The initiative ‘WIEN LEBT…auf der Wohnstrasse’ is unique. We’ve been living in the city for years, however it wasn’t until recently that we discover the potential that some streets in Vienna have to offer. They are called Wohnstrassen; literally translated in English ‘residential streets’. They are not regular streets, they are considered by law a public space made available to citizens to use. We, at space and place, are reviving ‘Wohnstrassen’ encouraging citizens to take ownership of their streets.
We are three women behind ”WIEN LEBT…auf der Wohnstrasse’; Brigitte Vettori, Corinna Wachtberger and Julia Scharinger-Schöttel, members of the team of space and place. It is a non-profit association about urbanism at eye level triggering, what is supposed to be obvious in the city, the interaction among people in unremarkable places. We are interested in celebrating the power and potential of local communities. This is how we want to celebrate diversity around the city.
179 residential streets in Vienna – which equals 56 international soccer fields can be used by everyone without any permission – for having a coffee, chatting, playing, sports and even walking in the middle of the road at any time of the day as long as you are not hindering cars from driving. They look like any other street, however every one of them could be an oasis in itself.
We were rebellious enough to take ownership of the streets to walk, dance, eat and connect with locals. And we are also optimists about making the best of these public spaces to bring people together, by using elements that ease interactions. The ‘Wohnstrassen’ are little democratic public spaces, perfectly suited for citizens of different ages and social backgrounds to intermingle and informally have a chat.
It was in 2018 when we started with some tests on the streets at the 15th and 16th district of Vienna and so our initiative ‘Wien lebt auf der Wohnstrasse’ was born. We set up a shared flat on the first residential street by inviting people to live with us in our rooms. Residents had their coat hung in the dressing room and sat down with us at a table. Some have even tried our bathtub. Teenagers made themselves comfy on the couch and schoolchildren built their own playroom.
We were surprised about the neighbours’ positive response. It gave us the courage to start taking ownership of the side roads – in spite of the cars, which always drive faster than the speed limit. But suddenly something happened. Cars started to slow down and drivers looked very curious.
We experienced how much potential those streets have to improve neighbours’ urban lives. We continued playing, building furniture, holding office meetings, chatting and researching. It was an amazing feeling for everybody. What once seemed to be forbidden, is now possible. The street belongs to the neighbours again.
Our tests and our research on residential streets exemplify a variety of uses for this underrated public space. space and place has organized simple but effective activities in cooperation with many local residents and local initiatives. It only takes the effort of a single neighbour to place his/her chair on the residential street to enjoy the city and to socialize. Other neighbours follow.
Wohnstrassen in Vienna are the dream of every placemaker, who wants to activate life on the streets. We are so excited to give new impulses and empower local residents to take ownership of their urban space. On the other hand, we also engage with city decision-makers and urban planning experts to use their power and resources to make residential streets even more attractive. We open up new perspectives on the city and draw attention to this democratic public space available for all. On the residential street, city consumers quickly become city producers – co-creators of their own city.
space and place wants to tell new stories about Vienna, refreshing its international image. We hope our activities can be a hub for dialogue, a forum to explore new future initiatives. Outsiders as well as residents, can celebrate what is great about our city. We stand for communities representing themselves in the most colourful and funky way.
Integration is complex and interesting; it’s older people meeting youngsters, gays sitting down to chat with straights, rich meeting poor, right with left, women meeting men. We want to use the ideas out of that energy to create new networks.
We believe we can all make a difference in cities, even in small steps, so that urban life is more social. Let’s all be rebellious optimists, looking for solutions and challenging problems. Come join us in our project to remix the city. We hope to meet many of you at future space and place events.
It’s time to make “Wohnstrassen” the new normal in cities.
All pictures courtesy of Heidi Pein