The colony in Ostrava called Bedřiška has belonged among the so-called socially excluded localities for a long time. However, Bedřiška does not show any features that most probably come to your mind when we speak about excluded localities. The people are happy to live there, they regard the place as their home and they try to keep their houses as well as public spaces in good order and tidy. For instance, they have set up a community centre where residents prepare leisure time activities for local children and where they meet and discuss current issues. In the course of time their efforts have become a remarkable example of civil and community activism, thanks to which demolition has been avoided and a complex revitalisation of the place has been pushed through.
The film is in Czech with English subtitles.
The project Bellevue di Monaco takes place in several buildings in the centre of Munich. The buildings were supposed to be demolished in order to build new luxury apartments there. However, the plan was thwarted by a group of activists and their guerilla reconstruction of one of the flats. Consequently, the migration crisis in 2015 incited the foundation of an official cooperative involving several hundred local residents who rented the houses and turned them into a multifunctional centre.
Apart from a cultural centre and a café there are flats there, in which local people as well as young refugees live. The local community organizes voluntary educational activities, through which they try to help refugees to integrate into society. In return, the refugees enrich the town with their culture, life stories and traditional food, adding specific character to the area.
The film is in German with Czech and English subtitles.
SAMUEL ACHBERGER - THE SETTLEMENT OF BEDŘIŠKA, BELLEVUE DI MONACO AND THE ROLE OF ACTIVISM IN THEIR SUCCESS
The series Co-living Architecture points in many ways to the importance of activism in the redefinition of democracy and the right to the city as a shared responsibility of all its inhabitants. In a world where cities are failing to find answers to the current housing crisis, which plagues both the global north and south, the transformative capacity of activism is key to finding sustainable solutions for those neglected by the current system of urban governance.
In the context of Central Europe, real options for tackling social issues have been stagnating for a long time, with minorities most affected by gentrification. Their displacement to the outskirts of cities is a fact that has suffered long-term ignorance from those whose job is to tackle problematic housing, integration and public health. The examples of Bedřiška and Bellevue di Monaco point to the core of this problem; the insufficient capacity of politicians and local governments to address social issues. However, this is not only the result of weak regulatory policies in the area of housing, or the lack of experts on this issue in the service of cities. What is most worrying here is the tendency to use excluded communities for political gain. It is the division of society into ‘us’ and ‘the others’ that allows cities to constantly replicate social inequality without any effort to remedy it. However, as a symptom of late capitalism, in which cities are constantly looking for excuses to increase economic competitiveness at the expense of the right to a city and to housing, such a procedure is rarely surprising. After all, how can marginalized communities contribute to the narrative of modern success that matters so much?
The activism behind the Bellevue di Monaco project and the new approach in Bedřiška offers a different narrative. Its most significant benefit is not the visibility of the problem, which we often mistakenly see as the primary function of activism. Solidarity, endurance, creativity and problem-solving are the qualities behind the transformative capacity of urban activism.
Activism is not just about banners and calling on authorities to change their approach, but about the material transformation of our streets and the search and offering of alternatives where municipalities and politicians have failed to recognize the real needs of the city. Activism is about democracy; the ability to unite society in order to achieve a fairer city. It is precisely this potential to bring together, as mentioned in the Bellevue di Monaco documentary, not only left-leaning citizens, but citizens across the city, regardless of their political camp, that is an effective and regenerative capacity of the citizens’ initiative that cannot be ignored.
The settlement of Bedřiška and Bellevue di Monaco from the series Co-living Architecture are a presentation of the possibilities and tools that activism and civil society have at their disposal. At the same time, they present hope for a more democratic governance of cities, in which citizens, officials and politicians can work together, find compromises and realistically address issues that would otherwise rarely be addressed. From breaking down notions of refugees and Roma settlements to the real stories of people who have changed the authorities’ approach to housing, this documentary should serve as inspiration for a new way of managing cities. They reveal the potential that lies at the very center of activism. The potential for the transformation of human reasoning and the material form of cities through the performance of real work where authorities have failed to recognize its significance.
Samuel Achberger is a student of School of Geography and Environment at Oxford University and currently works at the public spaces department of the Bratislava Metropolitan Institute. He deals with the interdisciplinary issues of post-socialist cities, urban political ecology and setting up systems for the functioning of public spaces.
BARBORA ŠPICAROVÁ STAŠKOVÁ - ARCHITECTURE OF COEXISTENCE
Architecture is often connected with extravagant works of art, useless art or fancies of the rich. The socially weak are, on the contrary, doomed to live in inconvenient housing, since they do not deserve anything better because they do not contribute to society and only live on social benefits…
Both above mentioned views are absolutely misleading. Good-quality architecture creates space for coexistence and creates a satisfied society. The authors of the two documentary films Bedřiška Colony and Bellevue di Monaco chose a similar approach.
HOUSING IS A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN NEED
In the first place, we all need to satisfy our basic physiological needs and according to Maslow´s hierarchy of needs these are followed by the need of security and safety. We can satisfy all our needs only in some kind of space and the most important space for us is home. Home means safety and people need to feel safe. Short-term lease agreements are not only against the law but also against this fundamental human need.
One of the solutions is social housing. It is a common type of housing, a standard flat with a classical lease agreement and an opportunity to use the support of a social worker. Social housing should not be segregated and should not result in concentration. Social housing should be, if possible, located in different parts of the town – in common built-up areas, in houses with expensive as well as affordable flats, in neighbourhoods with residents belonging to different social classes. Neither the segregated colony Bedřiška nor the apartment building for migrants Bellevue di Monaco would meet these requirements. However, thanks to architecture of coexistence both projects were stimulated to find a solution which does not demolish but, on the contrary, which unites. Uniting diversity is the key to a sustainable quality of life in a town. Diversity means strength not only in business but also in housing. Homogeneity leads to concentration, which can result in socially excluded localities or gentrification.
OPEN MIND AND AUTONOMY
The development over time in both documentary films shows that town councils and architects play a really important role. The process spanning from racist and xenophobic representatives of towns to enlightened leaders, who see further into the future and are not content with superficial and short-sighted solutions. Both in Ostrava and Munich we see strong personalities who decided to support often unpopular target groups and who decided to solve actual problems instead of sweeping them under the carpet.
In both projects activists, social and community workers together with architects, a number of specialists and members of the general public succeeded in establishing a community. They managed to involve civil society and to arouse a feeling of togetherness, which resulted in seniors teaching migrants German in Munich or in enabling unemployed foreigners to get jobs in cafés. Tenants were able to satisfy their need of love, acceptance, belongingness, recognition, respect and often reached the highest level in Maslow´s pyramid – the self-fulfillment needs. In connection with the colony Bedřiška, the mayor of Ostrava Tomáš Macura said: „The first precondition of success in dealing with issues related to socially excluded localities, is a strong local community of people, who want to improve a place. Since we have such a unique community in Ostrava, it would be a waste of energy and senseless to ignore this community and scatter the members all over the town.“
PARTICIPATION LEADS TO SUSTAINABILITY
The strength of a community may result in a revolution. The feeling of security and belongingness changes the mind setting and people begin to appreciate their own space, their house or flat. We can see perfectly clean and tidy flats in socially excluded localities. However, this does not always apply to corridors and neglected common areas, where walls are covered in grafitti and floors covered with cigarette ends. Moreover, the vicinity of many buildings has been turned into rubbish dumps. The colony Bedřiška is a clearly different case, which is apparent at first sight. This was achieved thanks to the activity of people who stayed there and who respect the place they live in. This is the first step to a successful transformation of a locality which has a great hidden potential for coexistence in an architecturally interesting area.
In both projects it was mostly external subjects that wished to transform the locality and called for the solution of old problems. Provided a change should be a sustainable one, it cannot be the job of activists only, but the actual actors must be involved. Nobody is entitled to impose his ideas on anybody (even when saving somebody). He should reflect other people´s needs the same as a modern social worker or a good architect do. Someone who loves watching soap operas will hardly go to a hipster concert and not all migrants will enjoy playing in an amateur theatre. „Our initial ideas and reality turned out to be two quite different things,“ said one of the initiators of changes in Bellevue di Monaco. Architecture of coexistence must involve empathy, it cannot only experiment in a visionary way with lives of people and society without respecting their needs and ideas. Similarly, these ideas will never be homogenous, because the community will stay heterogenous. The road to social togetherness and solidarity requires mutual respect, which was undoubtedly present in both projects.