INURA release public letter in solidarity with Serbian construction workers

belgrade

INURA, the International Network of Urban Research and Action, have released a public letter regarding the housing situation of former Trudbenik construction workers and their families in Belgrade, Serbia.

The letter describes INURA as “a network of people involved in research and action in localities and cities, including professionals, activists and researchers from community and environmental groups, universities and local administrations. INURA is
also a member of the Habitat International Coalition, a global network for the right to housing and social justice.”

Members of INURA recently participated in their 24th international conference, “Between Big Ideas and Life’s Realities” from June 22 – 29, 2014 in Belgrade and Tara.
The conference was attended by about 120 participants from more than 20 countries.

The letter explains, “As part of the official program, we visited a number of sites and projects, including an initiative representing the interests of residents of the so called Samački Hoteli in New Belgrade, Yuri Gagarin Street no. 139, and in Konjarnik, Luneta Milovanovića Street no. 6, built by the KMG TRUDBENIK in 1980 and 1964 respectively. We are writing to you in order to draw your attention to the very precarious living
conditions of its residents and, in particular, to their unresolved housing situation.”

INURA found that a group of over 210 people – mostly former workers of the well-known Serbian construction company KMG TRUDBENIK and their families – are threatened with eviction, writing:

“Their accommodation, once built with the help of solidarity funds financed by the wages of all workers, was sold along with the whole company to the firm MONTERRA in March 2008 as part of the general privatization process in Serbia. Apparently, nothing was done by the state authorities to protect the status of the workers and residents of the Samački Hoteli from the arbitrariness and mismanagement of the new owners. When MONTERRA declared bankruptcy in 2011, all previous arrangements were annulled. More than 500 workers were dismissed, left without any redundancy program or support from the government. It turned out that the “business” policy of the new owner was to plunder the company and profit from its dismantling, with no plans for future production or any obligations towards the workers.”

During their visit, INURA learnt that the residents of Samački Hoteli and similar accommodations have been facing constant harassment and pressure, first by the management of MONTERRA and later by the bankruptcy trustee ERSTE BANKA and SOCIETE GENERALE BANKA and the Commercial Court who all want them to move out of their homes, in order to sell both buildings to repay the debts accrued under the management of MONTERRA. With the bankruptcy of TRUDBENIK, most tenants have become unemployed and are now threatened by eviction. The people who INURA talked to during their visit told them that they have no resources and no other place to
go, and therefore they will probably become homeless. Some families are also frightened that they will be separated, with their children being put in state-run homes while the adults end up on the streets.

INURA conclude: “As INURA members, we come from different countries and are not familiar with the details of the privatization process in Serbia or the laws that enabled and accompanied it. However, we strongly believe that workers and their families should not become the pawns of highly irresponsible corporations and their incessant appetite for increased profits. We are convinced that the state and the city of Belgrade are responsible for the welfare of its citizens and residents and should therefore
take action to prevent these workers and their families from becoming homeless and safeguard their right to housing.”

Therefore, INURA urge political and administrative bodies of Serbia and Belgrade, “to take action and protect the people living in the so called “Workers’ hotels” in Belgrade from harassment, housing insecurity and eviction. We furthermore urge you to make all possible efforts to work on a permanent solution for them and resolve their status as legal residents.”

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INURA criticise ‘Belgrade on the Water’ development

In June, Spectacle’s Mark Saunders was among 50 international scholars and experts who visited the proposed site of the Belgrade on the Water project, a development on the Sava riverbank in the downtown area of Serbia’s capital. The group were attending the International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA) 2014 conference in the city.

Belgrade on the Water is a vast real estate project intended to create a new business hub in Belgrade. It has been designed and will be built by Eagle Hills, a construction company based in the UAE which shares its chairman, Mohamed Alabbar, with Emaar Properties – the company behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Eagle Hills suggest that the development, which will cover 1.85 million square metres, could be completed within five to seven years. It is expected to cost just under three billion euros.

Belgrade-Waterfront-InSerbia_Info-0740

A model of Eagle Hills’ proposed Belgrade on the Water development

Despite having the full support of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, who is thought to have let Eagle Hills have the land free, the project has attracted a number of criticisms. The INURA group – who between them have expertise on waterfront developments in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Barcelona, Boston, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne – have since published an open letter on the subject. They write:

“We are very impressed by the unique qualities of Belgrade, especially the fine-grained and mixed urban spaces that this city provides. The connection of the downtown and the water could be enriched by a careful development of the area between the city centre and the Sava River. We understand that the Belgrade on the Water project is an initiative to make this connection, and we applaud the impulse. We have seen and studied the plans, however, and want to communicate some serious concerns about the current proposal.”

The letter goes on to outline their concerns:

1. The economic risks are high…

INURA point out that megaprojects are always vulnerable to market fluctuations, but the letter is particularly critical of the entire project being given to a single investor. It points out that if the company becomes financially unviable, Belgrade will have an unfinished development on a prime site. “At the very least,” INURA write, “ensuring a diversity of developers can mitigate these possibilities.”
The letter goes on to express doubt that the project will be completed at all. “The proposal envisages 200 new buildings, but the economic context is such that only what is referred to as ‘the first A phase’ of the project has some probability to be constructed: two apartment buildings, two hotels, a high-rise tower and the ‘largest shopping mall in the Balkans’.” INURA believe that the there is a significant risk of these buildings standing “unsold and isolated on a cleared site, cordoned off from the public until land values and purchaser interests increase”.

…and gains to Belgrade are low

The letter argues that, “promises of economic gain through jobs in design, construction, maintenance and operations need guarantees of use of local resources and labour with good wages and conditions.”
INURA are sceptical that the development will be particularly beneficial to local workers, pointing out that the buildings proposed for the waterfront are such that most jobs generated will be short term, low paid construction and service jobs. They argue that instead the content of the development could be far more diverse in order to respond to the real needs of the city and citizens.

As it stands, INURA don’t believe that the proposal is in the best interests of local people. INURA states: “The land along the Sava has great potential value. Its transfer at low or no cost into long-term private leasehold will deliver little benefit to the citizens of Belgrade. In addition, the commitment of EUR 200 million of public funds to the clearing of the Sava Amphitheatre is likely the beginning of high expenditure from the state which characterizes such projects. It seems that there are many better ways of using these means and the area, in the way which would be more appropriate to economical, societal and ecological context.”

2. The plans are clichéd and exclusionary

INURA criticise the current design for revealing “a generic landscape of soulless and disconnected office, residential and commercial buildings. This high-end ‘mixed use’ formula contains no social, economic or cultural mix. It is a clichéd, corporate model that neglects local needs in terms of housing or work. It provides a very limited range of opportunities for production and consumption.”
The letter argues that “Belgrade’s greatest attractions are intricately connected to its people and culture. The city’s people populate the streets and create the spaces that make it so distinctive and full of potentials. Their exclusion from the planning and design processes for Belgrade’s waterfront development is not only inequitable – and therefore dangerous – but missing a profound opportunity to engage and utilise the city’s most vital assets.”

3. The environmental consequences have not been taken into account

INURA describe the Sava’s ecological balance as delicate, and say this has been neglected in the current proposal. The letter points out that, “In a period of serious climate change in an already flood-prone city it makes little sense to build on riverbanks without careful consideration of adaptability and allowance for water expansion. Waterfront developments in the past have destroyed local ecologies, displaced resident populations, and made public open space inaccessible.”

INURA argue that technologies for climate change adaptation and handling waterfront ecologies are developing rapidly. “Here is an opportunity for Belgrade to display a new and exciting approach to its river bank.”

3. State-of-the-art practices engage local communities and employ innovative mechanisms

INURA point out that things could be done in a way that is much more beneficial to the community: “International practice and standards for making waterfronts available for better and wider uses are also improving rapidly…
Local authorities are now employing sophisticated urban design processes, including fine subdivisions of land for lease or sale to a range of investors from larger companies to small entrepreneurs and community groups. These principles encourage innovative local and vernacular architectural styles in large project designs, and ensure diversity in built form and use. This in turn allows local opportunities to flourish in the context of a more globalised environment.”

Further to this, INURA advocate participatory processes in planning, which they believe guarantee better outcomes. “In engaging local communities and their local knowledge, project outcomes are not only very often substantially improved, but they are locally owned, and receive a particular legitimacy from this process. Such an approach would make the development of the Belgrade waterfront more viable.”

4. Here is an opportunity for a project that really does capture the global imagination

Economically, too, INURA believe the Belgrade on the Water project does not do justice to the potential of the site: “If the nation wants to invite the world into its social, cultural and environmental heart, it needs to do more than plan for a run-of-the-mill development formula that lacks any character unique to Belgrade.”

INURA conclude that:

“Rather than providing a standard blueprint with an unclear business plan (the obligations of the state being much greater at this point than the obligations of the investor), this project should be built step by step, closely monitored by the highest standards of local planning regulations and transparency. It must have attention to local economics, and to the design and use of this central part of Belgrade. It must involve its people, recognise the need for ecological restoration and sustainability, and not fall prey to the expectations of a corporate urbanism that is rejected by urban professionals and citizens alike around the world.

If Belgrade on the Water is to be a sustainable success, it must project the city’s needs and desires onto the global stage, rather than making one of Belgrade’s prime pieces of real estate the extension of a nameless global enterprise.”

You can read the letter in full here. 

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Elephant & Castle Regeneration: The Heygate Diaspora

The Heygate Diaspora June 8th, 2013

“There is a huge silent majority of people that have been moved out of the Heygate that are happy in their new homes.”
Cllr Fiona Colley Cabinet Member for Regeneration

“I could no longer afford to stay in the area and, in the end, the offer I was made plus £45,000 of my life savings bought me a terraced property 15 miles out of London. I have, I feel, given up my home to accommodate the building of homes for overseas investors.”
Terry Redpath Former Heygate Leaseholder

13072011172

Property Week Magazine – 17/05/13
In our last blog post we corrected some of the more fanciful claims that council leader Peter John made about the rehousing of Heygate tenants. We showed that only 45 Heygate tenants have actually been rehoused in new homes. We now also know that only around 1 in 5 Heygate secure tenants actually remain in the SE17 postcode (216 tenants out of 1034). This information comes from a response to an FOI request. The rest have been scattered to the outer corners of the borough and beyond:

Around half have relocated to SE postcodes (including Woolwich, Thamesmead and Welling), most of the rest have had to move to suburbs such as Sidcup, St. Albans, Chelmsford, Croydon, Bexley Heath, Ilford, Romford, Dartford, Cheshunt, Mitcham and West Thurrock. The reason for this is clear: the very low levels of compensation leaseholders have received for their Heygate homes. This link has a full list of the amounts paid to Heygate leaseholders. It is compiled from information received through Freedom of Information requests, and includes an indexed column showing today’s value of the settlements.

The average compensation paid for a 1 bed flat is £108,164 (indexed to today’s value). Owners of 2 bed flats received on average £122,140, 3 bed maisonettes £185,070 and 4 bed maisonettes £209,440. Some home owners got particularly poor deals: one leaseholder received just £32,000 for a 1 bed flat in 2008.

Compare this to the cost of the new Heygate homes as advertised by Lend Lease. These start at £330k for a 1 Bed flat, £455k for a 2 Bed flat and £590k for a 3 Bed – (www.trafalgarplace.com)

All in all not many residents – whether a secure tenant, an insecure tenant or a leaseholder – will get either a new home or a home in Elephant and Castle through this regeneration.

See more information at http://35percent.org/blog/2013/06/08/the-heygate-diaspora/

Also learn more about the forced housing deplacement here.

 

 

 

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DMAU – Participatory Documentary

DMAU’s  research project on Participatory Documentary features a video report that introduces one of Spectacle’s participatory projects APaNGO. The video explains the projects purpose – developing a strong community based network that promotes urban participation in planning through social media.

The central aim of Spectacle’s video workshops is to train residents to film and edit video footage and through this capture and influence the changing physical and human face of their neighbourhood.” Mark Saunders, Spectacle Founder.

DMAU specialises in documentary film-making and urban research. DMAU (or Digital Media Architecture Urbanism) provide a selection of participatory media in the form of visual essays, interviews and case studies.

“Our work focuses on projects – designs and documentaries – that improve the public realm, be that built designs or temporary events and interventions, with an emphasis on work that has a positive social or environmental impact” –                                             Daryl Mulvihill, DMAU Founder.

The scope of this project spreads across various countries in the EU and works upon maintaining strong communities. It is therefore a good example of how participatory media can influence and support social development.

An accompanying interview with Spectacle founder Mark Saunders gives a broader understanding of how Spectacle works with communities to encourage social media. The interview explains the importance that participatory production workshops have, and the significance they have upon urban regeneration.

The DMAU research project explores:

“The potentials for the use of documentary practice in urban research and design projects go much further than the traditionally formatted video production. New interactive documentaries combine film with a range of other media; photography, maps, soundscapes and data visualisations to create an immersive experience for the viewer. Next to this participatory documentary has the ability to empower and engage communities by bringing their story to a wider audience. We will see how interactive and participatory documentary is not simply about producing stories. It is as much about designing a storytelling process that engages with the voices of people impacted by an event or ongoing situation.”

Spectacle now runs affordable effective Participatory Video Weekend Training Courses

Visit the aPaNGO Project
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New Metropolitan Mainstream at its end?

The term, New Metropolitan Mainstream, brings together different processes leading towards an increasing economization of urban life: gentrification, urban regeneration, forced upgrading of neighbourhoods, luxury transformation of entire inner city areas, privatisation of public goods and spaces, instrumentalisation of flagship projects and international events in order to attract international investments and people with a high income.

Was the financial crisis the end of the New Metrolitan Mainstream? It seems it was, at least for the investment in prestigious cultural flagship projects in the US.

A study of the Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago found out: 80% of new or refurbished buildings of the period 1994-2008 were a product of completely wrong calculation. Some museums had to close down only a few years after their opening. Many concert halls and theatres have huge problems surviving. The “Bilbao” Effect did not take place. And the amount of new buildings in the cultural sector is far beyond new hospitals or educational institutions.

Read more

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Mark Saunders talks at reART in Zurich – 26th Oct

Spectacle’s Mark Saunders will be discussing East London and the commodification of local culture at reART in Zurich, Switzerland on Friday 26th Oct.

reART:theURBAN is an international conference that will revolve around the question of what art can do for the development of the urban society and the city itself. The conference takes place from the 25th-27th October this year, with talks from a number of international speakers, including Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek and Charles Landry, an urban thinker from the UK.

To find out more about the conference, go to the reART website and for more about Mark’s talk, click here

Click here to buy tickets

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Creative Capitalist City Online

Tino Buchholz has released his film – Creative Capitalist City – online for free distribution. The film covers issues of urban regeneration and housing issues in modern Western society.

After a year of DVD distribution and events in Amsterdam, Hamburg, London,
Athens, Vienna and Zurich, Bucholz has annonced the film online with a number of different subtitles.

Visit the website – www.creativecapitalistcity.org – for more information.

Synopsis: This film is more than a local documentary on Amsterdam. It
explores the latest urban re-/development pattern in advanced Western
capitalist cities. The hype around the creative city began already a
decade ago, it is global in scope and about to reach its peak. After
Richard Florida’s influential book “The Rise of the Creative Class” (2002)
creativity has advanced to be the role model of urban regeneration: The
New American Dream. What is new about this dream? What happens when the
hype is over? Housing as a job or the Right to the City”?

For interviews with Anti-Squat company managers and their tenants visit our archive here.

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New Anti-squat interview material online

What is Anti-squat?

Anti-squat is a relatively new phenomenon, it is intended as a way to offer affordable housing in inner city areas, whilst also offering a solution to the problem of vacant properties. Like most traditional squatters, the residents maintain the property.  Unlike traditional squatters, the residents, or live-in guardians as they are sometimes known, are living in the vacant property with the owners’ permission. Residence via anti-squatting is arranged via a third party who the property owner pays to arrange the service. The residents often pay a comparatively low level of rent but are bound by strict rules, contravention of which can see them homeless within days. Plus their complicated tenancy status means they are not ‘residents’ in the traditional sense of the word that the law would understand, meaning that their rights can be compromised.

Inspired by the Broedplaatsen  (“broedplaats” is a hatchery or breeding ground) in Amsterdam which are designed to offer affordable work/living spaces for artists and what they refer to as “cultural entrepreneurs”. It is a model which has been used to challenge the concept of squatting and even the laws that allow it to occur. It has also been suggested that it may have a sanitising effect on the cultural and artistic scene of a locality. An idea explored by Tino Buchholz in his documentary Creativity and the Capitalist City. Tino also questions the idea that culture can be used for the economic regeneration of a city as per the ideas of Richard Florida.


Anti-squat in the U.K.

A company by the name of Camelot is one of the biggest proponents of anti-squat in the U.K. Their work is also being used to challenge the squatting laws here too. The model used by Camelot in the U.K is vastly similar to that in Amsterdam, however Amsterdam has a much wider ranging welfare state than the U.K meaning that they have less homelessness; herein lies a problem. Squatting is sometimes used as a solution by homeless or vulnerably housed people and therefore it should perhaps be questioned whether or not a scheme like anti-squat should be used as a basis for challenging squatting laws. Especially given the strict rules that are imposed by companies like Camelot, such as having a provable income,  are probably unlikely to be met if a person is homeless. Moreover, a person will not be accepted if they have a criminal record, so if squatting is made illegal, partly on the basis that anti-squat schemes like Camelot exist, a whole group of people that need the service might instantly become criminalised. These are amongst the many concerns that arise from anti-squat and its use a vehicle for outlawing squatting altogether.

On 22nd Sept 2010 Spectacle attended the 3rd annual Camelot Guardian Art competition at The Hatton, Faringdon. There we conducted interviews with Bob De Vilder, Marketing & Sales Director Camelot Europe and some current live in guardians. We discussed the scheme and some of the criticism surrounding its application. Please see our archive section to view these interviews. Please also bear in mind that the guardians were in the presence of, although not directly being observed by, Camelot employees at the time of the interview.

 

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Westfield Stratford bottleneck forces reduction in Olympic day tickets

The new Westfield shopping centre at Stratford has already seen millions of people walk through its doors. As the only way to get in to the Olympic 2012 site those numbers are only likely to increase. Good for business, bad for sports fans.

In what seems like a rather large oversight in planning, it has recently been reported that crowd flow analysis at the centre has shown that the ‘Olympic gateway’ has already produced a potentially dangerous bottleneck. This is even before the Olympics has started. It’s only going to get worse.

For those sports fans that were unable to get tickets to the actual events, day or “Rover” tickets will be available. These tickets will allow general access to the Olympic park where events can be seen on large screens. Due to concerns over the bottleneck, the number of day tickets have now been reduced.

Controlling access to the Olympics in this way, forced “footfall”, obviously felt like a good business plan for Westfield and their Olympic friends and too good to miss, unlike the Olympics for all those without tickets.

Westfield wins Olympic Gold

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Do the business, secretary!

A new video has recently surfaced on youtube which gives a great summary of the problems surrounding the redevelopment of the Hampton Court site.
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The video makes the point that urbanisation of the south bank of the river Thames will not  only mean destruction of a historic view of Hampton Court Palace, but will also make some people and companies very rich.
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Hampton Court Palace lies in business secretary Vince Cable’s constituency of Twickenham. Mr Cable opposed the plans whilst in opposition, but since coming to power he seems to have lost his voice on the subject.

The video makes one point that should give us all cause for concern. The application itself is opposed by many factions, including Hampton Court. If Hampton Court is unable to oppose an inappropriate planning application then there is no hope for us commoners.

 

Here it is:

 

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