Seen in Belgrade, Serbia, on 23 May 2015:


The theme of the conference, part of the 10th edition of BINA, the Belgrade International Architecture Week 2015, was: ‘Citizens and City Making’. “Having in mind the actual practice, (the) conference aims to be more than an academic debate on different methods of participation and collaboration in city making; its aims (is) to define the role of professionals and citizens in mobilizing city makers towards creating conditions for just, inclusive and sustainable urban development.” As one of the speakers I could live with this quote. But then it continued: “The widening global gap between the mainstream protocols of city making and citizens’ demands for the right to the city has exposed urban development as a predatory process that renders the city a trading asset.” This made me feel rather uncomfortable. Other speakers were discussing Lefebvre, Marx and Harvey. The reason why the whole  atmosphere of the conference was ideological I could easily guess: the city is starting to develop the Belgrade waterfront without consulting its citizens. Not so clever.

The Belgrade waterfront has a 40 year history of planning studies, focussed on brownfield development near the Belgrade railway station close to the river. Nothing came out of it so far. Arab money seems to make things going. Belgrade might become a hub in Southeastern Europe. Developers from the United Arab Emirates have opened an impressive exhibition in a former Serbian palace, showing a huge model of a brand new city on the banks of the river Sava; skyscrapers and a big shopping mall make you believe that this will be Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai or Rotterdam. Of course, as in Rotterdam land value in this Savamala neighborhood is low, and the potential value might be high. So foreign money pours in. Creatives and activists are trying to stop the process by creating an alternative world of bars, restaurants and festivals. Apparently they also see the potential value of the waterfront, but their aim is not money. Why this strategy? The outcome of their interventions will be gentrification and the developers know. In their model they saved the neighborhood, so in the end they might buy it all. And what about flooding? Last year large parts of Serbia had to be evacuated. This plan will not work. Both parties aren’t clever. Why not generate collective intelligence? Why not collaborate?



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