Essay / 7. January 2021
Naš List: Localised urban practices in the times of multiple uncertainty
Among many things, the 2020 CTB Lab in Rijeka, produced a local newspaper called Nas List that is meant to connect the neighbourhood and strengthen local identity. Here, you can read a commentary from the newspaper written by CTB’s Miodrag Kuč.
During the KvARTera project and in the wake of the pandemic-stricken European Cultural Capital of Rijeka 2020, our community-in-the-making has developed tools and actions in order to bring to live the abandoned paper-factory Hartera and its surroundings with a variety of new uses. During the summer of distancing, MO Hartera – the newly established, self-organised Local Council – realised a variety of open-air cultural events, public discussions, sport gatherings and co-building practices which showed that engaging the local-community is a key for all development paths.
One of the final products is a local newspaper with the goal to become a quarterly issued communication and micro-economy tool for the fragmented neighbourhood. With its design and name a nod to an actual union newspaper of days long gone, it is also an invitation for citizens of Rijeka to (re)-discover t own industrial heritage as well as the forgotten natural setup of the Rjecina canyon.
Contributions were made by a variety of people involved with the project and it was designed by Marin Nizic.
You can find and read the newspaper here – currently only in Croatian, unfortunately.
Below you can find a translated commentary by CTB’s Miodrag Kuc which details lessons learned during the project about urban pedagogy.
Doing by learning: The Critical Urban Pedagogy of Hartera
We are living in times in which urban activism is on the verge of becoming a profession. It has been framed as a set of carefully chosen vocabulary, a particular lifestyle accompanied with double-morality and solidarity communicated through the social networks. Outside the activist-bubble, controversial businessmen are the main urban ‘developers’, political discussions are happening inside the comments of the online-news and cars are still dominating our public space.
Honestly speaking, it is quite easy today to be anti-something, just look at your surroundings: crumbling state structures, dysfunctional cities, tasteless food and populist tendencies. But how can we not simply imagine better cities but actually engage qualitatively and politically in a relevant manner?
It is obvious that formal university education often fails to provide the tools and skills for civic engagement which are desparately needed in the face of our welfare system’s decline. It is also not their responsibility, one might say. Citizen participation in urban development has also been a tricky field: hidden political agendas, instrumentalisation of the pro-active actors and staged participatory processes are rather everyday practice than the exception. One should, it seems, start from the basics: understanding the foundations of the so called urban arena, and investing in (urban) political education! Civic competences are the stepping stone in understanding not only your own rights but, after all, how the city functions logistically, legally and bureaucratically.
The group of people around the project MO Hartera realised from the beginning that media hype and expectations during the European Capital of Culture could be a double-edged sword. For that reason, they decided to focus on diverse local communities around the Rjecina river and create a tangible process of joint learning. This process started with politicising particular urban issues (parking, mobility, greenery, infrastructure) but, essentially, it has been understood as a collective inquiry with an unknown outcome. Usual mistakes urban activist make, such as acting without understanding the context or legal procedures, were avoided by having careful conversations with locals, facilitating their involvement into the production of events and interventions with socio-spatial consequences. Further, the MO Hartera team approached authorities (be they public companies or the university) with constructive proposals and economically feasible plans, not just asking for ‘permission’ or simple funding. This process of mutual learning within the complexity of the urban arena has been a foundation for critical urban pedagogy, in which all sides understood that urban development is about doing things after we learn some things (not after we ‘found’ money). How and what we learned in Hartera is definitely different from what we are used to, because the context is so unique.
After a couple of months of building trust and respect, it was clear that the next steps should include a political vision, be it the spatial planning of the whole Skoljic area or the organisation required to run this process. Tools such as Cakula, Tuzibaba, Bonton and the Kvartera Dictionary have, after all, pedagogical character, asking for consistency and diversity of actors involved. In that way, a critical mass of people was created, without a festivalisation of the area. And not only that, this kaleidoscope of people would have otherwise never had the chance to work together and understand their very different positions which originated from the localised social struggles.
Since our communities were used to working only in situations of uncertainty, social precarity and legal niches, the pandemic came as another problem to deal with in the sea of many.
Self-organisation, which is also historically rooted in the working class area through the experienced system of self-management (samoupravljanje), became an asset in combination with the abundance of open space in Hartera. The forgotten and dilapidated area became the playground for an experiment that could not be possible under the ‘normal’ conditions.
Finally, MO Hartera opened up one of the main questions for the future of the area: How to fund renewal of the area in the absence of a "big investor"? Through the City of Rijeka or rather the Sheik from the Emirates? To find a sustainable answer, we will need to transfer what we have learned in Hartera into its spatial forms. For that, much smaller sums or even just a shift in the existing communal budget are needed. Time is, in any case, of the essence, and for that reason we should start right now!
Photo Credits, in order:
(1) Kristian Vuckovic, 2020
(2) Marin Nizic, 2020
(3) Marin Nizic, 2020
(4) Kristian Vuckovic, 2020
(5) Kristian Vuckovic, 2020
(6) Kristian Vuckovic, 2020
(7) Kristian Vuckovic, 2020