The Župa Boat: An Available Space Becomes a Place for Sharing
An abandoned boat rethought as an available space becomes a place where community groups in Savamala have space for workshops and community gatherings. By sharing skills and knowledge they become the users and caretakers of what has been a “no-man’s land” in a period of endlessly delayed privatization. The lack of regulation and clear ownership gives us the opportunity to rethink the Župa steamboat as an available space: although officially a public monument, the boat is temporarily being used by fishermen who do not maintain it, while the boat’s appointed administrators, the Parobrod Cultural Centre, neither use it nor manage it.
Performative Actions and Place-Making
Župa Activations, a series of collective performative actions carried out by Design for the Living World and Savamala residents from October 1 to November 15, 2013, has been an agent of place-making in Savamala. Place-making is part of the process by which a group of people gains recognition in society: any group that wants their voice to be heard in decisions about change in a neighbourhood must occupy a physical space. Space matters when it becomes a place. In our view, place-making is essential if the residents of Savamala want to have a voice in the impending development of their neighbourhood.
Deterritorialization and Gentrification
Place-making counterbalances deterritorialization, which is a factor in the aggressive for-profit development that is soon expected to engulf Savamala. Although deterritorialization is commonly understood as a consequence of gentrification, in the case of Savamala, where most people are homeowners, the idea of gentrification does not really apply. In the impending development, apartment owners in Savamala are expected to see a higher quality of life as the value of their property increases. Although the gentrification of the district may not deprive them of their private living space, they will, unfortunately, witness the deterritorialization of their public living space.
The Neglect of Public Space and the Power of Place-Making
When you walk through Savamala, the streets look as if no one cares about them. The problem is not only the noise from the heavy traffic and the loss of human proportion you feel as you walk past large trucks going through narrow streets. The neglect is part of the steady deterioration of public space since the time of socialist Belgrade. Paradoxically, while the socialist political system celebrated the workers’ participation in state matters – who can forget the ideology of “self-management” and the various cooperatives that existed in the former Yugoslavia? – the public space was seen as representing the state and people expected the state to maintain it. Public space, belonging to everyone, slowly turned into a no-man’s land. The neglect of the public space we see in Savamala today – not helped by the lack of effective government services – is merely an extension of the earlier socialist mentality: people do not care about the space, because it is not theirs. But if they want to resist deterritorialization, it must become theirs. How do we rebuild the idea of public space? By turning it into a place, piece by piece.
The Župa Boat and Studio KM8 Begin the Process of Building the Common Space and the Common Sphere
The transformation of the Župa boat and Studio KM8 into places where groups can hold workshops makes visible the process of place-making. The performative actions on the Župa boat create images of community activities. Studio KM8 is a platform for rebuilding the idea of shared space. Here, an association of the groups who share the workshop space serves as an agent and practice for developing the commons. Through the partnerships we have made, the Župa boat and Studio KM8 will continue to be places for workshops even after we leave Savamala.
We believe that public space and the public sphere in Savamala can only be reconstructed by groups within the community on the basis of the spaces they share. Here, no public space is perceived as this kind of shared space. The neo-liberal business model has not delivered on its promises, and the state is collapsing, leaving people to organize themselves. The creation of community spaces is their best chance for reclaiming their neighbourhood. The Župa boat and Studio KM8 visualize a common space where community-building happens.
Studio KM8 and the Power of Workshops
Studio KM8 is one of three former workshop spaces on the street level at Kraljevića Marka 8. The publicly owned space was given to the cultural centre Dom Omladine to administer. A year ago they handed over the management of the three spaces to the Urban Incubator project; one of these spaces is currently being used by Design for the Living World, and we plan to turn its management over to a new association of community groups that wish to work there. The groups will draw up an agreement about the shared space. This is a space for workshops where people can exchange skills and knowledge. If you want to change the culture of living, you have to do more than just talk about it. People have to work together. Workshops can make a difference.
People Make the City
Savamala has plenty of “makers”, though not in the usual sense; that is, most of them do not make goods for sale. There are just a few producers left in Savamala – a baker, a confectioner, and an unlicensed but very successful carpenter, all located around the corner from the studio on Kraljevića Marka. Savamala has traditionally been known for its craftsmen. But if their numbers today are few, then where do Savamala’s makers excel? Starting from the wisdom that it is people who make the city and not the other way around, we got to know several makers and learned about the strategies they use in their resilient enterprises.
Dane, who owns a mobile coffee service, excels in the gift and exchange economy. Sava, the carpenter, operates an illegal business that is recognized in the neighbourhood for its quality. He has expanded his space several times and today has a large carpentry workshop. Although it is not visible from the street everyone knows it is there. The fact that his shop is invisible points to the strength of oral communication in Savamala. Instead of paid advertising, local tradesmen rely on word of mouth. As Sava says: “Word of mouth is the best advertisement.” Whenever there’s a community gathering, people bring food and share it with each other. Sharing is at the base of communication in Savamala. We were told that people here do not communicate with each other. But we do not agree. Sharing and the idea of the commons are present on every level. Sharing, one could say, is a basic element in the building of human communities, but the idea of the commons is suppressed in current neo-liberal discourse. One should be free to ask, “Is development a human right?” And if it is, then what is the next step? For Savamala, reclaiming the commons is more than just a vital element in achieving the socially conscious development of the neighbourhood. To think about how things can be done to benefit the people who live here in fact means to accept their present practices – the way things are done here. Reclaiming the commons means reclaiming the present – and also the socialist past. It means accepting present practices and looking into the past with confidence in order to claim the future. It is important to have a future.
Reconstructing the Commons
For us, Savamala is a laboratory of human coexistence. We are finding that the strategies used by the makers of Savamala are the same ones that cities hope to achieve in their search for sustainability – for example, maintaining the loop of food production and consumption at the regional, if not local, level.
On the other hand, however, the extreme mobility and word-of-mouth communication in a world without regular jobs bring the Savamala experience closer to the everyday life we see in the cities we come from – Hamburg, Berlin, Halle, Eindhoven, Sapporo, Sydney, Istanbul, and Belgrade – where, after the jobs disappear, people search for a new understanding of society and the spaces they inhabit. The Savamala makers have preserved a highly resilient way of life that is based on the strength of local communities. It thrives on the kind of creativity our cities often pay lip service to but rarely reward. As a sustainable community based on local values, Savamala can be a model for other communities who seek a sustainable existence. Its practices, strategies, and culture of living can play a role in the global transformation towards the kind of future current neo-liberal models cannot offer.
Concrete Proposals Matter: An Exchange with Savamala
Although we understand the importance of being critical, we give our support to people who put ideas into practice. Today is a time for action and concrete proposals that go beyond critique, which can too easily become a self-fulfilling exercise. That said, instead of constructing an architectural object in Savamala, we engage in social architecture – in the construction of society through community-building in two locations: the Župa boat and Studio KM8. In the spirit of exchange, we take Savamala’s way of living and making as a proposal that our local communities can learn from. For our part, we propose the Župa boat and Studio KM8 to Savamala as relational objects that community groups can use for their own empowerment.
Marjetica Potrč, November 2013