Screening My Brooklyn in Vienna, Austria in early December was inspiring and insightful. We were invited by This Human World International Film Festival, which did a special program on urbanism featuring films that “deal with everyday life in big cities and the experience of urban reality … concentrating on the city as a place of increasing social imbalance.” The excellent program was organized by Justin Kadi and Mara Verlic, both professors of urban planning at Vienna’s Technical University.
There were two screenings of My Brooklyn, both sold out. At the second screening, Justin and Mara invited two experts on gentrification — Florian Huber and Yvonne Franz — to reflect on the differences and similarities between Brooklyn and other cities, particularly in Europe. Perhaps not surprisingly, Huber and Franz both argued that the changes we have seen in Brooklyn of late reflect global pressures on cities, and are not unique to Brooklyn or New York City despite important local features. “What might take five years in Brooklyn will take 10 or 15 years to transpire in Vienna,” said Franz, whose work compares gentrification in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Amsterdam. She attributed the longer timeframe in Vienna to policies that help stabilize rents, including strong commercial and residential rent control, and the large percentage of housing (about 60%) that is owned by the state.
It was inspiring to hear and see how policy in Vienna has helped stabilize even neighborhoods that are changing in ways that make them feel a lot like parts of Brooklyn. I spent the better part of a day searching on foot for the Karl-Marx-Hof, the largest housing project in the world. While I never quite managed to find it, I did come across a lot of social housing built in the 1930s that aimed to create community and solidarity among workers by providing them with daycare, laundry, education centers, libraries, health centers and other amenities in their apartment buildings. While these buildings seem to have reverted to being regular (albeit rent-stabilized) housing, I was happy to have my eyes opened to the unique history of “Red Vienna.”
Thanks to the festival and particularly to Justin and Mara for making my visit so memorable.