body and mind healthier providing a higher quality of life then those with jobs and no time to take care of themselves.

Finally… english. Get everyone working in english because it’s the language a lot of business is done in. Get them working on international projects where they get better at their english in professional settings. Create a culture that accepts correcting peoples bad english. I’m still working on my english as you can see in this sloppy email so definitely we need to get people who speak it as a second language to be better practiced in english to give them a competitive advantage. Also those who have english down very well should travel to places where they need english teachers. Most of asia is short on english teachers in my traveling experience. United arab Emirates apparently pays really well for english teachers.

Dating site for the unemployed. Improve their quality of life by connecting unemployed people with other unemployed people. Nothing is worse then a significant other always yelling at you to get a job. Actually the only thing worse is being unemployed and single. Find a match who won’t bitch about you not having a job and who can appreciate picnics and illegally downloaded movies and other free fun like good sex all day because neither of you have a job you have to go to.

NYsockExchange - This is an idea born out of a hack-a-thon group I was part of during occupy wall street. But we didn’t build it, just conceptualized. The idea was to help people with socks that don’t match find other socks of the correct color and shape and then link them up using an app. We were going to flood the New York Stock Exchange with socks as a publicity stunt but then all the arrests went out of style so we called it off. This tool could be used to connect a guy who has two coats but no boots with a guy that has 4 boots and no coat. This kind of a stuff finder is like craigslist designed for people with no money. Instead of the guy having to sell his boots to get the money to buy the coat you create a pay it forward gift economy. Let’s say it’s not the guy who has 4 boots that needs the coat so it’s not an easy exchange. If you create a pay it forward gift economy solution like couchsurfing.com then instead of each person giving and receiving value from individual each person gives and receives value from the network of individuals so it doesn’t matter who gave you something or when they gave it to you. It all goes in a digital bank and improves ones ranking by giving more which then encourages others to give more to them to improve their ranking and get more from others. Alternative economies are definitely part of the solution to unemployment.

I could really keep going… and going…

The point is I’m unemployed, always have been, always will be, but I make a lot of money, make my own films, have a pretty fun life and think that a jobless world is a better world and think the unemployed population shouldn’t be looked at as a problem to be corrected but as an asset to be maintained and nourished so this unique class can ultimately thrive above the rest until we all dream of being unemployed because it’s just got style.

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“a ton of ideas” + 1 gram

Arghh, I just lost my entire comment for some reason. Gotta write again :slight_smile:

Thanks Arin for drawing a picture of the US context with regards to the issue. Recently I stumbled upon a documentary mini-series called Young Americans. The episode 4/8 - The Ecomony, delves specifically into issues of youth (un)employment in the times of crisis.

The story of one young woman really stuck with me. Here it goes: A friend told her she was going to graduate right in the middle of the recession “There is gonna be no employment for anyone, and even if a lot of people around you are wealth and can maybe get jobs with their parents. […] It’s gonna be the best time of your life. No one is gonna be employed. No one is gonna have any chance of the Amrican Dream of having a job for a really long time. So, the best thing that you can do is go meet everybody that you can. Everybody will sincerely be interested in everybody else and if you’re really intrested in computers you’re gonna find people that are really interested in them versus just getting paid a lot to do them. So you build a real bond with people”.

I guess this argument is pretty valid in Europe as well. As soon as I crave some time I’ll post my views on the topic and bring some perspectives from the former soivet space.

Arin, perhaps this is not the best place to ask this, but I’m really curious in the way that the gatherings/meetings/hackathons go during the OWS? Could you post me toward some materials about the way people managed to collaborate, co-work, take decisions, mobilize, build consensus in large groups of people etc. Where there any facilitation methods, techniques, new ways of group work and coordination? I’d really appreciate it.

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Arin, I just have to say…

This contribution of yours just made my day. It’s quite inspiring, and lovely to see so daring ideas, if only you were the Government :slight_smile:

The part about offering your skills to a project of your choice, that Nadia mentioned, is probably Edgeryders Social Capital for Social Ventures #SC4SV, submitted to the EU Social Innovation Competition. If this gets through (I think even if it doesn’t, we’ll work it out someway) we’ll be prototyping an ecosystem that at least in theory has all chances to succeed… Where I see the risk is getting people enthusiast and committed to work on projects not their own without getting paid for and with meaningful rewards that nevertheless don’t help them make it through the day. A lot of talented people are not really entrepreneurial, so the question is what would be a good reputation and recognition system that makes them want to be part of this repository of great projects and skills. Vinay and Nadia here may have some thoughts on this, but this is something that I wouldn’t know how to manage…

3 years later this post is still very relevant!

… just wanted to say @Arincrumley @TOOLosophy that I was reminded of your comments today.

I was watching this video reporting on communities who invest together in cultural development: by taking over schools, buildings, - most often with the help of the state or ethical investors, foundations, planning consultants or owners foregoing part of the rent to invest it in the building development. These guys are really interesting to watch because they are allies to communities, helping figuring out a way to disrupt real estate speculation. This way people involved in social innovation or independent art collectives or whatever creative professions can not only keep costs low, but also have time to generate revenues and do really viable work from the point of view of the “society”. This is cooperativism as a more structured approach to somewhat fight unemployment or poverty by getting people into doign great work and revitalizing urban centers.

Maybe you’ve heard of some: Zoho (Rotterdam), Production Community Incubator House, Atrium Film-Szinhaz (Budapest), ExRotaprint (Berlin), Largo Residencias (Lisbon)…

occupy wall st general assembly techniques

Yes… there was a whole system that emerged inspired by various other methods from the open source community and community living collectives. The basics are that you had meetings where people with unexpressed voices were encouraged to share and people could make twinkle fingers if they liked an idea and a hand gesture to speed up if they were getting sick of listening. Also if the crowd was too big to hear there was the human mic. You probably saw that in videos. People echo each others voice. Very useful in moments of crisis when a large group needs to decide if they are all about to get arrested or if they’ll comply with the cops requests. Also since it’s illegal to use an electric PA system the human mic was a clever loop hole to allow large groups of people to gather and hear each others ideas. One person speaks and then everyone who can hear repeats in unison. Sometimes the group was so large it required 5 repeats for everyone to get a chance to hear. There was also “working groups”. These had leaders who got money from the collective occupy wall st donations which were just buckets in the park that people who worked in wall street would fill up with thousands of dollars. These working group leaders I believe were somewhat elected. Their members were volunteers. There were public spaces such as churches or other public areas and even some donated offices where these “working groups” could meet and work on immediate goals and long term visions. In my opinion what was missing was a little bit more structure and a little bit more empowerment. Maybe those two cancel themselves out but I don’t think they have to. I think if gaming mechanics was introduced and every type of participant was thought through you could improve the high turn over and quick drop out rates of these groups.

Noemi… incentive for creatives

You can learn a lot about the topic of recognition and motivation in this ted talk I’ve already watched about 5 times because it’s got such great ideas in it:

The basic concept is that you provide people with their base level of support and human needs and then you let their passions guide them into directions that flourish.  It works.  The key therefore isn’t in just designing methods for people to share skills and get aknowledgment it’s in designing a system that has their basic needs covered.

This is why you have to get into reinventing housing.  Reinventing food production.  Using the base of energy available from people that don’t have jobs there should be a way to sprinkle small bits of money into intitiatives to do this and get huge return on investment in the form of thriving communities who have built their own stability as a team and can then be wildly creative within that stable environment.

Acknowledgeing Arin

Wow Arin, you are on fire! Lots of ideas here… I’ll be following you.

Growing together


We are Caroline, Elizabeth and Marco, co-founders of the association Common Grounds e.V., recently founded in cooperation with Prinzessinnengarten,  a social, ecological and urban garden in the heart of Berlin, where we have been active members since its establishment in 2009. Through our experience working with community gardens, we founded Common Grounds in order to develop a forum that encourages ways of more sustainable thinking and acting. Our focus lies on identifying the potentials and needs of local, participative projects, primarily urban gardens, in order to formulate policy recommendations. Here we not only look at what these projects need while they commence, but specifically what they need to proliferate, and how these project can be incorporated within city planning and environmental strategies.

But let’s start from the beginning…

Prinzessinnengarten: Making gardens from wasteland

At Moritzplatz, a busy roundabout in the center of bustling Berlin-Kreuzberg, well over a thousand supporters have helped the site to grow, turning a lot that was vacant for 60 years into a flourishing garden. Without specific expertise, with little money and motivated by the idea of a communally used garden in the center of the city, we began in summer 2009 to put down the first roots of a flourishing garden between cement and rubble. By now, a huge diversity of plants is growing here as well as a diversity of social relations. People of different origins and of different ages meet and exchange their knowledge and their experience.

The Prinzessinnengarten is a communal project; our vegetable beds are shared without anyone claiming individual ownership. Over the course of four years, supporters from the local community have dirtied their hands in order to help the idea of social and ecological urban agriculture become real. This social and ecological engagement takes place in a neighborhood that is one of the most densely developed and socially most vulnerable in the city. Here a garden evolved that can sustain itself financially and that grew into a locus of social exchange and mutual learning.

Urban gardens inspire sustainable and locally grounded urban development. Prinzessinnengarten, as well as other urban gardens in Germany, have been able to develop small economies around its activities. Prinzessinnengarten has been able to support 15 full-time jobs during it seasons, being financially independent through its economic activities such as horticulture, the tending of a small café, selling its products, as well as giving training in gardening, ecology or the planning of further gardens. At the same time it has been able to offer high quality, healthy and ecological food at affordable prices.

In cooperation with local institutions, with universities and international partners, the Prinzessinnengarten became a laboratory for socially and ecologically resilient forms of urban development. In a pragmatic manner we ask questions on how to deal with urgent issues such as climate change, dwindling resources, food sovereignty and the loss of biodiversity. The answers being experienced and experimented on all strive toward the creation of a resilient city, not only taking global challenges such as climate change into consideration, but also incorporating local actors in the building of practical and local solutions.

The success of the garden has been vividly mirrored in vast press coverage: Since 2009, well over a thousand supporters have helped the site to grow „from an ugly vacant lot to a paradise“ (Die Zeit). 50,000 visitors come to Moritzplatz each year to see this „biotope and sociotope with a model character“ (Tagesspiegel), this „utopia in miniature“ (Berliner Zeitung), this „laboratory for the sustainable city of the future“ (Wirtschaftswoche). The value for the city of Berlin that comes from the Prinzessinnengarten and similar projects is undisputed, even by official sources. Experts see it as a laboratory for socially and ecologically sustainable forms of urban development. Internationally, whether at the EXPO in Shanghai or in the New York Times, the Prinzessinnengarten exemplifies a Berlin of open spaces for social and cultural engagement. The Berlin Senate has now announced the promotion of urban gardening as part of a sustainable urban policy.

Making urban gardens more than just an “exceptions to the rule”

Despite the garden being a celebrated pioneer project, last year the Berlin Property Fund was commissioned to sell the plot of land on which the garden stands.  We only had an annually renewable lease, leaving no prospects for long-term planning. Through the immense support of our public and an increasingly motivated government, the Berlin government decided to return the property the Borough of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain. The Prinzessinnengarten has been able to establish its model character as locus of social, ecological and urban change.

Urban gardens – here to stay!(?)

It is within this context that Common Grounds e.V. has emerged. Together with Prinzessinnengarten and the foundation anstiftung & ertomis – a foundation working nationwide on researching and supporting new practices for sustainable lifestyles, like DIY-cultures, commons and urban agriculture – Common Grounds e.V. is building a platform for technical and political assistance to new garden initiatives. The idea of the Prinzessinnengarten is cross-fertilizing: in many other places in Berlin (with the building of school gardens, or gardens in universities or other institutions), as well as in cities like Hamburg, Leipzig or Cologne and also internationally, people have started to build urban gardens in their neighborhood, inspired by the Prinzessinnengarten. Often, however, their work has been put under strain due to conflicting interest between investors, housing and privatization goals of its own local governments. Taking the recent challenges facing Prinzessinnengarten into account, we see that the needs of garden initiatives surpass merely assisting them during their start-up phase.  We also have to find policy solutions for the proliferation of urban gardens.  This platform will, together with other gardens, take the first steps toward a nationwide network supporting urban gardens and their existence in our cities. This will not only have a local impact on our neighborhoods, but can also be an important instrument in the creation of resilience in our cities, both environmentally and economically.

Elizabeth Calderón Lüning, Caroline Paulick-Thiel & Marco Clausen, February 2013, Berlin

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