Drawing on the evolving body of trans-disciplinary urban knowledge, urban research, and urban activism, School of Urban Practices develops advanced educational work that redefines design, architecture and urbanism as a field of transformative activity. Selected students and young professionals of many disciplines seek the ways how to improve everyday environment of the devastated neighborhoods whether through public policy, mediation, urban planning and architecture design, or any other forms of design that involves citizens from the very beginning of the project. By working continually on the site for the public interest and by exchanging aspirations with local community entrepreneurs, School of Urban Practices creates sustainable strategies and projects based on critical engagement with contemporary issues of commons.
Case nr. 5 or C5 project by School of Urban Practices lead by Professor Ivan Kucina of the Faculty of Architecture, Belgrade and students from the University of Belgrade has been undertaken as one of the projects of the Urban Incubator in 2013, aiming to convert into common space unused basement and courtyard of the residential building in Crnogorska nr. 5 in Savamala. Project has been initiated by Aleksandar Gezović, the president of the residents’ council who has renovated earlier a small part of the basement turning it into his hobby shop. Taking his idea to renovate the rest of a space as a starting point project has been transformed into creation of a space that will serve to each resident equally and raise a new quality into their everyday life. Building new common space is possible only as a collaborative enterprise in which residents learn to respect each other and share responsibilities. On the next level, based on group profile, students were making mock-up that suggests the elements of the project, but does not define either their final shapes and size or their final positions. The unfinished mockup serves as a means of discussing the project within group consisting of students and questioned residents participating in a joint workshop. Working together for one week, they reflect and suggest, add and reject, increase and decrease, move and fix the elements of the working model, creating the contours of the project that the students, as more professionally competent, processed and defined after the workshop. Agreements are always achieved through discussions that are articulated in such way to allow residents to question each other, and in each stage of the process to questions the previous decisions. The very possibility of agreement gives a sufficient reason for project to thrive. The plan was to present the upcoming proposal to all the residents at a public debate and to decide upon the project elements that satisfy them all, to make project documentation of that will be delivered to the authorities in order to get the building permit, and to start fundraising for project realization. Since the participatory process became compromised by the participation of some residents and rejection of others, School of Urban Practices in collaboration with Marijetica Potrč’s studio Design for the Living World from Hamburg made a serial of actions In order to attract them to join discussions. These actions that included personal invitations, cleaning of the courtyard and Sunday morning coffee meetings, failed in their intention. Residents’ mistrust and rejection to collaborate with each other were stronger than the good will of students. Moreover, a group of residents managed to organize petition that was delivered to the president of the municipality in which they asked School to leave them alone. Their initiative in which they, paradoxically, managed to self-organize has placed Project C5 on standby until the further notice. What to Do? Project postponing is rather a consequence of general frustration of the citizens of Belgrade caused by the long lasting political and economic crises, than a disagreement about participatory process. A life shaped by everyday struggles and lost hopes in the surrounding determined by selfish usurpations and overwhelming corruption has implanted deep scarves in peoples’ minds. Since they have been treated badly by authorities who were supposed to protect them and robbed by business developers who were tracing any public source to privatize it, it is understandable that residents believe that everyone who is approaching them has a hidden goal . After so many years of sustaining self-protective attitude they lost the ability to distinguish good intentions from evil ones. They would rather believe to unrealistic theories of conspiracy that may appear in their backyard than to the evidence proven in front of their eyes. All these reasons are providing enough arguments to sign participation as futile endeavor. However, under austerity measures, without capital investments and with bankrupted state, it seems to be the only way left to stop devastation and develop the city. Citizens’ initiatives need to be stimulated and nurtured in order to become everyday practice.