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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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

Click PlanA for more blogs on urbanism, planning and architecture.
Or visit our project pages on London Olympics 2012 and Eco Towns and Villages for more information and videos on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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Mark Saunders talks at INURA 2012

 

 

Check out a recording of Mark Saunders talking at the 2012 conference for International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA).

In the presentation Mark, describes strategies of running an independent media company with an agenda for social justice and human rights.

He also discusses his methods of participatory media, people involved in a story being behind a camera and how this technique was particularly effective in his film ‘The Truth Lies in Rostock‘. Mark references his other projects as well as the documentary he is currently working on called ‘Bookchin on Bookchin‘. A clip of this film is shown at the end, with Murray Bookchin an American social ecologist, philosopher and anarchist describing his thoughts about society.

http://inura2012tallinn.wordpress.com/programme/

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Battersea Power Station history from the 30s to 1983

The Vauxhall Society reprints an extract from  ‘Battersea Power Station – 50 Years of Service – A Short History’ first published by CEGB Public Relations Branch in 1983.

The Vauxhall Society is the civic consultative group covering the London parliamentary constituency of Vauxhall, which extends from north of Waterloo to Brixton, Clapham, and Stockwell and Vauxhall, as well as the neighbouring districts of Southwark and Wandsworth.

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs

For more history of the power station click here
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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Battersea Power Station- a tragi-comedy of errors

here today...

Battersea Power Station- a tragi-comedy of errors.

by our theatre critic BabyLonDon

Last night’s Wandsworth Borough Council Planning Committee meeting to approve the demolition of the Victorian Battersea Pumping Station and the demolition (and supposed replacement) of the iconic power station chimneys was the best show in town- Dickens in modern dress that occasionally lapsed into panto. The farce played to a packed house – with the corridors full of (vested?) interested parties straining to hear the proceedings over the PA.

The rather predictable plot- a variation on the turkeys voting for Christmas story -had a committee clearly determined to vote in favour spending three hours going through the massive planning application with just one dissenting voice of reason, played by a rather hammy councillor Tony Belton, pointing out the blindingly obvious flaws and unfeasibility of the scheme.

The real drama and humour lay in the fact that the committee seemed oblivious to the subplot- that the developers, REO (Treasury Holdings UK), are massively in “toxic” debt and in effect owned by the Irish tax payers via  NAMA and will do nothing but continue to demolish what little is left on the site and then “flip it”- selling it on as an empty brown field site for river front luxury development.

REO were unlucky that when the music of the property boom stopped they were left without a chair, but lucky enough to have their biggest non-Irish asset located in Wandsworth, infamous for having allowed the power station to fall into its current state of near dilapidation and for waving through truly hideous and desolate riverside developments.

There was something distasteful in the pathos of the affable officer’s naive presentation of the nonsensical scheme as from the public gallery hard nosed and cash hungry developers salivated at the easy meal they were shortly to enjoy.

There were comic moments as the “power dressed” committee members seemed to be made up of people who were in thrall to the promised dream of capitalism but had no clue about business. They dismissed the very real credibility gaps in the developers “vision”, enthusiastically hanging the whole wobbly edifice on the “promise” that these mega debtors (or at least Irish toxic debt vehicle NAMA) would stump up over 200 million pounds for the Northern Line Extension, or as it is known locally the “Ghost train to nowhere”. Even if this phantom train ride were real it would not happen for years even if it all went to plan… it was an evening of “even ifs”.

One comedic highlight was the officer’s report on the stringent “conditions” the council had negotiated with the Developers.

REO could take down the chimneys but must replace within 7 years.

REO could remove the embarrassing sight of the wharf cranes they are letting rot and could “restore” them inside the hulk of the rotting power station.

REO could first develop a slither of land on the north west river front. Happily the piece of land with most instant resale value, being the furthest from the smelly and polluting waste transfer facility on the north east water edge of the site and the cluster of huge gas holders on the south west edge, deemed by the HSE to be enough of a potential danger to society they recommended the scheme was rejected. This danger of an inferno seemed not to trouble the committee who dismissed the HSE’s concerns. One councillor mocked it as health and safety gone mad as residents of the later phases of the development nearer the potential blast would have chosen to buy their luxury flats aware of the risk.

They also swallowed, uncritically, the completely spurious argument for knocking down the grade II listed Victorian pumping station on the grounds it was a “community benefit” in order to “save” the power station apparently achieved by destroying its architectural value by knocking windows all along its sides and turning it into a shopping mall with luxury flats.

All of the responsibilities and commitments of REO were locked into phases of the development projected way into the future. As REO have no real intention, or means, to “deliver” these planning pipe dreams they were in effect getting off Scot free. The only thing the planning committee’s decisions would guarantee were the demolitions.

The press has been full of the glossy artists impressions of this bright new future but actually it is a dark day for most Battersea residents as this scheme will deliver nothing but another decade of planning blight. A bleak future without two of the regions most precious and best loved buildings.

The optimists had to accept that even if the Power Station were to survive this scheme it could not actually be seen from anywhere in the borough once surrounded by the 15+ storey buildings REO planned.

Given the power station is Wandsworth Borough council’s logo it was indeed a turkey landslide vote for every day being christmas.

BabyLonDon’s Final Verdict: Funny but sad. Not an “An absolute triumph”

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs

See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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Battersea Power Station demolition by stealth gets council go ahead

Tonight, with only one vote against, the London Borough of Wandsworth’s Planning Committee gave the green light for the demolition by stealth of Battersea Power Station by approving the chimneys are removed and (maybe?) replaced and the total destruction of the Victorian Pumping Station as predicted. Condemning north Battersea to another 15 years of urban blight.  But take heart there are still many rivers to cross (for the developers) and many opportunities along the way for us to propose more imaginative uses and to prove that urban planning by speculation is not viable or in the public interest.

For a full report read the review by Spectacle’s theatre critic BabyLonDon

“An absolute triumph”

Coming soon… details of our photographic competition: Soon to be Lost Views of Battersea Power Station

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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Battersea Power Station chimney and Pump Station demolition meeting

Wandsworth Council’s Planning Applications Committee will (almost certainly) decide to give the go-ahead for the demolition of the chimneys at Battersea Power Station and the listed  grade II Victorian Water Pumping Station despite widespread and expert objection. The meeting is at the

Wandsworth Town Hall Thursday 11th November 7pm

(Please note the earlier than usual start time)

The Town Hall
Wandsworth High Street
London
SW18 2PU

Go to Details and reports for more info and to download the reports online the application number 1 is 2009/3575, No 4, 2009/3676 demolition of chimneys etc, no 3, 2009/3577, no 4, 2009/3578 Demolition of Water Pumping station.

Brian Barnes MBE, Chair of Battersea Power Station Community Group,  has issued a press release on behalf of the BPSCG:

If it were ever built, the Power station would be obscured by massive blocks of luxury flats and hotels. The Power Station will be altered with changes that will spoil the Grade 2* listed building with windows in the side walls, 1950s control room dismantled, new false ceilings in the main turbine hall, pods for penthouses covering the roofs and chimneys demolished and replaced by replicas (as if). Out of 3700 flats, only about 500 to be part buy/part let (so called “affordable”). The Grade 2 listed Battersea Water Pumping Station will be destroyed completely “in the public’s interest”. Any gain of public open space is unusable as it will be lakes and moats to reflect views of Power Station, as if there isn’t enough water with the Thames flowing past…

You can read the full press release here www.batterseapowerstation.org.uk

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs

See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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See more of Spectacle’s Photos of Battersea Power Station

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Gazprom Tower Films Shown at INURA Conference

Linked below are two intriguing films concerning the Gazprom Tower of St Petersburg, Russia:

The Tale of the Gazprom Tower

This is the fairy tale about the Gazprom Tower in beautiful St. Petersburg/Russia. About the kings and queens creating it, about their dreams and wishes, about the wonderful buildings preceding it and the kings and queens who built them. It’s about voices behind the curtain and subjects, who don’t obey.
It’s a long story cut short, but without an end. Because once you release the spirits you won’t get rid of them, or as Faust said: Spirits that I’ve cited, my commands ignore.

The Tower: A Songspiel

This film is based on an analysis of the conflict that has developed
 around the planned Okhta Center with a Gazprom skyscraper in Petersburg and on real
 documents from Russian social and political life.
 April 2010

Both of these films are darkly comic and visually engaging with deep and rich historical and geographical context. Enjoy and experience them.

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