16th Plenary Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Heinz Buschowsky: “Employment and education are Berlin-Neukölln biggest challenges”
In this interview Heinz Buschowsky, Mayor of Berlin-Neukölln, presents the activities of its city to develop interculturalism. He participated in the debate on „Intercultural Cities Programme“ on 4 March 2009, during the Congress Plenary Session.
Neukölln has about 300.000 inhabitants consisting of more than 160 nations and is known as one of Berlin’s most colourful and exciting areas. What are the main challenges you are confronted with in such a multifaceted municipality?
The two biggest challenges are linked to the socio-economic situation. We have high unemployment rates– it is about 50 percent among migrants, the total average is about 24 percent – and a low educational state of parents. This prevents parents to support their children actively. Due to the high rate of unemployment we are facing the fact that about 75 percent of children in the northern part of Neukölln are depending on social welfare. The parents of up to 90 percent of the school children living in this part of the borough are without employment. Also, we are confronted with a high crime rate, particularly among the young male migrant population.
Can you give us a few examples on the ways in which Berlin-Neukölln is managing concrete problems between the different ethnic or religious groups – e.g. how to overcome language barriers or mutual mistrust?
Our response to tackle language problems is to offer broad-scale language training for the borough. With about 56.000 lessons during 2007 the Otto-Suhr-Adult-Education Centre in Berlin-Neukölln is one of the biggest training providers throughout the country in respect of German as second language.The centre offers courses from basic to advanced level (e.g. the small German language certificate) as well as individual programmes and weekend seminars. “District Mothers” – a project managed by the City Council of Neukölln, the Diakonie and the Job Centre Neukölln – helps to overcome prejudices and to inform residents about public welfare services. By regular visits to families with social problems the “District Mothers” support parents and children with regard to language training facilities and other educational matters or health questions. Also the “District Mothers” act as mentors and contact persons for discussions. Meanwhile this project is Germany-wide well known as an example of best practice.
The „intercultural concept“ implies that both sides – majorities and minority populations – are willing to exchange and to change, if necessary. Change is not always easy-going. How do you promote this idea within your constituency?
The keyword in this respect is participation. This works in Neukölln through the instrument of “Neighbourhood Management”. Since 1999 eleven neighbourhood management areas have been created for city zones which are socially deprived and have special needs. In the meantime, approximately one third of the Neukölln population lives in such areas. Participation is structured around so called “neighbourhood committees”, each comprising about 50 citizens and local actors. The committees discuss on major issues of the respective local area and they try to find solutions for improvements. During the last ten years about 500 people have been actively involved in this kind of local participation.
What do you expect from your participation in the „Intercultural Cities Programme“ which was launched jointly by the European Union and the Council of Europe?
The project is significant in respect of several fields of interest. It helps to raise awareness not only for the challenges and the problems but also for the examples of best practice. On that score, the media which look at Neukölln seriously have become an important partner for the City Council. They support our intention to impart the new intercultural policy approach with regard to regional and national governments as well as to the larger public.