The need for squats

A few weeks ago I joined [Tau]( and several thousand others on a [demonstration]( across Berlin, in support of squats and other free spaces. I promised to write about it — and then repeatedly failed to, stymied by the vastness and importance of the topic.

Berlin’s squatters mostly feel they’re fighting a rearguard action, defending decades-old social centres from the inexorable march of private investors.

But I’m, for once, more optimistic than most, and more convinced that squats are an essential part of the urban ecology. Squats are to a city what strikes are to a firm, valuable more as threat than as activity. They challenge the belief that individual buildings in a city can function as private property, without obligations to their neighbours. A building without its surroundings is purposeless, worth no more in itself than its counterparts standing abandoned across East Germany. City buildings can only exist symbiotically, and when one is left empty it harms the others. That harm is fundamentally social, but it can also easily be translated to financial terms as the loss of house value.

Naturally, I don’t think every building should be squatted, or that existing squats should be inviolable. All else aside, a little tension keeps the squatters honest. The squats that survive are the ones which contribute to the life of the city.

So I don’t mind that Berlin’s squats are under pressure. They’re always under pressure, and so they should be. But for every squat evicted, another deserves to be created (at least!). And I still believe that it will happen.

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