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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Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus: From a former red light district towards a new creative bohemia?

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.

See also the impact on a shrinking electorate in Vienna here on


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)

Wie nehmen die Bewohner_innen ihren Bezirk und die dort stattfindenden Veränderungen wahr? Anhand persönlicher Geschichten entlang ihres Alltags untersucht das Fotoprojekt FünfzehnSüd im Zeitraum von 2014-2016 die Perspektive der Rudolfsheim-Fünfhausner_innen auf „ihren“ Bezirk. Ein Gastbeitrag von Carolina Frank.

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Still the poorest district in Vienna? A local perspective on the socio-economic status.

Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus has a persisting reputation allegedly as one of Vienna’s most socio-economically disadvantaged districts. How truthful is this presumption? Do all parts of the district fall to the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, or is there more inner diversity in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus than commonly presumed?

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“Not moaning on a high level, but becoming active”: Social mixing and emerging activation practices at Schwendermarkt.

Hardly anyone in Vienna knows the Schwendermarkt in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, although it gained popularity as being the oldest daily street market in Vienna. Established as a former fish market in 1833, its popularity decreased over time.

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Transforming commercial landscape: From imperial craftsmen to new creative shops

As in many cases of urban development in Vienna, all began with the Habsburg Monarchy. Workplaces, daily markets and the commercial landscape in general have a long history in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus due to their location along important traffic routes of the former Habsburg Monarchy. Since the dawn of the 20th century, the 15th district has been a viable working class district. However, after World War II, a commercial decline started. More and more shops and workplaces were relocated or closed. Only recently, new restaurants, cafes, bars and shared working spaces are emerging and producing a new commercial landscape supporting the new image of the 15th district as being lively, vibrant and a “hidden” mecca of creative entrepreneurs. Unsurprisingly, first notions of starting gentrification can be identified in the public debate, too.

During the early phase of industrialization, the Southern part of the 15th district transformed from its rural character with wine yards into a densely populated working class district. One industrial cluster was located around the area of Gasgasse, South of today’s location of ‘Westbahnhof’. At the Southern border of the district – along the Vienna river – a textile industry cluster emerged including weavers, bleachers and dye works. Also, other craftsmen settled here (see Festschrift 600 Jahre Reindorfgasse). However, the transport routes have remained to be the most influential drivers for transformation. The Mariahilfer Straße, for example, was a major horse-drawn post road to the Western parts of the Habsburg monarchy. Therefore, many restaurants, hotels and craftsmen supporting the transport sector settled along this street. This development was further boosted by the opening of Westbahnhof and the electrification of the railway to the West in 1858. (see Bezirksmuseum Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus)

Amusement and travel trade in an early suburb

During that period, the Southern part was also known for its big amusement clubs and pub gardens hosting concerts, summer parties and masquerade balls. Many small-scaled shops, restaurants and grocery stores for the working class settled around Reindorfgasse which served as an artisanal street connecting the factories located at the Vienna River and the accommodations of the workers. The vibrancy of the neighbourhood was also enhanced by the Schwendermarkt – the oldest daily street market in Vienna established in 1833. (see Festschrift 600 Jahre Reindorfgasse)

Read more on Schwendermarkt in this story: Social mixing and emerging activation practices at Schwendermarkt.

Commercial and economic decline from the 1970s onwards: The role of shopping malls.

After World War II, the revitalisation of small shops and grocery stores brought only a short economic ease in the 15th district. The out-movement of residents, ongoing motorization, as well as structural changes in food and retail supply forced the closing of many workplaces and commercial supply from the 1970s onwards. As a result, a remarkable number of vacant shops was left.

Nevertheless, interviewed residents blame shopping malls for the decline of small inner city shops and restaurants since three major shopping malls are located in the 15th district: Meiselmarkt, Lugner City and the mall located in the redeveloped Westbahnhof.

Lugner City is located in the Northern part of the 15th district. With its chain stores, food court and cinema it is very popular predominantly amongst migrants and the working class from across Vienna. To the contrary, the shopping mall in Westbahnhof is used by a “floating mix” consisting of tourists, passengers and youngsters from the neighbourhood.

Äußere Mariahilferstraße, one of the major shopping streets in the 15th district, is starting at Westbahnhof. With the opening of the redeveloped train station in 2011, new restaurants ranging from upscale ethnic to corporate cafes have settled and reside nowadays next to cheap fast food shops, hotels and various retail shops. The vibrant part of the shopping street around Westbahnhof is characterized dominantly by tourists, employees and shoppers due to the presence of hotels, workplaces and the nearby metro station. Nevertheless, the street becomes commercially more quiet if one walks West.

Märzstraße, located in the Southern part of the district, looks totally different. This commercial street is mostly known for its immigrant businesses and restaurants ranging from Turkish to Ex-Yugoslavian restaurants and bars.

To get an overview on shopping malls, shopping streets and daily street markets of the district see the following map:


The showcase of shopping street transformation: Reindorfgasse.

The most remarkable change of a shopping street is currently ongoing at Reindorfgasse. Within the last 5 years, new creative shops, galleries, bars and restaurants have been opening. They mix with old-Viennese restaurants as well as ethnic shops and cafes in the village-like street. The rejuvenation process in Reindorfgasse is already spreading to the nearby Sparkasseplatz as well as to Schwendermarkt. Media are already referring to Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus as an ‘upcoming and creative district’.

For example:

Not only media, but also politicians are referring to this development as a success. Intermediate policymakers such as the Viennese Business Agency have an interest in doing so as this institution is funding the network project Einfach 15 in Reindorfgasse.

We will publish an in-depth story on the area around Reindorfgasse, soon. Stories on the developments of shops, workplaces, cafes and restaurants will also be added. Come back and read more.

At a glance: The present economic situation of residents in the 15th district.

Mostly elderly people and immigrant workers remained living in the district. Whereas the share of people aged over 65 years gradually decreased from nearly 25% in 1981 to 14 % in 2011, the share of immigrants raised to 34% in 2011. In relation to that, residents reported that it is not surprising that shops are closing down due to a lack of purchasing power. This collective memory is supported by statistics indicating the 15th district as the poorest district compared to other Viennese districts for years.

The strata of the total income (wage and other incomes), however, offer a more nuanced picture. Whereas the share of people in the 15th earning less than 6,000 € gross is quite comparable to the historic central districts (approx. 14%), the share of people earning between 6,000 and 25,000 € is above the Viennese average and in the historic central districts. Most strikingly, the share of people in the highest income class is nearly half the size of city average. Only 5% of residents in the 15th district have an income of more than 50,000 € per year (15% in the old, dense inner districts and 10% citywide).

To conclude, the 15th district shows a comparably solid base of middle incomes. If this can be used as a proxy for gentrification has to be seen in the context of general living costs such as housing, education, or expenses for daily needs.

“Für mich bitte Bio und Regional”: Greenification in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus?

Ein Weg zur Ernährungssouveränität mit Ursprungsgarantie? Die Rolle von Food-Coops in der lokalen Nahrungsmittelversorgung.

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Real estate property in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus: An affordable district on its turn?

Vienna is famous for its large housing stock in social housing that stabilizes the prices for rent and property citywide. However, housing prices are increasing - both for rents and for real estate property. Reasons can be found in the spatial distribution of social housing, continuous growth of population, limited building land reserves and increasing building costs. If we consider a conservative population growth estimate of 20,000 newcomers / year, 10,000 new apartments are needed per year. However, the share of newly constructed apartments in 2015 amount to only 7,500 units. How does this framework condition impact the housing market of Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus?

The 15th district is one of the typical districts in Vienna that are dominated by buildings from the Gründerzeit (founder’s period). In 2011, 55% of the 3,117 buildings in the 15th district were built before 1919. Nevertheless, the spatial concentration of buildings from the Gründerzeit is not equally distributed across the district.

Within the debate of gentrification one has to ask: Why does the age of the housing stock play an important role? In gentrification research this aspect is related to “aesthetics” and lifestyle preferences of the so-called “gentrifiers” (see, for instance: David Ley, 2003, Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentrification).

In the case of Vienna, the common notion of “the well-offs are living in the historic building stock” applies as well. Higher income households may prefer the aesthetic, like the size of the apartments, height of the rooms, or the decoration of the interiors. In addition, buildings from the Gründerzeit are a contested field of investment amongst real estate actors who assume an increase of value after renovation and who follow mainly the strategy of converting former rental into ownership apartments.

However, we found out that the main reason why residents choose the 15th district to live is due to affordability. It is steadily reported that the 15th district is still more affordable compared to other inner-city districts 1 to 9. If we look at the physical quality of the dwelling stock, another component contributes to the “affordability” argument in the 15th district: The lowest dwelling standard is Category D and is used for apartments that either do not have a toilet or do not have running water within the dwelling (see the explanation of other categories in the chart below). Contrary to other Viennese districts with a substantial share of Gründerzeit structure, the number of lowest standard apartments is still comparably high in the 15th district. Although the number of Category D dwellings decreased significantly from nearly 40% in 1991 to below 18% in 2011, the number is still 10% higher compared to the whole of Vienna.

Nevertheless, media reports and responses during our interviews with residents indicate increasing rents and selling prices.

One main indicator of gentrification is the increase in apartment ownership. Still, Vienna is known as the “city of renters”. In the 15th district, about 80% of the residents rent their apartments. This number has been very stable since 1981. Compared to other Viennese districts with high shares of Gründerzeit structure, the share of renters (75%) is slightly lower than in the 15th. On the other hand, comparably fewer people own their apartments. Only a stable share of 12% lives in the 15th district as home owners.

Again, home-ownership as a “proxy for gentrification” currently indicates only minor evidence for gentrification in the 15th district. The spatial distribution within the 15th district, however, shows a great variety (select property in the main map at the head of this page for details).

In terms of housing affordability, one major explanation of Vienna’s affordable housing market is the damping effect of the social housing stock. This has to be questioned in the 15th district where the share of dwellings that are categorized as social housing is nearly 10% lower compared to citywide shares (26.2%). Nevertheless, the share is still higher than in other Gründerzeit dominated districts. Social housing apartments are either owned by non-profit housing associations or the Municipality of Vienna. As a result, approximately 26% total of the dwelling stock is rent controlled in the 15th district – not taking into account the rent control of Gründerzeit apartments.

In addition, the share of dwellings held as private property is quite similar to the inner city districts. One major difference can be found in the relatively small share of dwellings held by corporate bodies. This may be an indicator that professional investors are not yet investing in the 15th district.

To conclude, we may confirm that the social housing sector dampens the rents effectively, because there are no major structural differences compared to the other districts. Housing in the 15th district is comparably affordable, at the moment. However, this observation does not apply to the newly built rental sector (which is not rent-controlled at all) neither to the real estate property market where purchase prices follow the logic of profit maximization.

See also the story: “No room for single households? Housing stock in change.”

No room for single households? Housing stock in change

Today, the general amount of residential dwellings in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus does not greatly differ from that in early 1980’s. Nevertheless, the last decades have nevertheless led to a larger structural change, as the modernization of the district’s housing stock has drastically altered the availability of diverse apartment types. The share of smaller, 1- or 2- room apartments has gradually decreased, as dwellings have been merged in order to increase the occupancy rate.

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Advocating for the future: soft urban renewal, questionnaires and local engagement

As a traditional working class district, Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus has always been one of the Social Democratic strongholds in Vienna. Since 1946, the elected district mayor has always been an ambassador of the Social Democratic Party. In practice, several policies are enacted at district level but also at the citywide level. At local level, different associations and citizens’ groups are advocating, with different methods, their ideas for the future of the 15th district.

Until 1996, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) had run the district with an absolute majority. Except for 2005, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has been the second strongest party after the Social Democratic Party from the 1990s onwards. The votes for the Green Party have been constantly rising from 1991. Nowadays, the Green Party is the third strongest party in the district council with nearly 22% and is holding 11 seats. As in other census districts in Vienna, the demographic change towards a younger urban society is applied as an explanation for the rise of the Green Party and  ‘The New Austria’ party (NEOS). The NEOS were elected the first time in 2015 to the district parliament in the 15th district.

In the gentrification debate, voters of these more progressive and rather liberally oriented parties are often ascribed to the gentrifying middle class. However, only partial evidence seems to support this explanation.


Policies for a liveable Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus: Infrastructure & anti-prostitution law.

Large-scale transport infrastructure projects have impacted the 15th district from its very beginning. The list ranges from the opening of the historic Westbahnhof in 1858 to the transformation of the historic Viennese light rail system (“Stadtbahn”) into the metro lines 4 and 6 (opening of the metro station Längenfeldgasse and modernized Westbahnhof in 1989) as well as to the extension of the metro line 3 in 1994 through the Northern part of the district. These ‘top-down’ policy decisions at city level contributed to a very good connection to inner city transport inducing many new residents to move into the 15th district. With a city wide bill, street prostitution was banned from the district in 2011 and changed the image of the 15th district dramatically. The passing of the bill was accompanied by pressure from worried residents upon local politicians and demonstrated that the residents of the 15th districts have power, too.

The biggest block renewal area in Vienna

Due to its old housing stock and its potential for renovation, the ‘Soft Urban Renewal’ programme is one of the major housing policies by the Social Democratic Party currently enacted in the 15th district. This city-wide, social democratic core strategy is practiced in close cooperation with the local ‘Urban Renewal Office’ and aims at the sustainable redevelopment of neighbourhoods without displacing residents.

In the 15th district, designated subsidized redevelopment areas are currently located in the Southern part of the district. From 2010 to 2014 the area “Sechshaus” between Sechshauser Straße und Linker Wienzeile was designated for subsidized renewal – making it more likely to receive public subsidies for renovation of Gründerzeit buildings. In 2014, preparations for the redevelopment of the area of Reindorf and Rustendorf started. This new redevelopment area consists of 4 sub-areas and includes 35 building blocks and 365 properties. As such, it is the biggest urban renewal area designated for block renovation in Vienna.

Adaptation of public spaces through residents’ participation

At the local level, one prominent district policy refers to the adaptation of public spaces and squares. In doing that, the district council in the 15th district assigned the Urban Renewal Office and social workers to apply a questionnaire survey in order to grasp the desires of residents using public space – for instance the Wasserwelt or Schwendermarkt.

However, changes are not always appreciated amongst residents. You can have a read on the formation of local resistance with regard to the Schwendermarkt, here: Social mixing and emerging activation practices at Schwendermarkt. This case again made clear, that people make themselves heard when it is necessary.

New formation of networked practices: The case of einfach15.

Nevertheless, local residents and entrepreneurs are in need of support when they become active citizens and shape their local neighbourhoods. Such as Einfach 15 – a network of entrepreneurs and residents around Reindorfgasse, Sparkassaplatz and Schwendermarkt who aim at strengthening and revitalizing the social and economic base of the neighbourhood. Their approach highlights the cooperation and the local engagement of stakeholders. The network is funded as a business development area by the Vienna Business Agency. However, as the association is supported by many young residents and entrepreneurs, it seems to be a challenge to involve older and established generations of residents and entrepreneurs.

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Die Änderung des Wiener Prostitutionsgewerbes in 2011 gilt als "turning point" in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus. Das ehemalige Schmuddelkind entwickelt sich seither zum "everyone's darling". Ein klassisches Beispiel des "Sicherheitsdiskurses" in der Gentrificationforschung?

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DIY Urbanismus: Ich mache mir die Welt wie sie mir gefällt?

Möglichkeiten der Mitgestaltung und des Miteinanders in Zeiten der urban Wiederentdeckung.

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“Because they all vote for the Greens”: Rise of liberal politics – indication of the gentrifying class?

In the Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, the increasing popularity of progressive and liberal political parties has been attributed to the emerge of new, young, educated urban population. Does demographic data support this assumption?

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