The new clothes of the city

Many medium-sized cities such as Giessen are desperately looking for sources of income and their identity. In the business Jargon that has dominated public speech since the dawn of the neoliberal age, efforts to remedy this state are called “Branding.” It refers to the effort to develop a “brand” that promotes “recognition” and sets the respective product apart from competing products. In an Interview with the Giessener Anzeiger on 11 January 2020, the mayor talks about wanting to develop a” brand Giessen”. In order to drive this process forward, a “mission statement” is needed that “gets all social groups on board and gathers them behind it.”

We need a house that we know who lived in before us, a piece of furniture in whose small irregularities we recognize the craftsman who worked on it. We need a city face that at least evokes faint memories of the old copperplate engraving in the Museum. (Jean Améry)

Casting is therefore a commodity that has to assert itself on the market against competitors. If you share this premise, you can approach it the way the mayor outlines it in this Interview. It takes as skilful a “city marketing” as possible to bring the “Vision of the city” among the people and to attract as many companies as possible. Because that, of course, is the poodle’s core. Since one does not want to say this, however, the crude economic motive is hidden behind a vow of nebulous concepts. Several years ago, a friend gave me a so-called phrase-threshing machine, which wanted to caricature the economistic new speech. Three double-sided turntables were mounted in a cardboard panel, labeled with terms from the world of the then emerging quality management. In three fields of view, you could combine terms arbitrarily by turning the discs and stringing them together with a few filler words to form well-sounding but empty sentences. The mayor’s answers seem as if he, too, is in possession of such a Phrasemongering machine. This works as long as no one shows up who, in analogy to the little child in Andersen’s fairy tale of the emperor, exclaims new clothes: “that makes no sense at all!”

As in the fairy tale, there would then be the danger that the citizens whisper to each other what the child has said and that unrest spreads. The model would be recognized as what it is: a fig leaf to cover the nakedness of the naked emperor. The basic assumptions of neoliberalism still have the Status of a civil Religion, whose creed is the free market, unlimited competition and eternal growth. That it is precisely this creed that is driving the planet against the wall, this lesson is being taught to humanity in the context of a disaster education curriculum. A desperate theory of learning relies on the fact that there is a connection between misfortune and insight. Anyone who observes the reaction of the mass of the population in this country to the disaster reports of recent times will doubt the effectiveness of the disaster didactics. The sales figures of SUVs and the number of air travel reach a new record level and no significant changes can be observed in other consumer behaviour. Every year, the Germans drink coffee from plastic-coated cups more than three billion times while walking, eat around a billion frozen pizzas and lots of other junk food and have 3.6 billion packages sent to them. The behavior of the people can only be interpreted as a concealed apocalypse longing, which is a variant of the necrophilia described by Erich Fromm. A catastrophe threatening the entire planet seems to be such an attractive Option because with its occurrence every life, not only mine, is extinguished.

But back to the crisis of the cities. The dying of the cities began when the big chains began to drive out the local retail. Speculation flourished, rents rose immeasurably, more and more owner-managed businesses capitulated. In these phenomena, it is not the bad character or “greed” of the chain-owners that manifests itself, but the tendency to concentrate capital. The expropriation of the small shopkeepers and owners of capital, in Marx’s capital, “takes place through the play of the immanent laws of capitalist production itself, through the centralization of capital. One capitalist kills many.“This is due to the dynamics of capitalist accumulation, expression of the “wolf law” of capitalist competition. If one personalizes this essentially anonymous tendency, one quickly ends up with some conspiracy theories or with “the Jews” and “their banks” who are supposed to be behind all this.

All pedestrian zones are now identical, they only differ by the different arrangement of the same shops. The more homogeneous the cities become, the more diversity is talked about. The online trade will give the cities the Rest. He can offer goods cheaper because he has no rent to pay. He does not benefit the cities at all, because he pays his taxes, if at all, elsewhere and also does not employ people locally and does not pay salaries. It brings only desolation and inhumane working conditions. Parcel carriers are the Woyzecks of our day. Richard David Precht has proposed to drastically increase VAT on online retailing. Then the online trading, which is also from an ecological perspective extremely questionable would be so expensive that the local retail would have a Chance again, and the urban Element of the cities could be revived, which is dependent on the existence of small shops. Instead, the cities want to make themselves more attractive by all kinds of frills. One promotes so-called Startups and wants them to settle. However, they have the same gold-digger mentality as the chains and, having taken the local start-up financing with them, quickly move on to the metropolises.

Those who rely on Branding, mission statements and a so-called Startup culture in the fight against the desertification of cities are preparing to cast out the devil with the Beelzebub. The devastating consequences of neoliberal practices, it responds with even more neoliberalism. Some municipalities even encourage the settlement of online warehouses and logistics centers on their land. The cities compete against each other, who submits the most lucrative offers to their gravediggers, instead of offering them joint Paroli.

If Giessen is looking for a unique selling point that means more than a silly watering can Museum (there is actually one in Giessen), it could be that the city develops into a true community, where democracy actually becomes the dominant form of life and consideration, courtesy, compassion and respect determine everyday life. The city could be understood as a joint project of all those who live and live in it, as “our all thing”. However, this would then have such a contagious effect that it would soon no longer be a unique selling point. The message that you can live in a different way, in an urban environment where money is not everything, would have a great radiance. This is precisely why we will do everything we can to ensure that such a project does not come about. It will probably remain with a revamped city marketing. Because money, to put it bluntly, does not care about anything, the Througheconomization of society goes hand in hand with its moral depravity. In the second volume of his autobiography, “Erfahrungsspuren” (traces of experience), Oskar Negt therefore admonished a certain haste: “we must not wait until the community has rotted away and the moral crippling has created a social working climate that makes the effort for decency and political judgment increasingly arduous and often hopeless.”