This article has kindly been offered by the LSEE Blog (run by LSEE Research on South Eastern Europe) to The Proto City as part of a blog exchange. In turn, our editor Jorn Koelemaij and regular author Barend Wind wrote a piece on the Belgrade Waterfront project. You can read our contribution to LSEE here.
In recent years, Skopje underwent a process of city rebranding, reinventing itself along a past that, arguably, never was. The project was presented as a way of dignifying the city’s landscape and attracting tourists – but it mostly attracted international media’s scepticism and ridicule, and also exacerbated the long-running name dispute with Greece. The sums of money involved in the project have raised questions of financial integrity that have been all but answered.
Skopje city centre’s construction projects. The new buildings on the waterfront are now covering up the architecture from the socialist past, as to erase it from the eye of the observer. Map by Jakub Krupa – LSEE Research on South Eastern Europe
We are speaking about a very expensive four-year long endeavour: the estimates range from just above €200m (government estimate) to over €500m and even €1bn, from an initial figure of only €80m. The original plan was thus less ambitious than the execution turned out to be. As the megalomaniac statues and buildings casting a link to an idealised past were not opposed by mass protests and, on the contrary, the electorate seemed to fundamentally like them by reconfirming the ruling right-wing VMRO-DPMNE to power in the 2013 and 2014 elections, the government raised the stakes and went for an even bigger intervention in the city’s urban makeup. Several buildings are still under construction. ‘Skopje 2014’ (the name indicating the year of completion) might well, in fact, be running into 2015.
Filming Cities is a monthly series on The Proto City, in which one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. This month we review ‘Cities on Speed – Bogotà Change’, a Danish documentary focusing on the political mechanisms behind Bogotà’s rapid change.
Cities on Speed – Bogotà Change
By Andreas Mol Dalsgaard
Meet the Mayors
This story begins back in 1993, when philosopher – mathematician Antanas Mockus resigned as president of the University of Bogotà for mooning protesting students. Yes, you have read that correctly: he showed his butthole to an angry mob. FARC-rebels and anarchists would daily confront the rector who was known for his unorthodox methods of conflict resolution. Because of his behaviour, Mr. Mockus became a popular public figure in Bogotà. He became a symbol of honesty for many Bogotians, who were fed up with a culture of corruption. Within months Mockus became so popular that he was elected in 1995 as the first independent mayor of the city.
Enrique Peñalosa & Antanas Mockus (Source: dfi.dk)
The documentary Cities on Speed: Bogotà Change from filmmaker Andreas Mol Dalsgaard (The Human scale) gives you an introductory course into the political mechanisms behind Bogotà’s rapid metamorphosis. Bogotà’s political arena certainly hasn’t been boring in the past decades. This documentary from 2009 tells an intriguing tale of the two mayors responsible for the metamorphosis of the former ‘worst city in the world': the pragmatist Peñalosa and the philosopher Mockus. Which approach does a city need in order to develop in a sustainable way?
The case of Paris’ love locks on bridges, and as a result the bridges’ partial collapse, bring into sharp focus to the less-than-sharp Right to the City theory, most famously presented by Henri Lefebvre (1968). Whose right it actually is continues to be argued. Is it the Parisian inhabitants who get to decide, or do tourists also have a right to the city?
Pont des Arts, December 2012 Photo: Author
A tale as old as time
Placing a lock on a bridge and throwing the key in the river is a romantic ritual that visitors eagerly partake in when they go to Paris. Love locks began to appear on Paris’ bridges in 2008, but it is difficult to trace the ritual’s exact origin. Some attribute it to Federico Moccia’s 2006 teen novel, I Want You, while others point to a much older Serbian tale of two lovers’ misfortune during World War I. In spite of its ubiquity and contrary to popular belief, the symbolic act of love is not at all a French tradition, nor is this particular epidemic of ‘public space appropriation’ by tourists limited to Paris. Today, “love locks” are found in cities like New York, Rome, Venice, Seoul, Budapest, and Amsterdam, to name a few.
This contribution is based on the paper ‘Stakeholder Representations of Marginal Gentrification in Amsterdam and Berlin: A Marginal Process?’ published in Housing Studies. Follow this link for the full academic article.
A widely felt dissatisfaction with and anger about gentrification exists among Berlin’s residents. Furious debates about the touristification of residential neighbourhoods and massive protests against rent increases are just some of the ways by which this is expressed. Outside the Anglo-American context, there are few cities where gentrification is as contested as it is in Berlin. Conversely, gentrification arguably forms a key component of Berlin’s urban growth strategies inspired by the so-called promises of the creative city and city marketing strategies aiming to promote the city’s image as hip, creative, and ‘poor but sexy’.
During my stay in Berlin in 2012 I studied whether and how local policymakers and relevant policy documents deal with these heated debates about gentrification and criticisms about their role in promoting it. From the international scholarly literature we learn that public policies pursuing gentrification are often, in the words of the late Neil Smith, ‘sugarcoated’ with the more positive sounding vocabulary of social mixing, revitalisation, regeneration or urban renaissance. This would allow stakeholders to avoid the negative association of the term gentrification with displacement and class struggles – allowing gentrification policies to be installed ‘by stealth’. Is such a strategy possible, however, in a context where the term gentrification fills the newspapers and criticisms are often voiced and heard?
Many cities are defined in part by their urban road networks: Los Angeles had its freeways famously categorised as bourgeois or gangster by Ice Cube, while Vancouver’s outright rejection of an urban freeway has made it unique amongst North American cities. But Amsterdam is one city where the freeway is primarily an afterthought for most.
I recently participated in a workshop organised by Failed Architecture called Amsterdam’s Ring Road. The workshop joined together the creative vigour of students in the System D Academy programme at the Sandberg Institute and a variety of urban planners, architects, and researchers. The primary aim was to tackle the fundamental questions of the city’s ring road as architecture but also as infrastructure: how does it breathe life into a city that, by most metrics, has largely rejected the privately-owned car?
141014.024 (Photo: Adam Nowek)
141014.023 (Photo: Adam Nowek)
141014.022 (Photo: Adam Nowek)
Car ownership and freeway development came relatively late to the Netherlands, with the resulting effect that Dutch highways are technologically superior to many of their peers. Continue reading
In the last moments of t-shirt weather, get outside and do a little people watching. Pay particular attention to bare skin: especially exposed calves, shoulders and upper arms. What do you see? Ink, ink, everywhere, ink. These days, everybody seems to have a tattoo. What was once a practice in Western society reserved for soldiers and subaltern groups like bikers, circus performers and ex-cons, tattooing is now securely mainstream. It’s a curious practice: a permanent commitment to a single statement. Whether it’s a sweetheart’s name or favourite flower, as soon as the needle hits the skin, there’s no turning back. Regrets be damned.
The classic triple X Amsterdammer tattoo (Photo: FaceMePLS)
There is no city that has undergone such a tumultuous development history as Detroit. Once being the fastest growing city and music capital (Motown records) of the United States, the city was a dream for capitalist entrepreneurs and top-down city planners. Fueled by the thriving auto-industry, Detroit’s population grew to almost 1,9 million inhabitants in the 1950s. The sky was the limit and policy makers and planners even started to lay-out a plan for three million inhabitants. But the rapid era of growth suddenly stopped, and Detroit’s golden days were over much sooner than expected. Due to global economic restructuring, the auto industries left for cheap labor destinations. And along with the manufacturing industry, Detroit’s’ population fled the city in distress, leaving Detroit with high unemployment, little services and a financially drained municipality behind. Over the last decades, the city has seen its population cut in half and has been called the biggest Urban Failure in the United States. To turn the tide, multiple public, private, and grass-roots efforts are undertaken to get the city back on its feet. However, looking at a devastated Detroit, is there still any potential for a comeback? And if so, how effective are the efforts currently undertaken? Curious about these dynamics, we hopped on a bicycle to find out what might cause the Motor City to boogie back.
The Detroit Train-station: Once the highest station in the U.S, now left abandoned (Photo: authors)
In search of Walking Space
TRRRING! ‘Get out of the way!’ A widely heard cry as a result of an insurmountable irritation among cyclists in Amsterdam. Where this irritation stems from? From either the wandering pedestrian, the inattentive tourist or the Amsterdammer walker. Amsterdam cyclists, as well as motorists, either complain about pedestrians structurally blocking the road, or the seemingly careless attitude of tourists jumping in front of cyclists. And to a certain extent, they have the very right to complain. Many times, pedestrians are indeed walking on everything but the designated sidewalk. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, streets are for cyclists and motorists. However, on the other hand, isn’t it very unfair to blame the pedestrian for walking on streets instead of sidewalks? When one looks critically to the way the Amsterdam streets are used and designed, one immediately realises that the streetscape is highly unbalanced. In June of this year, Het Parool and some other local blogs argued about the problems concerning pedestrians. The space for cars and cyclists is tremendous, whereas the sidewalks are sometimes non-existent, highly fragmented or blocked by parked cars, bicycles, scooters and goods stalled by the local shop. Given these factors, one can only come to the conclusion that every time a pedestrian walks on the street, it is an active search for walkable space, which, let’s face it, Amsterdam lacks.
Blocking Walkable Space on the Keizersgracht Amsterdam (source: maps.google)
Vancouver consistently ranks amongst the top five most liveable cities in the world. Its high rate of liveability combined with the globalization of real estate markets has driven housing prices up so high that it has resulted in an affordability crisis that affects the daily living of many of Vancouver’s not so wealthy citizens.
As a city that largely escaped inner-city highways, Vancouver is gradually becoming more multimodal (Photo: Jate Bleeker)
Vancouver’s housing market is so expensive that it is inaccessible to a large part of the population, driving lower income classes out of the city and creating homelessness. In a single year, all homes in Vancouver had increased in assessed value by $55,000, which makes it the most expensive housing market in North America. The mayor has put together a task force on the subject and is looking for new solutions in urban design and planning to combat the city’s affordability crisis. We will dig more deeply into the reasons why creating a beautiful city with rich urban design achievements can backfire on the existing population and their accessibility to housing. Continue reading
Filming Cities is a monthly series on The Proto City, in which one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. This month we review ‘Mietrebellen- Rent Rebels’, a German documentary about initiatives in Berlin fighting against unreasonable rent increases and evictions.
Mietrebellen- Rent Rebels (by schultecoersdokfilm)
Mietrebellen – Widerstand gegen den Ausverkauf der Stadt
(Rent Rebels – Resistance Against Selling Out The City)
by Gertrud Schulte Westenberg and Matthias Coers
‘I hadn’t thought I need to go on the streets again to protest in my age because I’m worried where I can live.’ (one senior protester at a rally on Kottbusser Tor; original: Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass ich in meinem Alter noch einmal auf die Straße protestieren gehen muss aus Sorge, wo ich wohnen werde.)
Berlin is famous to all of us for being a city of the creative, the young, and the hedonists, where you can have a good life with relatively low income. The city has been in decline for decades due to the separation, thus offering plenty of cheap apartments. However, in the last decade, the real estate market became more dynamic with rising prices and due to rent legislations often extremely quick. Vacancy rates dropped from 4% in the early 2000s to only 1,7% today (according to the director at urbanize festival in Vienna on Oct. 12th 2014), limiting the ability for renters to move easily from one apartment to the other. Evictions are happening on a daily basis, as real estate developers are raising rents to clear buildings of their long-time tenants in order to re-rent the apartments for a higher price. In a city with an average income of 1650 Euros monthly and roughly 17% are living of welfare benefits, rent increases of sometimes 100% are posing a severe danger to social security in the city, as many people are in danger of becoming homeless, sparking widespread protest among citizens.