Non-governmental organizations are looking for ways to include the community in the renovation of neighbourhoods.
Ljubljana’s residential neighbourhoods are an important source of apartments in the city. Some assessments indicate that about a half of the residents of Ljubljana live in them. Most of these neighbourhoods were built in the second half of the 20th century and their common denominator is that they age very quickly. None of them has yet been faced with a complete renovation – if it occurred at all, it was usually restricted to an apartment or an apartment building. A frequent consequence was a neglected public space, the only function of which was to provide parking spaces. However, most of these neighbourhoods are not badly planned and the public space could provide a lot more, making everyday life in these areas much more enjoyable.
The bridge between residents and urban institutions are non-governmental organizations.
Slovenia is one of the countries that do not have designed policies regarding the renovation of residential neighbourhoods dating to the second half of the 20th century. There are also no examples of a well-executed complete renovation in Slovenia, which means that we are now at a pre-school level of renovation, where we are learning new approaches and try to test them in practice. This lack of designed policies and examples of good renovations encourages the trying out of new approaches, as this is the only way to develop a model of renovation that would fit in with the local features. Recent instances of revitalization, renovation and new use of public space show the high potential of non-governmental organizations (NGO). Increasingly, they take on the role of a bridge between the local population and urban institutions, as they possess specific knowledge about the revitalization of public spaces, but are at the same time informal, responsive and creative. These characteristics are the key to encouraging residents to become a part of this revitalization and the renovation of their neighbourhoods. The latter is necessary as the residents are best aware of their own wishes and needs, and own the apartments at the same time. On the other hand, NGOs are not an elected representative, so their partnership with urban institutions and decision makers is crucial. It is a partnership in which each party does what they do best. Besides the many distinctively creative solutions beneficial to the renovation of the neighbourhood, the intermediate role of NGOs enables municipal and district institutions to get in touch with the local community. Moreover, in their constant testing of new solutions, NGOs are a great test of what a neighbourhood truly needs and which approaches are best suited in a particular case.
The Bežigrad example: the renovation of Savsko naselje (Sava housing estate)
The most daring, progressive and developed project of revitalization and renovation of a public space on a neighbourhood level in Ljubljana (probably in Slovenia as well) is situated in Bežigrad. It is a process of approaching revitalization and renovation of a public space in Savsko naselje, which is in truth much more than just revitalization and a financial renovation of a public space. It is a form of renovation that is just as focused on the community as it is on the space, as many claim that it is the community that makes a neighbourhood homey and pleasant. If we look at the project from afar, we see that it is a kind of pilot project that will pave the way for those to follow. For all included, Savsko naselje is at this time an opportunity to learn new ways of cooperation based on the merging of our resources. This model could then be transferred to other neighbourhoods across the city and the country.
A year ago an article in the Naš Bežigrad (Our Bežigrad) magazine reported that four organizations and a few individuals from the neighbourhood have connected last year. Through socializing and several meetings of the residents a programme of renovation was formed within six months, operating on several different levels: social services, culture, sport, informal socializing and the formation of the spatial vision of the neighbourhood. Each individual can be included on a level which is of interest and inspiration to them.
Organizations V.I.B.E., MHP, Saprabolt! and prostoRož have united under the motto "Those who help, win!”
What is going on in Savsko naselje this year?
By working and socializing within the community we discover interesting, forgotten stories about people, clubs or events in the past every day, while also creating new ones by active cooperation. All these stories form the identity of the neighbourhood and must be written down. This year, the ‘Savčan’ magazine will come out once every three months.
A small space next to the post office and the bank is available free of charge to all residents of Savsko naselje, for many different activities. ‘Lokalc’ is opened every day before noon and on Thursday in the afternoon as well. There, each passer-by can find out about activities and events in their neighbourhood. In the afternoons, the space is available to different activities of the residents, such as celebrating birthdays, meetings of the local council, workshops for children and even band practices.
The vision of the public space of Savsko naselje
With the help of the residents, a so called ‘council of traffic’ has been established last December as a result of our findings that the relationship between traffic and the public space is the biggest topical issue currently left unresolved. In collaboration with experts such as Irena Ostojič and Tadej Žaucer, we have prepared a vision of the public space of Savsko naselje. Our starting points were the initiatives of the residents gathered in the course of one year operating in the neighbourhood. This vision includes suggestions for the regulation of motorized transport, walkways and bike lanes, a network of green areas and even parking spaces.
We hope that the document will serve as a relevant basis for all planners and decision makers during the preparation of official spatial plans as well as the division of functional land.
Every neighbourhood, hamlet, village or part of the city used to have its own community public space, which enabled socializing; this was usually a community centre, an agricultural centre or a cultural centre. All local clubs had their headquarters in such spaces, although residents could socialize there informally as well. At a series of meetings, clean-ups and other activities we will try to find out what this community public space is today. We will discuss what it could contribute, how it could operate in such a way so as to express the identity of the neighbourhood again, and how it could offer that little something extra, outside of our apartments, which enables us to label living in a certain neighbourhood a quality life. During the summer, we will rennovate in order to start the Library of Things project in autumn (in partnership with RCKE and MOL).
Socializing on Šerkova Street
Organized by the MHP organization, many different events for young people will take place on the playground at Šerkova Street during the summer. Under the supervision of the Saprabolt! organization, a community garden will start flourishing.
Sava hill – Super hill!
The Sava hill – Super hill project started on the initiative of the late basketball player Filip Štemberger's mother. Her initial idea was to rebuild the playground to commemorate her son, but later this project went on to incorporate the rebuilding of the entire public space between Mislej Street and Linhart Street. This space is comprised of a basketball court, a hill and a playground for children.
Because the youth knows which things they most need in a certain area, we started to cooperate with Savsko naselje primary school. Students from 7th grade were developing ideas and made a rebuild plan under the mentorship of Alenka Korenjak and Rok Trkaj. Children from the neighbourhood, their parents and other people from Savsko naselje were involved in developing and picking the right ideas. The Municipality of Ljubljana was also very helpful. The basketball court got a new platform for spectators and custom floor painting, and the major maintenance work has been done as well. Also, there is a new runway, a new playground on the hill, some walking areas were paved. A few things are planned to be done in the following autumn. The local people were very skeptical at first, but are now very happy about the positive changes brought about by the children's energy. There are more and more neighbors that are eager to participate in forming their public space.
*We used parts of article that has been published in »Naš Bežigrad« magazine (Volume 3, no. 1, May 2014), written by Aidan Cerar.
Photos by: Igor Škafar