Ariane Jedlitscha doesn’t give much for a fixed definition to her project ‘Honorary Hotel’. ‘We don’t want to be straitjacket by one definition. It has to enjoy the freedom to evolve with any kind of possibilities’, explains Ariane. Maybe this approach is what makes the Honorary Hotel so special. The project is using art and culture to make housing affordable in East Leipzig.
Neither activism nor demonstrations against newcomers (people or companies). The response is art and culture. Neighbourhood work and international art scene – is that possible? ‘This works out’, says Ariane. Since 2013 Ariane and her colleagues of the association ‘Helden wider Willen’ have been trying to bring together exactly these two things in two beautiful buildings located in a neighbourhood in East Leipzig. They are called Honorary Hotel.
The association organises a multitude of social and cultural actions involving international and local artists as well as neighbours. They create a neighbourly and internationally oriented meeting centre. This all happens in the framework of the HAL (hybrid art lab) Atelier House and the help* Festival, which runs in September.
The festival is an artist-in-residence program within the neighbourhood. The artists settle in the district and exchange ideas with the neighbours. Like the British artist Lucy Steggals did in the Light Dinner. Through artistic interventions she makes people grow together into a small community within just a few hours.
The sponsoring of this extensive art and cultural programme by the Regional Government makes it possible for the Honorary Hotel to keep the rent prices in the two buildings low.
This great project kills many birds with one stone.
Firstly it has contributed to revive a desolated and high criminality rate district in Leipzig. It has stimulated a creative and diverse neighbourhood, which is becoming more attractive to newcomers.
Most importantly, the Honorary Hotel is offering residency to locals and newcomers at affordable prices and putting a brake to the process of gentrification, which would have been the immediate consequences of the above. Long-time residents are not being priced out and the neighbourhood is still very diverse. Affordable housing is crucial to create social cohesion.
And last but not least, the Honorary Hotel is strengthening the connection between neighbours and newcomers so that the soul of the neighbourhood is preserved. They create an open space for dialogue between newcomers, international artists and neighbours, who would have normally not met.
Disruptive initiatives can change the course of cities. The almost obsessive drive by cities to attract creatives and turn around decaying districts into thriving hipsterish hotspots have led to less inclusive cities and gentrification. Even Richard Florida, who coined the concept of the Creative Class and its positive implications for urban regeneration, has claimed that a new narrative needs to be developed.
“That’s a misconception, to say that people in their community don’t want to see their home values rise, don’t want to see criminal activities decrease”, said two members of the Pittsburgh Homeowners Association in a recent article by the Guardian Cities. “But we want to make sure that we’re doing that in a way that doesn’t disrespect folks that are there and doesn’t dishonour something that these communities have been working towards for so long.”
When the cool district of Plagwitz in Leipzig became unaffordable for locals, Ariane was forced to move out. ‘And then I saw these two beautiful ‘Gründerzeit’ buildings almost empty and in a very bad condition in East Leipzig. We wanted to move in and, as newcomers, make a positive impact in the neighbourhood. Our association ‘Helden wider Willen’ agreed on a leasehold contract with the city administration (the owner of the properties). Later on, the association exercised the buy-option after finding the financing. Now the association owns the two buildings”, explains Ariane.
The amazing initiative of Honorary Hotel fills a yawning gap left by the failure of cities to meet the needs of its local and long-time citizens when a new crowd or creative class comes to the city. In Leipzig, the city council is experimenting with new forms of housing to address this challenge.
Art and culture have become a willing and facilitating partner in this enterprise.