Suburbia in Central Europe
The 'burbs have left their mark on Central Europe and a two-year project is making an effort to help bring them to life
Dead suburbia is alive and (barely) kicking in Central Europe. In localities outside of the region's capital cities–where, in contrast, citizens are more actively engaged in the "fight" to improve their urban space–the communities are stagnant or sleeping.
In Psáry, located 7 km south of Prague, inhabitants who found themselves with fatter wallets in the 1990's and flocked to their newly built homes on the outskirts of the city have found that their Czech version of the "American Dream" hasn't lived up to their expectations. Working in Prague throughout the day they only return to their cookie-cutter homes at night where they peer out at a community their unfamiliar with, having no relationship with their neighbors since, along with rarely being there, the community is without shops, schools or other forms of infrastructure keeping them dependent on the city.
In Vienna's Sandleiten, a public housing project built after the First World War between 1919-1934, barriers exist between the old inhabitants and the younger, immigrant newcomers. What upon first impression looks like an idyllic community–it's clean, quiet, full of flowers and trees–is something of a dead zone.
In Rajka, located 20 km from Bratislava on the border between Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, people from Bratislava who followed the movement in the last ten years to settle down there–taking advantage of Rajka's proximity to the city–are disconnected to their community as their commuter lifestyle leaves them little time to actually live there. As well, local industry has shrunk and the Hungarian population who are dissatisfied with poor transport links to their home country and wish to take advantage of high property market sales as a result of a land use change from agricultural to suburbia are moving out.
In an effort to bring the region's issue of suburbanization and sprawl to light and help take some first steps toward positive change, Prague's Center for Central European Architecture (CCEA) in collaboration with six like-minded organizations from Central Europe began a two-year project in the spring of 2011 called Culburb. Derived from "Cultural Acupuncture Treatments for the Suburbs," Culburb's manifesto, as stated on their website, is to "activate the public realm in the suburbs of regional capitals through acupuncture interventions." In essence, through small actions they hope to contribute to bringing these suburban communities (back) to life.
"The ultimate goal of the project is to start at a local level, to start something new and to make some of the problems visible," Klára Mergerová, a project coordinator for the project from CCEA, told Czech Position. "[Through the project we would like to help] make a new environment for the inhabitants, to attach them to their environment."
The project's main component began after Culburb's first six months–a preparatory phase–during which the organizers held several workshops where they presented their ideas and discussed the topic of suburbia in Central Europe in general. Collectively they came to a decision to launch an open call in November of 2011 inviting architects, artists, urban researchers and activists as well as anyone interested in the topic, to submit proposals for interventions (with no limits on form, but only with the requirement that the interventions should "embrace the complex social and political situation, as well as the multi-layered character of the district's problems") in six specific localities. Four proposals for each location would be chosen and realized.
Along with Prague's Psáry, Vienna's Sandleiten and Bratislava's Rajka, the chosen localities included Warsaw's Ursus, Ljubljana's Zalog, Budapest's Delegyhaza and a second locality in Bratislava: Rosovce (the two Bratislava based localities are counted as one as they are in extremely close proximity to one another). Each, in their own unique way, "represent the typical suburban locality," says Mergerová, for that particular country and capital city.
Receiving 220 proposals from candidates from around the world, each of the six organizers made their own pre-selection of approximately 15 proposals before gathering in Prague to choose the four winners for each locality. In total, thirty projects will be realized as the organizers from each location will realize their own proposals as well.
For Prague's Psáry, the four chosen interventions include "Budget 50,000," which comes from Czech graphic design studio Labortory. This intervention leaves it up to the inhabitants to decide what they will do with 50,000 crowns. Advertised in Psáry's monthly community newsletter and at the community's first farmer's market where Culburb set up their own stall, inhabitants have the opportunity to propose their ideas about what to do with the money. The community will then vote on the best proposal and it will be realized.
In an effort to bridge an existing divide between Psáry's old inhabitants and its newcomers, Slovak couple Martin Rusina and Anezka Tkacikova's "Cross-Finding Game" will begin with collecting stories and oral history connected to the culture of Psáry from its older inhabitants. This information will then be organized into a game for the children of the newcomers. "Trail of Courage," the work of three Czech art students, borrows from the tradition of educational paths with freestanding informational signs in Czech forests, but, instead of signs about flora and fauna, these paths will bear information about the history of the community and issues of sprawl in an effort to educate and create a dialogue.
From a German architect and artist team, "Urban Farming Objects" or UFO will see the landing of a UFO in Psáry. Emerging from the suburban spacecraft will be four blue-egg-laying hens (the hens actually lay blue eggs by nature). On site, the organizers will teach the children and other members of the community how to care for the hens and together they will build a hen house. Once the organizers leave, it will be up to Psáry's inhabitants to care for the hens, creating the opportunity for an ongoing community project.