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New Expertise in the CITYMAKERS Team

Interview by Silvan Hagenbrock, October 2018

New city thinkers on board the CITYMAKERS core team: GAO Xiaoxue, urban sociologue, PHD student at Technical University Berlin, Beijing University graduate, Tianjin experienced, originally from Henan, and Luisa Keinprecht, CITYMAKERS program assistant, with a background in Sustainable Design from Copenhagen. The following dialogue was held in a WeChat group chat, experimenting with a new format of conversation.

我们“城市创者”的核心团队迎来了两位新人:高晓雪,来自中国河南,曾就读于天津大学和北京大学的城市规划/人文地理专业,目前为柏林工业大学城市社会学专业博士生;Luisa Keinprecht 是我们“城市创者”项目的项目助理,她曾在哥本哈根就读可持续设计专业。以下是我们通过微信群聊功能对她们进行的采访,同时这也是对新的访谈方式的一种尝试。

@Xiaoxue Gao What is your story in one sentence?

X: I am GAO Xiaoxue, born in the late 80s in Zhengzhou. I studied in Tianjin and Beijing, have witnessed the rapid growth and change in big Chinese cities while growing up.

S: And how did you end up in Berlin?

X: It's pure coincidence or luck. I wanted to do a Ph.D. with sociological focus, and Prof. Martina Löw has changed her position to TU Berlin by the time I wrote her. I have fancied her book Sociology of Space (Raumsoziologie) a lot as a graduate student of Human geography  in Peking University, as she has unfolded a totally different world for me to understand space as social, result from interactions between social actions, social structure and materiality. And, she said yes!

S: And how would you celebrate the 25th anniversary of Berlin and Beijing?

X: As an individual, I don’t have plans, as this grand narrative sounds too abstract and out of touch with my everyday life. If I were the major of Beijing, then I would find spots of gathering in Beijing, for example, the Olympic Park, using virtual reality technology to showcase the Berlin related places in Beijing and the normal daily lives of Berliners from all walks of life. Through demonstrating the real maybe banal movements (like scenes in the U Bahn, in a kindergarten etc. ) in the city of Berlin, Beijingers could have an impression of the city life in Berlin and grasp the aspects that they feel related. 

S: @Luisa 露易莎 @Xiaoxue Gao City making between China and Germany means asking which questions?

L: Asking the questions: What success stories, approaches and ideas can we share connected to the urban field? What can we learn from each other’s experiences, ideas and mistakes in that context? And by that generating a common understanding, which I see as the foundation for joint actions.

X: The first steps should be to look for common issues that occur in both cities, to look for the respective causes and the existing solutions from both sides. Regarding knowledge transfer, it is not confined to technical knowledge or project prototypes, as most of them are open-source, widely available for everyone in this world already, but more crucially knowledge in relation to the actors, like tacit knowledge, know-how rather than know-what.

S: @Luisa 露易莎 Can you elaborate a bit on the projects you did before in Copenhagen at the Sustainable Design department?

L: Within the framework of my Master’s program Sustainable Design at Aalborg University Copenhagen, I conducted three projects. The general aim was to develop a holistic solution concept for the sustainability challenge we detected in the urban context of Copenhagen. I focused on the lack of student accommodation. Our solution concept suggested the transformation of old ferries, which had previously been operating between Germany and Denmark into student dorms. The solution proposal further included an implementation plan, cost calculation and a design concept. My second project dealt with the question: How to foster and enable collaboration between initiatives promoting sustainability and businesses located in Copenhagen? Interviews with local actors revealed that many were struggling to compete with the ‘big players’. In cooperation with the organisation GoGreen, which already mapped most of the local green organisations in a physical map, we kicked-off a workshop ‘GrowGreen’ creating awareness of the benefits of collaboration and thereby encouraging people to connect, exchange and form a network. Since then, these meetings are taking place on a regular basis.

S: @Xiaoxue Gao And your current PHD is about what?

X: My dissertation is very theoretical in nature, it deals with the epistemic structure of thinking of space (social space) in Chinese culture. The question is quite blunt, how is it different from that of dominating western theories? There's one chapter on the spatial construction of the artworld, using the case of Caochangdi, but that's just the case that I use to illustrate how my hypothesis work, not the main body of research.

S: @Luisa 露易莎 Your thesis was a case study on a participatory building project in Germany. What was your main focus?

L: The focus of our thesis was to uncover and understand the roles, actions and relations of the main actors involved - representatives of local government, investor and two local initiatives. By that we were able to understand how the participation process came into being and elaborate on the question if this case could serve as model for similar planning processes.

S: @Luisa: You worked in Shanghai in 2015. What did you do there? 

L: That’s right. As part of my Master’s program I completed an internship at the social enterprise GoodtoChina. As executive assistant I was in charge for the volunteer management and coordination of sustainability programs. The enterprise operated two rooftop farms in the heart of Shanghai and we conducted school workshops on the topic of healthy food and circular economy. 

@Xiaoxue Gao You recently brought up the importance of SPACE as compared to PLACE in our citymakers talk: What is the difference and why do you think it is important to highlight that difference? 

X: Space and place are two very abstract terms that imply no concrete referent in reality. In everyday language, people might use them interchangeably without differentiating. For the majority of citymakers, they might associate both with some physical space. But speaking from sociological perspective, space consist not only of material objects, but also ourselves, human beings and our relation to each other and to the material objects. Even for a concrete physical space, they emerge from the coming-into-being of people and their relationships. After people bring in ideas, resources, institutional structures and resort to concrete actions of putting these together with the material space-a room, a building, a plaza, the space start to have more material shape. For some spaces that entail long-term relationship of things and people, which can be your home, your favorite club, the reichstag etc. that have a place in our memory, I would call them place. So it’s mainly a sociological differentiation and proposal to thinking of space as social product. 

S: What is a successful Sino-German joint action for you?

X: A successful joint-action for me, first of all, deals with common problems such as global climate issues or trading issues that are relevant for both sides, instead of a group of experts that single-handedly work on the issue from the other side; secondly, the outcome exhibits a 1+1>2 effect.

L: Well, as for the constellation of the team, I think it is important to have a more or less balanced representation of both nationalities. We are therefore very happy to have GAO Xiaoxue with us as a second Chinese core-team member - who of course also brings in valuable expertise.

Further, having frequent opportunities for exchange within the team I find vital for a fruitful joint work and team building. In that context, it is essential for every member to have a good understanding or at least healthy curiosity for the other’s cultural background and at best speak both languages. 

S: @Xiaoxue Gao @Luisa: Which KIEZ is your KIEZ in Berlin?

L: Ha, well every KIEZ has its very own charm and vibe, so I find something interesting and appealing in all of them. However, currently it would probably be Tegeler KIEZ in Wedding. It is a very green, quiet and cozy area. I often go there to hang out with friends in one of the cafés or enjoy Taiwanese congee for breakfast at Cozymazu, my favorite restaurant.

X: My window is facing to Neukölln-Sonnenallee.

S: Great, thank you!

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Gao Xiaoxue
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Luisa Keinprecht
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