How do you create social capital

Urban politics

Michael's house

To person

Dr. phil., born 1970; Scientific assistant at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Institute for Political Science.
Residenzschloss, 64283 Darmstadt.
Email: [email protected]

Segregation processes and the associated intensification of socio-economic inequalities in cities go hand in hand with the collapse of social capital and the endangerment of civil society practices. How to stop this process is being discussed.


The hit "On the Sunny Side of the Street" reminds us: Cities are places of encounter and isolation, integration and division. The sunny and shady sides are often only a street width apart. This issue is becoming more and more public awareness across all countries, even if it is often discussed one-sidedly - for example as the failure of the "integration" of ethnic minorities, which becomes apparent in the existence of urban ghettos. The songwriters have made it relatively easy for themselves: "Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street" is their succinct recommendation - with which the problem, expressed in the humorless language of social science, is individualized and privatized. Looked at soberly, it doesn't seem like a plausible recommendation to simply switch sides. Individual strategies for adapting to the process of urban decay are more part of the problem than its solution. When those able to do so leave the problematic parts of the city, those who are unable to do so remain behind. The declining environment then intensifies discrimination, combines with symbolic stigmatization and thus becomes a social prison for those who have remained stuck - and in some cases for generations.

The globalization of information and capital flows has obviously not made the city as such superfluous - it does, however, question it as the place where modernization processes are recognized in their consequences and processed in the direction of greater social compatibility (e.g. through local social policy and urban planning). Today's problems are, however, as opposed to a one-sided accusation of uncontrolled market forces, also consequences of problem-solving attempts in the past and thus an expression of "state failure": Typically, urban areas today belong to the "disadvantaged" districts that were in the sixties and seventies as particularly future-oriented - namely as functionally exemplary and affordable "social housing" for broad sections of the population - but are now being discarded as soulless living machines. This shows the short-term nature of political and planning ideologies, including that of the "car-friendly city". The demand for "sustainability" not only in the area of ​​ecology is becoming more urgent in view of such examples. Obviously, (local) society cannot be planned in the way that was hoped at the time; We have to react differently - more intelligently and creatively - to the centrifugal forces of the market. Since new districts can only be built in exceptional cases (and as a rule not built for the socially disadvantaged), one has to turn to the people where they live.