We are a small group of activists*, artists* and residents* who have, for many years, engaged with a square in Vienna called the Matzleinsdorfer Platz, and the surrounding area. We share a difficult love for this place, an interest in keeping the square open, and a hope for a different policy from the city and traffic administration. We have created exhibitions, lectures, workshops, parties and firework displays at the site, we have also planted vegetables, flowers and thistles and served compote and cake there as well. We have delved into archives, performed research and spoken to former construction workers. The place is full of history and histories.
For a long time no-one was interested in the site and no-one cared much about what we did there. The main narrative was that it is an eyesore, a non-site or non-place, and some have gone so far as to label it an aesthetic disaster. This narrative has stood in the way of a more differentiated interpretation.
We started to spin very fine webs and, step by step, at a snail’s pace, have occupied the area.
Matzleinsdorfer Platz has, over time, been turned into a monument to car-friendly city developmentmatz*ag
Matzleinsdorfer Platz has, over time, been turned into a monument to car-friendly city development and to postwar Fordism. Planned by men. Well-conceived for a patriarchal setting. The traffic architecture and the housing complex nearby were regarded as showcase examples and were presented as a gift from the city of Vienna to its inhabitants.
Only some years later, in the 1980s and 1990s, werethe positive connotations of the place – modernity, security and purity – completely changed. With this change the white tiles came to represent horror and the place began to be seen as a kind of traffic inferno, as a kind of hell on earth. This shift in perception is clearly the result of an ever-accelerating traffic system, and of a neoliberal doctrine that made its aims very clear: everyone for themselves, and the only guarantee: no social safety or peace!
It’s not quite true that no-one ever attempted to adjust or modify the square. Nor that the site was ever empty or dead. There are plenty of premises, a church, a graveyard, a hotel, and several apartment buildings close by. The place is full of life; people are using the place. Furthermore, it offers niches to people who don’t manage to find a place in the city, or find themselves being dispersed elsewhere. Ruderal sites, open spaces or passages are inhabited. Day labourers without work permits stand on the Triesterstraße in order to sell their labour for low wages. And what changes were imposed by the Austrian railway company, the ÖBB; the public transport company, Wiener Linien; and the local government? During the last few years they have removed bushes, trees and green space, closed down a café witha little garden, closed passageways and public toilets, and constructedfences, advertising billboards and other barriers across the square.
The dominant discourse on Matzleinsdorfer Platz as a non-place not only bluntly removes its (possible) histories, it also makes it very easy for investors to incorporate the place. Who could possibly be against (visually) upgrading the area? But that’s inevitable, exactly what has to be done! A revaluation is under no circumstances a win-win situation, but it is closely connected to displacement and to the expulsion of financially encumbered residents. Revaluation and devaluation are two sides of the same coin. In order to intervene in this process of gentrification it is important to know about and to discuss the history of Matzleinsdorfer Platz.
Revaluation and devaluation are two sides of the same coin.matz*ag
In the next few years the subway will reach the square. That’s the reason why planners, investors and other powerful bodies are, all of a sudden, falling for the place. They start inventing their own narratives: Matzleinsdorfer Platz as a gateway to the city, an attractive traffic junction, bright and friendly.
The subway is obviously not financed by private capital. But private companies are becoming aware of the profit to be made for themselves. A gift from the city to investors and financiers. “Why so shy?”, one could ask the responsible politicians overseeing things.
Currently there are two properties, two parcels of land, in question at Matzleinsdorfer Platz. The city administration installed a so called “cooperative procedure” for the land.
In this procedure, experts – with the specific involvement of neighbours – are working on an urban development concept for the area, which presumably is used as a basis for a new zoning plan. Defining the direction of the further construction processes.
Although all the involved representatives from the city administration are reaffirming the open character of the project and are claiming to be seriously considering the suggestions for a cultural use of the land, there is an unspoken feeling that basically every crucial decision has already been taken. They listen carefully, the proposals are put down on paper, but it’s more than likely that investors will buy the land for the development of their private projects.
The first public meeting of this so-called “participative planning process” was ironically held in the lobby of a nearby hotel. The politically well-connected owner of the hotel is presumably highly interested in buying the neighbouring property in order to build a mix of shopping, offices and real estate. Conflict of interest?
There is reason to fear that the place will be turned into just another dull public-private traffic junction, with heavy surveillance and one-dimensional shopping pleasures.
The former fireworks store that stood at the centre of our long-lasting engagement with the place will be torn down. If we don’t stop the demolition. There is reason to fear that the place will be turned into just another dull public-private traffic junction, with heavy surveillance and one-dimensional shopping pleasures.
At the same time the horrific car traffic is expected to stay the same. That’s a sad and depressing prospect indeed.
Mass surveillance, the regulation of public space/traffic through house rules (Hausordnung) are contrary to an open society.matz*ag
The constant patrolling of police, accompanied by various other so-called “security workers” leads to an expulsion of impoverished and unwanted people, that is at the same time arbitrary and specific. This practice of injustice leads to an elimination of basic rights and of public space in general.
Why is this? Why attempt to remove all traces of poverty? All the signs that indicate the ambivalent character of capitalism? Maybe the traffic junctions are precisely chosen, to better select and arrest aliens, persons without visas or legal residence permits? Who actually benefits from this policy? It is high time this political agreement on commercial interests and authoritarian order was changed.
We are discussing the place – Matzleinsdorferplatz – as a history-construction site. A site where reflexive hi/stories, and historic forms are shimmering in the air. A constant digging and building – from below! A commonplace, an area of recreation. Build, where you stand!
Matzleinsdorferplatz for us is a history site, at it’s best. A site where histories, stories and historical forms and constructions are completely mixed up. There is a constant digging and building process going on. We would like to see this place as a commonplace, a leisure area, an area of inspiring rest and relaxation.
We wish to install a museum in the former firework store. A place for critical thinking and for continuing our historical work, with our experimental approach and with our research into traffic and motion.
We dream of an open place. With platforms, bridges, stairways, little towers and pavillions. We wish to see awesome traffic islands, plants that are rambling, flourishing thistles, exciting playgrounds and a fine social infrastructure for everyone. We wish to experience the emergence of a local recreation area, with bushes and trees, vegetables and sculptures all around.
Matzleinsdorferplatz as a metaphor, as a springboard, as an experimental field, as a fantastical planning area.
We ask everyone who believes in a democratic, socially caring and open city, who believes in exciting traffic, to join our efforts. Let us spin together. On threads for a speculative, fantastic and a good life for all.