Learning from Vienna

Wetzel, Tom
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX15368

The city housing program was the work of the Vienna social-democratic movement, based on the city's unions. At the end of World War I, Vienna had lost direct access to its markets in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because Austria now had to export to the world market, the Austrian unions faced a difficult task if they tried to raise wages to enable workers to afford high rents. Faced with becoming uncompetitive, Austrian employers would put up a stiff fight and some might go bankrupt. This led the social-democrats to develop a strategy for improving workers' standard of living by lowering rents.



How can designs for housing be assured of meeting the needs of the residents if the erstwhile residents are not consulted? This is also a problem with market-based housing, which is built on speculation. The developers make the decision about living arrangements "on behalf of" the future residents. There is a tendency to build to the "common denominator" (for a particular income segment targeted by the developer) -- only the rich get customized dwellings. Yet, not everyone has the same sort of living arrangements or lifestyle. In the nonprofit sector this is sometimes addressed by agencies building housing for specific client groups, such as the disabled or senior citizens. But here it is assumed that the professionals who "represent" the clients know just what the clients want. Maybe they do, and maybe sometimes that element of "paternalism" is involved. An alternative approach would be to involve the residents in the design of the places where they are going to live.

Top-down control over design and management of the buildings followed from the governmentalist approach of the Viennese socialists. That is, their political strategy was to serve working class interests by building up a political machine based on the labor movement. The leaders of this political machine would then implement its program top-down through the government once they had gained control of the government. This approach often tends to favor government-managed programs as this empowers the leaders.

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