Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus: A normal yet gentrifying district in Vienna?

Vienna is a model example of a socially diverse city in Central Europe and well-known for its achievements in social housing during the period popularly labelled "Red Vienna". Two thirds of Viennese households live in the subsidised housing sector. But does this mean that neighbourhoods do not change? After decades of mantra-like repetition of references to a stable, socially-mixed housing market in Vienna, the reality is a somewhat different picture: Neighbourhoods and entire districts are changing dynamically in terms of physical, social and economic composition. Even areas formerly considered deprived working-class are becoming more hip and are transformed into spaces for new residents, with alternative economic uses and new forms of social interaction. The development of Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus – better known as the 15th district - in Vienna is an example of this.

A district in continuous transformation: Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus in Vienna. (Source: author’s Picture, 2016)

Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus is located about five kilometres West of the iconic Viennese inner city (1st district) and its focal point, St. Stephan’s Cathedral. The earliest settlement dates back to 1411 and refers to the “suburbs” of Reindorf, Braunhirschen and Rustendorf. By 1863, these three villages were administratively united into Rudolfsheim (“Rudolf” for the Habsburg Crown Prince Rudolf and “Heim” for “home”). In 1890, Rudolfsheim was officially declared the 14th district of Vienna while Fünfhaus – located in the North – was the 15th district. In 1938, the districts were joined. Finally, in 1957, it became the 15th district as it is today: Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus (see Bezirksmuseum Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus).

Did you know that the Habsburgs were inspired by Paris? They numbered the Viennese districts like a snail-shell, beginning with the Inner City as the 1st district. Locals tend to refer to their district by the number, rather than the name. Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus is therefore just “the 15th” or in German “der Fünfzehnte”.

After World War II, many labour immigrants from former Yugoslavia and Turkey settled in the 15th district which at the time was characterised by small, run-down – yet affordable – apartments built before 1919 – the famous Viennese building period known as the “Gründerzeit” (founders’ period). The 15th district continues to have the highest proportion of non-Austrian residents. Among other reasons, its perception as a “migratory district” contributed to its bad image for a long period of time. Moreover, the negative image of the 15th district was further impacted by an active drug scene, comparably high crime rates and street prostitution. Furthermore, population decline in the central districts with outstanding dominant Gründerzeit structure continued until 2001 (Cluster 1) – including in the 15th district. From 2001 onwards, these  districts in Vienna picked up steam and their populations began to grow again. However, the 15th has seen more dynamic growth than other districts with an outstanding Gründerzeit structrure post-2001 (see chart below).

The moment of change: The passage of the anti-prostitution law in Vienna in 2011

The introduction of a city-wide anti-prostitution law in 2011 constitutes a “turning point” for the negative image of the 15th district. Since then, street prostitution is strictly forbidden and the sense of personal safety has increased. Its image has continued to improve and a notable influx of students and younger, well-educated households is reported – less in terms of statistical data, based more  on individual perception. The demographic changes go hand in hand with recently opened shops, galleries, bars and restaurants. Especially the areas of Reindorfgasse and Schwendermarkt in the Southern part of the 15th district have been represented in the media as a creative mecca in Vienna.

In addition, citywide population growth has had an impact on the housing stock: rent increases and rising property prices in the historic central districts and the 15th district can be observed. Nevertheless, the 15th district is still considered an affordable district with excellent inner city public transport connections that attracts students and highly educated families and small businesses.

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The 15th district is known for four characteristics: It is the youngest, poorest, least educated and most ethnically diverse district in Vienna. Nowadays, the ethnic mix is mostly considered an outstanding and valuable characteristic of the district for all social groups living here. Nevertheless, an influx of young singles, students and well-educated families has been reported in recent years. The reasons newcomers give for the move mainly refer to comparably affordable rents, excellent public transport connections and the central location, as well as local amenities. However, statistical data does not reflect changes in social structure, so far.

The high share of foreign residents in the 15th district has been the case particularly since the beginning of the 1980s, with an increase from about 12% in 1981 to 34% in 2011. This is above the Viennese average (7.5% in 1981; 21.7% in 2011). The chart below illustrates the relatively high proportion of non-Austrian citizens in the 15th district compared to the cluster of districts with an outstanding dominant Gründerzeit structure. Whereas the latter and the 15th district began in 1981 at a similar level (9.8%), the districts with a similar Gründerzeit structure only raised to 23.9% non-Austrian citizens in 2011. The 15th district has the highest share of non-Austrian citizens in Vienna.

In 2011, 13.5% of all residents in the 15th district came from former Yugoslavia. The Turkish community represents 4.3% and EU member states make up 3.1%. Another 13.1 % came from various other countries in 2011. Nevertheless, almost two thirds (66%) of all residents in the 15th district hold Austrian citizenship.

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Directions towards new residential groups?

The ethnic composition in the 15th district was considered problematic by the majority of residents until the end of the 2000s. Nowadays, the ethnic mix in the district is more tolerated as a “multicultural charm”. As already mentioned, the negative image of the 15th district was further impacted by an active drug scene, comparably high crime rates and street prostitution. In 2011, street prostitution was strictly prohibited by a citywide resolution. Since then, an influx of younger people, students and well-educated families has been reported in a majority of our interviews as well as in media coverage.

Gradually, the 15th district has become the youngest district in Vienna. The share of people aged between 20 and 34 has increased from 22.9% in 1981 to 26.7% in 2011 (similar districts with outstanding dominant Gründerzeit structure: 25.8% in 2011). The share of people older than 65 decreased by approximately 10% over three decades to 13.4% in 2011.

Another indication of the changing 15th district is education. People have the perception that more highly educated people are moving into the district. Statistical data paints another picture: One-third of residents from the 15th district only completed the most basic level of schooling. The share of this group decreased in line with the citywide trend from 1981 by approximately 10%. Despite that, 13% of the residents hold an academic degree. This share also increased in line with the citywide trend by 10% since 1981. However, the share of people with an academic education in the 15th district is significantly lower than in the other districts with a similar amount of Gründerzeit structure. There, residents with an academic degree exceed the number of residents with only compulsory education.

Implications of statistical evidence for gentrification?

Statistical data does not support the public perception that the 15th district is getting “more well-educated” and is already in the midst of gentrification with significant changes in socio-demographic data.

Nevertheless, compared to the city average, the district of Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus is still:

  • the youngest,
  • most ethnically diverse,
  • and least educated.

If you want to read more on the diversity as experienced in every day practice, please scroll down and dive into the social world of Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus.

„Irgendwie bin ich in diesen Bezirk verliebt ein bisschen gerade..“ (Lino, Irrlicht, 2014)

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