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Arrived in Poland

Cracow is beautiful. I have a lot to finish writing about Bilbao and will find an Internet café to do so tomorrow.

I must say that I have had my best vegetarian meal in Europe that was not pasta. I did not expect it to be in Poland.

It is strange to see monks and nuns in full habit. It is going to be a great program in Poland like the other ones.

More tomorrow. I must sleep.

Bilbao Guggenheim and the power design as culture

One of the distinctions between the US and Europe is the public emphasis on culture. This is not to say that American does not have culture; it does. We build museums and opera houses, and other "high cultural" institutions. The difference is that in the US you would rarely hear a public official refer to these as a "cultural" industry. As my colleague from Atlanta state, "We would call it tourism after its deliverables not its content."

In Bilbao, they talk about culture as an economic sector as well as providing social identity. The Geary-designed Bilbao Guggenheim museum is a case study in this approach. Over the past few days in Bilbao, all of the economic and public officials have discussed the museum and how it had transformed the city of Bilbao.
Image_00106 In the 1980s when it was first proposed by the Basque provencial and local governments to the Guggenheim Foundation, Bilbao was in the middle of a deep economic recession. The steel and shipping based industries were collasping and the area had not found a new economic engine for Bizkaia. Unemployment was as high as 20-25%.

At great risk at the time, the Bizkaia goverment agencies saw the museum as a means to create an international identity for the city of Bilbao, improve the cultural life of the city, and serve as a cornerstone to the redevelopment of the waterfront from industrial to service-based and residential space.

Image_00117Image_00115 And it worked. The building was completed on time and on budget. It had to be completed within five years incase the government was voted out of office. In their feasibility studies, they estimated 300,000 visitors for the first year, they first opened with and continue to pull in 600,000. One of the goals was to help the inhabitants of Bilbao see this area as part of the city. Now it is one of the most expensive areas in town.

In addition to the Guggenheim, the city built a new Metro system, designed by Sir Norman Foster.
Image_00120 Image_00125 It has won prizes, but also when I talked to BAI, the Bizkaia Center of Innovation. It was the one example they provided of how civic design has positively impacted the lives of everyday people.

So can design transform a city? It seems the answer is yes. The Bizkaia government has commissioned for their other urban projects a performance space to be build by Zara Hadid on the waterfront. But again, the discourse is not tourism dollars and urban renewal, but rather recreating the cultural identity of the city of Bilbao and the Bizkaia area.

Like in Hamburg, Bizkaia is able to do this because of the relative autonomy it has in collecting taxes and distributing resources from the national government in Madrid. The "state" and the rail system owned the land. It was able to invest directly for the construction costs as well as provide sustaining resources. Is it an accident that the two most economically successful areas have this political and financial autonomy or to put it another way. Is a decentralized structur, that allows it to be more flexible and responsive to local needs, better for situations of economic change and growth?

But what is most interesting for me is that these areas place emphasis on culture as a sector for innovation and growth, which is why they have such strong design-orientations not just in their architecture but in information systems in airports and metro stations.

Bilbao, Basque Country

Bilbao is a wonderful city located in Northern Spain, which is part of Bizkaia or Basque Country. I have known about the Basque region because their language is always a case study in anthropological linguistics. It is an Indo-European language over 7000 years old, but it doesn't have the connecting branches like the Germanic or Romance languages. The language is the heart of Basque identity. The area is bi-lingual with signs in Spanish and Euskara.
Image_00077 Out coordinator Paul Ortega is awesome and has set up a wonderful program for us. We met with the Lehendakari (President) of the Basque Government yesterday. Some of the main objectives of his government are:

Negotiating more autonomy from the Spanish government. Bizkaia is considered an "Autonomous Community" in Spain. They control their own taxation, police force, and administration. They send anywhere from 10-18% of their tax revenue back to Madrid, but the rest they use in Bizkaia. They had proposed a new agreement to allow for access to EU bodies, but it has been rejected by Spain. This is the main political problem.

Start exporting Basque companies to China and India. The region has the second highest GDP in Spain and is 25% higher than EU average. In the 90s, they shifted from an industrial base to a service economy. They are not looking for foreign investment, but rather be the investor in Asia. This is in contrast to Solvakia and a lesser extent Hamburg.

Innovation is the metric by which all government and private industries and institutions are measured. The government supports "sustainable human development" through setting up educational and industry clusters.

After meeting the Basque president we visiting the seat of the Basque parliament in Gernika, of the Picasso painting fame, and the Gernika Museum of Peace. The tradition of democracy in Bizkaia goes back further than the Magna Carta. More later...



Hamburg Urban Development

This morning we took a tour of Hamburg and its redevelopment of the Harbour area. Hamburg is an interesting city because it is and always been an independent city state. Its merchants in the past were able to set their own tariffs. Today, the Hamburg state is able to drive a lot of its decision making in terms of development and in particular architecture.

Everyone knows that Chicago is a great architecture city. Hamburg is one as well. Hamburg is helped in this area by the fact that the State owns a lot of the land and that it reviews proposals based on the quality of design and program as opposed to the lowest bidder. So Hamburg is able to have amazing architecture, both classical and modern and often right next to each other.

Image_00044A prime example of this is the development of the harbour area. Near the harbor is a section of town called Speicherstadt. It is the old warehouse area filled with coffee, tea, spice, and carpet merchants. It is an island and has exquisite brick architecture.

Next to the Speicherstadt is the new harbour development. Each building consists of mixed use commercial and residential. Each building is designed by a different architect who is chosen based on the vision of their project for the overall development. So Hamburg does not have to set aside quotas for low income housing, rather they achieve the same 10% balance by the selection of programs. Some of the programs include social coops.

Image_00048_1 More importantly, many of the designs while remaining modern, take on elements of the old Speicherstadt and maritime feel. They will have elements of brick, or use similar color schemes on the side facing the Spericherstadt. This gives the area an overall cohesion and since of interest.

This is especially in contrast to the development scheme that we say in Bratislava in which the building complexes could be in LA or London as well as Bratislava. This points to the different positions of Hamburg and Bratislava in the EU. Because of Hamburg's prosperity, it has stronger control of its planning activities and the design of the city. It can afford to have buildings developed by famous architects like Rem Koolhaus. As a new member of the EU who is racing to develop and modernize, Bratislava has to accept much development that does not seem to have great benefit for its people. At the retail center to be developed in Bratislava many of the jobs as managers would go to Czechs.

German Art, Design, and Taxes

On of the major discussions that was part of the MFA rewrite research I did for UIC was what is the difference between art and design. While in the US, the question seems mostly academic. In Germany, the distinction has implications for your tax rate. According to Dr. Wolfgang Schonholz, Professor of Communication Design at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, the difference is a 7% reduction in taxes.

If a designer can prove that the quality and content of their work is artistic, he or she can be categorized as an artist and thus receive a 7% tax rate. If a designer's work is mediocre, he or she is put in the business category and has a 14% tax rate. Dr. Schonholz has served as expert in legal tax cases to prove whether a designer/artists work qualified as art.

Some additional highlights of our conversation include:

  1. It seems that design in Germany is mostly an elite activity. Meaning that its focus is on elite designers (as defined by the Art Directors Club Germany) designing for an elite target of highly educated people with good taste.I did not get a sense that there is a strong user-centered design culture, although there should be a target identified in the creative brief.
  2. Although agencies do pro-bono work, there is not an emphasis on civic design projects like those of Design for Democracy. There is a sense that Germans are used to looking to the state for solutions not assisting the state in providing solutions.
  3. Students resist strategic thinking in Hamburg University as well as my students. They want to go straight to a "solution."
  4. There less crossover between business, the academy, and government. He seemed surprised that I have a traditional academic background, moved into industry, moved back into academia, and is/was involved with the government. This is a new concept for a German. Note: This has been reiterated many times by Germans. Academics stay in the academy. Business people in business. Government people in government although they may go into a policy thinktank.

This is my impression based on the conversation, but if I spoke with someone from a design center, I assume I would get a different impression of German design.



Racism by any other name

The other presentations today including a session with Aydan Ozogus, one of the two Germans of Turkish background in the Hamburg Parliament. She is part of the Social Democrat party, which lost to the Christian Democrat party.

She talked to us about the immigration situation in Germany. The change from naturalization based on blood to land in 1990. Germany admitting it is an immigrant nation in 1995, and thus beginning to provide language training and other services to enable Turkish youth to integrat into German society, as Germans. The fact that the integration of the Turkish is a social problem, not a racial one, although the Turkish face discrimination due to lack of language skills, different codes of behaviors, and Moslem religious background.

The interesting thing from a comparative perspective is that discourses of race and racism that have been so effective in the US struggle for civil rights is not possible in Germany due to its Nazi history. Aydan would never say that the Turkish in Germany experience racism, but rather discrimination, and discrimination mostly due to 30 years of neglect because everyone assumed the Turkish would return to Turkey, not stay and have children. In lunch afterwords, some of my colleagues were upset that she would not call it racism. I pointed out that the US attachment to the concept of racism is important because it has proven effective in forcing the American legal system to fight discrimination, so much so that in the 1990s you had white men claiming "reverse racism." As a person working inside the German system (in which only 10 years ago they could say they have immigrants), there is no strategic advantage in calling it racism, in fact it would only shut down dialogue.

The General Counsel did make one interesting comment about the immigration debate in the US versus German. Currently in the US, people for the most part believe that legal immigration is good. Immigration is part of our national mythology, much to the dismay of Native Americans. The focus of the current debate is on what to do about illegal immigration. But in Germany, they are still unsure whether legal immigration is a good thing. This makes a huge difference in the base assumptions one can make about the immigration solution.

What is sad is that Germany seems to be taking a assimulationist model for Turkish integration. You can look like your Turkish, but you must speak, act, and think like a German, completely. There is no anti-discrimation statement that will allow government forms to be printed in Turkish as well as German. In our conversation with Theo Sommer, he talked about how the people editing the news for Die Ziet are different because they are younger or there are women, but their ideology has to be the same. Both he and Aydan stressed that there is "No Affirmative Action" as if AA is a bad thing. But what you my lose by creating assimilated Turkish German citizens is the potential for the diversity of thought and perspective that drives creativity and innovation.

But maybe its a Maslow level of needs, when it comes to race and discrimination, the focus in Germany is on gaining basic security. In post-1964 US, the focus may be on self-actualization.

I asked Aydan that with such diverse histories what is the possibility for a transatlantic dialogue on immigration between Germany and the US. She spoke about visiting a school in the US and seeing the social workers who were there to help immigrant children and their families learn to navigate the system. She went back to the SD party and said they need to do this as well.

The model of the social problem of immigation in Germany feels closer to the plight of American Americans pre-1964 than that of the Hispanic community in terms of the discourse of criminalization and the fact that AAs represent the opposite of the model of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male Americaness. Yet some of the solutions used to help integrate Hispanic immigrants into US society seem to be the most practical in dealing with the German situation.

Which leads me to reconsider the appropriateness of using the term racism in its prescriptive mode for Germany although descriptively it may be accurate in addressing the institutional discrimination against the Turkish in Germany.

The ugly americans

Day 2 in Hamburg was wonderful except for the visit to the US Consulate. No everytime I meet US diplomats abroad (one in Kenya, Ethiopia, and now in Hamburg) I am so appalled by their behavior that I seriously consider joining the diplomatic corps. Then I remember two things:
(1) I would be required to represent American foreign interest regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with it personally.
(2) Due to security, I would end up so isolated from the very people in the country I would want to get to know.

But today, I really think that in spite of this it would be better for me to represent the US than the current people there. So here is what happened.

The group of Dylan, Carrie, Yolanda, Chris, Robbie, myself, and Christina and Petra our hosts went to the Consulate. We went throught heavy security, having to leave cameras, cell phones, and computers behind.

We are met by the Consul General as he drives up in his small detail of himself and secret service. He is very personable. We are given a quick tour of the consulate, which was built in 19th century and was former Nazi headquarters, before being sold to the US in the 1950s.

We are introduced to the Public Relations person as well. And then the ugly Americans opened their mouths:

  • Now, the group has been in Europe for only four days, yet we knew better the number of countries in the EU (25) + 2 more that will join in 2007. The Consul General got it wrong twice. How can you be a diplomat in Europe and not know the number of countries in the EU? And this person had not be stationed in Germany since last week.
  • The PR person  went into a rant about Anti-American sentiment and how "Germans forget that they have exploited for 40 years the American relationship to gain the credibility and trust of Europe.They have gotten everything a nation could want from a diplomacy perspective." At this point, Petra left the room.
  • The General Consul had not prepared for the meeting and did not answer many of the questions that we asked.

We as a group were so embarrassed and ashamed of our representatives. If the goal of the Consul is to promote transatlantic partnerships with Germany, I would have hated Americans after hearing the things they said. So I may have to rethink the whole diplomatic corps thing so that we have better Americans representing our country overseas.

Hamburg Germany Day 1

There is so much I need to catch up on but our schedule is extremely busy. Yesterday, I had an interview with the Slovak Design Center, the Slovakian equivalent of AIGA and IDSA combined but under the Ministry of Culture. I have a lot to write about that so I will have to catch up on Friday. Now just so highlights on arrival to Germany...

Today, I arrived in Hamburg, Germany. I am enamored of the city. I really am a City girl. It is very green, with beautiful architecture, lakes, rivers, and canals. Where we are staying is in one of the most posh neighborhoods which makes a difference of course. But I love the vibe of the place.

The World Cup is going on here, so there are a lot of people in the city.

We are being hosted by Petra Pissulla of the Drager Foundation, which is an important corporate foundation in Germany. We are getting to eat at some of the best and most trendy restaurants in Hamburg. I mention this because the German colleagues keep mentioning this. For those in the know: Paolino, Henssler & Henssler, Die Bank, Turnhall St. Georg, Vapiano, Rive, and Engel.

I met the third most charming man I know. Rankings: (1) My husband Mohammed, (2) Ric Grefe, and (3) Dr. Theo Sommer, editor-at-large for DIE ZIET newspaper. We had a fascinating overview of economic and political reforms under the Grand Coalition, which refers to the coalition government between the two major political parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. More stuff than I have time for.

Some quick highlights:

1. EU and the fear of Germany because of past aggression

Germany's push for the participating in the EU is just as much about mitigating the fear of its nine neighbors, especially post reunification, as it is about economic benefits (ex. being able to export its products throughtout the EU without trade barriers). This is very different from Slovakia of course.

2. German Federalism Reform

One of the most important issues with the grand coalition is defining the form of Germany's federalism. At dinner, I sat next to Dr. Julia von Blumenthal a political science professor at the University of the Armed Forces. We had a long discussion about the potential reforms in terms of transferring much of the decision-making power and financial responsibility for education to the 16 states from the Federal government. This has serious implications for regional development because not all German states are equally wealthy. Dr. Sommer told us that the former East Germany states receive $100 billion Euros per year, for over 15 years. The implications of this is unknown.

3. A major shift in recognition of minorities

Again it was iterated that Germany has taken 30 years to recognize the fact that it is an immigrant, not just emigrant, nation. Some reforms have begun, but it has a long way to go.

Its been a long day, but it is really going to be a fascinating journey.