Review / CityToolbox

Reviving Koroska street (2014-2020)

How to bring the historic road, which was overloaded with traffic, back to life was the main concern about Koroska Street in Maribor, Slovenia. Using various approaches and tools, the case of its gradual urban transformation will be shortly elaborated.

Koroska Street was built in the 13th century, when Maribor was constituted as a fortified medieval town. The street is considered to be the oldest street in town. At the beginning of the 20th century it was still a lively narrow street with many activities, public life and small craftsmen's and artisan shops in the adjacent buildings, but at the end of the same century it became congested by motorized traffic, which physically dominated the space, causing pollution and noise and destroying the public life of the street and its surroundings. Although an architectural competition was held in 2010 to redesign the street and reduce traffic as much as possible, by 2015 there had been neither investments nor programmatic changes to improve the poor condition and degradation in the form of dilapidated facades, poor paving, abandoned houses and empty courtyards. Even the European Capital of Culture in 2012 in the city of Maribor couldn’t trigger the transformation of that street - the only thing at that time was a street exhibition entitled Violent showing the comics about the local football fans.

Around 2014-15, a group of people joined the House! Association, participating in the Actors of Urban Change programme, began to organise numerous activities around it. They began to map the spatial and social conditions of the surrounding neighbourhood, got to know the inhabitants of the street and the shopkeepers, organised meetings with them, revived the courtyards of the houses with various events (e.g. picnics, cleaning actions, exhibitions...). By getting to know the people living there and the neighbourhood better, the need for action and the necessity to open a discussion on unsolved problems in a larger context became stronger. In 2015, three so-called Urban Hackathons were organised - these were two-day events which brought together various participants from local government representatives, urban and transport planning experts, NGOs, but also street dwellers to discuss the possibilities of urban renewal of the area. The in-depth discussion led to the decision to close the road for one day (on 5 July 2015). It was the first day ever that the road was closed to motorised traffic in order to carry out the demonstration project - to show the inhabitants of the city of Maribor on a 1:1 scale the potentials of the street life without the traffic. For this purpose many volunteers redesigned the street scene with about 40 bamboo plants, 3 bathtubs were set up and regularly filled with fresh water so that the children could play, many seating groups were set up along the street, stands with food, the local antiquarian shop put its books outside. Many events were organised that day, including music, dancing, food and drink, one could play basketball and football in the street. An exhibition was also organised to show the historical facts, but also the contemporary data of the street. The idea and the programme for the one-day closure was initiated from the bottom up, but in agreement with the city administration and supported by the annual summer festival Lent. The good spirit and experience of this day paved the way for a decision by the Municipality of Maribor to close the street to traffic again for three weeks in September as part of the European Mobility Week programme. The opportunity was taken to make physical improvements - four newly designed pedestrian crossings were placed along the road, as well as large tree pots, new cycle paths were added, bus stops were rearranged... Many events accompanied the Mobility Week, but the most important one was the monitoring of the traffic flows on 13 streets to get a real picture of what is happening to traffic distribution in the city when Koroska street is open to pedestrians... Although the measurement showed that the new traffic model could work, the experiment caused diametrically opposed reactions from the inhabitants of Maribor - the location of Koroska Street proved to be a neuralgic point of the city.

Five years later, in 2020, the construction work is almost complete. The process leading to this final transformation took more than a decade, additionally many actors, tools and approaches have changed in the meantime. It can be seen that the bottom-up approach added a share to the whole process, as one step led to another (closing the street for one day led to the decision to close it for a longer period and to monitor traffic flows, which made it possible to use the results to apply for an experimental shared space arrangement, which was seen as a solution to unsolved problems related to the architectural competition). The impacts of the citizen-led activities are not always immediately visible and are also not omnipotent, but in this case they contributed a significant boost when the project was at the standstill, it was also a voice to continue the efforts at the level of the municipality, finally it was a demand for a better public space worth effort.

Team: CTB Team Maribor and cooperation with  Actors of Urban Change (Robert Bosch Foundation)
2013-2015: Katja Beck Kos, Robert Veselko, Kaja Pogačar, Igor Kos, Andreja Budar