Green Deal in the cities: The end of semi-detached housing and the twilight of urban upgrading projects

8 June, 2021

The green deal in cities requires continuity and proximity between logistics centers, demand and renewable energy sources.
The green deal in cities requires continuity and proximity between logistics centers, demand and renewable energy sources.

The impact of the Green Deal on European cities has begun. In Germany, the development of new terraced housing estates is halted in the midst of a general price hike. In Spain, a new ideological campaign charges against urban upgrading projects (“PAU” in Spanish). The EU speaks of a “New European Bauhaus”, but in reality this is the need to accompany the Green Deal in the cities with measures to ensure the profitability of new logistics and energy macro-investments.

Table of Contents

Germany: from the end of the terraced house to the rise in rents

Single-family houses in Germany.The dream of the petty bourgeoisie that is now an image of the past. Green Deal in the cities puts an end to terraced housing estates.
Single-family houses in Germany.The dream of the petty bourgeoisie that is now an image of the past. Green Deal in the cities puts an end to terraced housing estates.

At their most recent congress, the German Greens have committed themselves to accelerating the environmental transition. The slogan is to develop the Green Deal in the cities at accelerated speed. Or, in other words, to accelerate the transfer of income from labor to capital. A key point: housing, an issue where the Greens run some major city councils and landers. Result? Wherever the Greens rule as in Hamburg, housing is already breaking price records despite the fact that the covid restrictions are still in place.

At first, all criticism in the press was limited to the fact that in the new urban development plan, the construction of new single-family houses would henceforth be abolished. The terraced house, apparently an aspirational dream of the local petty bourgeoisie, was to be left behind and even Der Spiegel was frothing at the mouth, predicting a return to the prefabricated housing estates of the GDR.

They were thus fueling a potential neighborhood protest. In Hamburg, participatory urbanism is legally established. The specifications of new residential areas are in theory decided by the districts and neighbors can make allegations and eventually force changes and even local referendums.

But the Green Deal in the cities is strategic. It is the first front on which The Greens needed to discipline their own social base, a test of their ability to lead the next federal coalition government. They wanted to send a signal and so they did. To the outrage of the national press that followed the issue almost daily, the first new housing development in North Hamburg was not dealt with in the district but in the Hamburg Senate. Thus, the neighbors’ appeals were automatically sidelined and only an improbable regional referendum could change the course of the new plan.

So far it all looked like petty squabbles between the petty bourgeoisie and local governments. But housing prices are no joking matter, and their repercussions are not limited to a few neighborhoods. New and used home prices literally skyrocketed in Hamburg in the first quarter of the year, influencing the outlook of speculators and builders nationwide.

At first, however, rents stagnated. The reason? The Green Deal’ s new regulations and rising electricity prices are forcing refurbishments. And the 6 billion in rehabilitation aid announced by the federal government in support of the Green Deal in the cities won’t even alleviate a significant portion of the costs. The money will go headlong into the wounded balance sheets of the construction companies.

The media, along with the Greens and the CDU, are gleefully declaring that the price hike is good news. At the end of the day it is a revaluation of the landlords’ equity. The landlords will be able to obtain more financing to face the renovations and it favors more than proportionally the petty bourgeoisie who bought villas and terraced houses, now a scarce product.

But among workers, discontent is palpable in conversations. Rents are rising again and an increasing number of landlords are starting refurbishment work, the costs of which they are passing on to tenants. The pressure is mounting and it is no coincidence that the SPD is exploiting the issue electorally by striking the first dissonant note on the Green Deal in the cities after competing for months with the Greens and the CDU on imposing draconian environmental proposals on workers. No one in power is alarmed, of course: their criticism goes at most as far as proposing cost-sharing, i.e. moderating the exaction, never calling it into question. But it is significant.

The prospect of the Green Deal in the cities is not only paying more for energy, for houses and for transportation. It’s also new neighborhoods with a new system of agglomeration. The EU calls it the New European Bauhaus. And it’s not going to be any less inhumane than the old Bauhaus and its vertical crowded hives for workers.

Spain: the ideology of so-called antifa urbanism

Examples of urban development compatible with the Green Deal in cities, such as Madrid Nuevo Norte, remain higher class ghettos, but are placed in continuity with the city and ensure, in connection with large office buildings, sufficient neighborhood demand to maintain proximity trade and logistics.
Examples of urban development compatible with the Green Deal in the cities, such as Madrid Nuevo Norte, remain higher class ghettos, but are placed in continuity with the city and ensure, in connection with large office buildings, sufficient neighborhood demand to maintain proximity trade and logistics.

In Spain, the Green Deal’s move in cities is essentially identical… but with even fewer mitigations. The government’s first goal was to achieve the rehabilitation of 1.3 million homes and it planned aid of 2 billion on account of EU funds over the next two years. With the new electric power bill and costs rising at the rate of oil and a tonne of CO2, demand will inevitably multiply. Not the subsidies. And indeed the price effect appears to be coming and threatens to escalate.

However, unlike in Germany, the ideological machine is not arguing it out of a climate emergency in order to introduce the Green Deal in the cities. Since the last election in Madrid, every week there are appear new opinion articles, new books and state television programs pushing the new thesis of the ideologists of the state: Vox is a product of the terraced houses, Ayuso of the PAU with swimming pool. The supposed anti-fascist struggle of Iglesias in the elections outlives him politically as a crusade against the architecture of the pre-2008 housing speculative bubble.

The argument could not be more biased: to these ideologues, there exist of course no social classes, the people who went to live in terraced houses and PAUs were an entire generation, the people who are now in their late thirties and early forties, the 15M – Occupy generation and its immediate forerunner generation. As if mortgages were paid with birth certificates instead of cash balances. The relative isolation, the lack of public services, the abundance of highways, the magic of the swimming pool and the proximity of private schools in which to bring their first offspring would have made the people who went to live there this way. And driven by the environment they would have voted for Ciudadanos first and then for the PP. Or for Vox, had they opted for a terraced housing development.

But the point is that generations are far from being unrelated to social classes. Supposedly generational expressions express class reactions. 15M was no different, it channeled the first angry reaction of a then-young segment of the petty bourgeoisie. The move from Puerta del Sol to Galapagar, whatever PAU they went into or the terraced houses was completely coherent with the class situation of that segment. But it was by no means the general picture. We are not talking about a generation, but rather a generation within a very specific social segment.

And if you create new towns which are practically homogeneous from the point of view of class, of class segment in fact, the most normal thing would be for them to reflect the political behavior of that class in the moments in which it becomes mobilized. Also electorally. Terraced housing, villas and beehives with swimming pool have not turned them right-wing.

The goal of the Green Deal in cities and the “Demographic Challenge”

The Green Deal in the cities requires transforming the desolate avenues of the PAUs to, by means of teleworking, turn them into a base for a proximity demand.
The Green Deal in the cities requires transforming the desolate avenues of the PAUs to, by means of teleworking, turn them into a base for a proximity demand.

But we are not told all this because they want to give us lessons in sociology or because they want to fix the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie by changing their neighborhood. The underlying problem of the Green Deal in the cities is twofold and has to do with the energy and logistical costs created by the Green Deal in the cities.

  • All European reports warn that the hive-with-pool model as built so far is a disaster from an energy cost point of view. And refurbishing is expensive. Everything new must follow a different logic and will probably be closer to urban expansion based on low-rise houses and low-rise apartments than to giant towers with spacious apartments… which will be increasingly expensive to heat and cool.
  • Given the existing transport technologies and those planned for the next decade and a half, the Green Deal calls for a complete logistical reorganization. The oh-so-enlightened Spanish ruling class is now starting to realize that the Green Deal is designed based on the German territorial structure.

The obsession with reinforcing the backbone role of medium-sized cities, the rediscovery of empty Spain and the official discourse’s insistence on populating the PAUs with small businesses using the concept of the 15-minute city has to do with that.

They seem to be clear about not wanting more PAUs or gigantic neighborhoods of semi-detached houses. They fear enough the devaluation of the existing ones. Hence the campaign, which cannot be separated from the legal and media promotion of teleworking. Implementing the Green Deal in the cities means that it is necessary to enliven the bedroom neighborhoods of the petty bourgeoisie so that local retail can flourish. Then whether they dress up the Green Deal in the cities as anti-heteropatriarchal urbanism and caring city, as New Bauhaus or a way to deal with the demographic challenge, it doesn’t matter.

The real goal of the Green Deal in the cities is to reach 2050 with a housing stock and population distribution suitable for the massive logistical investments to come. The delay is already costing them capitalization opportunities in strategic sectors such as rail freight transport and threatens star projects of Spanish big capital such as the Hydrogen strategy.

The electrification and implementation of renewables and their associated technologies require continuity and proximity between logistics centers, demand and renewable energy sources in order to make the development of new industries and infrastructures profitable. And by the same token it requires neighborhoods with on-site consumption demand and a minimum of energy efficiency. And the costs of transforming that whole behemoth… will be loaded on our backs, which after all is what the design of the whole Green Transition is really about.