The Ukrainian Puzzle
- New Urban Topologies in Odessa, September 2016
Vasilisa Shchogoleva and Bohdan Volynskyi from Critical Thinking introduces the Odessa sessions.
"The Ukrainian Puzzle" is a series of NUT seminars in Ukraine, focusing not only on the specific cities but also aiming at portraying the situation in a large country with a complicated history and geopolitical situation, connecting people and ideas across between the east, west, north and south (Kharkiv, Ternopil, Poltava, Odessa). Focusing on issues like citizen dialogue and participatory urban planning "The Ukrainian Puzzle" promotes dialogue between organisations, activists, artists, politicians and citizens, and finds new connections between different cities of Ukraine.
At the end of September 2016 New Urban Topologies went to the south of Ukraine, to Odessa, to continue the investigations gathered under the concept “Ukrainian Puzzle”, in order to develop new topics and challenges and to sum up ideas for a possible future travelling exhibition. Odessa became a meeting place for both new and former NUT-participants from Kharkiv, Kiev, Poltava, Ternopil and Odessa, joined by friends and colleagues from Sweden, Bosnia, Moldova and Romania.
The new participants, who had applied to participate in the program with their own projects or issues, defined this year’s discussion topics. Among them Kiev architect and urbanist Roman Pomazan, from the project Urban Sustain Architecture and UrbanLab who proposed an important and lively topic for discussion: education, specifically within architecture and urbanism. He described the main problems and challenges in this field, and presented steps that have been taken by him and his colleagues in the direction of creation a new program for urban education in Ukraine. Joe Plommer, originally from London, but since almost one year living and working in Kharkiv, raised the topic of engaging citizens through media. Joe is working closely with the initiative Kharkiv Observer . Through this English-language website citizens as well as foreigners who live in or visit the city are able to get information on cultural, educational, political, business and social events, but the site also presents opinions and discussions on current events, as one of the few alternative and independent media resources in the city.
Plans and discussions for a potential exhibition on the Ukrainian Puzzle run like a red thread through the Odessa-NUT, with valuable insights from participants in earlier NUT Ukraine-sessions. The organisations Changing Ternopil, City Lab, Poltava and Critical Thinking in Kharkiv will continue working with developing ideas and activities in their respecitve cities.
The working group sessions in Odessa were hosted by the ImpactHUB Odessa which has became a strong anchor in the city for young entrepreneurs, creative people and public forums.
In addition to the seminars and work sessions, public lectures were held at the Green Theatre, a young initiative in Odessa that converted an abandoned park in the city centre into an active public space for movie-screening, lectures and concerts. Senada Demirovic from ADA, Mostar (Bosnia-Hercegovina) gave a talk on how to create a cultural institution in the divided city of Mostar, and Vladimir Us from Oberliht, in Chisinau (Moldova) inspired the audience by talking about his experiences with socially engaged art in Moldova and how it can help to bring change to society.
The city of Odessa was opened to the participants by Dimitriy Shamatazhyi from the history and photography project Architecture of Odessa, during a walking excursion around one of the oldest streets of Odessa, Marazlievskaya street. The organization Architecture of Odessa works to preserve the historical heritage of Odessa through photography. During the excursion we discovered that Odessa is a harbour not only in real sense, but also in a metaphorical, since it is a city built by people from all over the world since the very beginning. Somehow it makes us understand that Ukraine is slowly regaining influence into the big picture of the international world, through its people who live and work inside and outside the country.
The Ukrainian partner-organisations and Färgfabriken are continuing to work on the ideas for the future of the project - NUT*UP!
New Urban Topologies – Yangon del II
Yangon is in a state of flux with incredible futures and paths open to it. As the economic and cultural capital with 35% of all urban dwellers of Myanmar it is expanding rapidly as new migrants, capital, and ideas flow into, through, and around the city. While much is yet to be decided, the city’s inhabitants have decisions to make with generational impacts. “What type of city do we want and how can we get it?"
New Urban Topologies was a three-day seminar held in Yangon May 4-6, 2015. The seminar facilitated the free exchange of creative ideas and innovative approaches to the future of urban development in Yangon and further explored the issues of public participation and communication between all stakeholders in the urban planning process. Designed to be part of a process in Myanmar and globally, the seminar and follow-up aims to perform ‘democratic acupuncture’ on the bodies of the city – its body politic, planning organs, physical infrastruktur, public spaces, and transport networks.
The short movie gives you an overview of the NUT project in Yangon.
VAL - the Water Ring of Kaliningrad
– In between culture, city and water
Färgfabriken’s international program Baltic Dimensions proceeds in October 2015 with the urban space of Kaliningrad, Russia. The aim of the project is to highlight a connection between culture and water through the Val, the Water Ring of Kaliningrad.
With this project, we aim to bring understanding of this route as an entity. We want to highlight it as a valuable non-renewable, cultural and historical asset. The existing characteristics of the route, we believe, allow for cultural institutions to take the lead in this process. We believe that the cultural community can take conceptual ownership of this route and spread appreciation of it to the inhabitants of the city. It is the cultural community which can fill this role, at this early stage, when the splendour of the route is not yet obvious to all, and before the physical appearance is pretty. In this project we would like to initiate a conversation about its historical value, its role in the old and contemporary city identity, its unique natural characteristics in relation both to the water, man-made and natural terrain, planting and wildlife. We wish to discuss its potential to unite different parts of the city in a coherent and comprehensive manner. And not least of all, we want to raise consciousness and appreciation of its significance and beauty to all.
Place: Kaliningrad, Russia
When: 15 - 17 October 2015
Moscow Partners: Green Design Society and Curator Sonya Guimon
Kaliningrad Partners: Kaliningrad Zoo and Art Vorota
New Urban Topologies – Poltava
– Focusing on strengthening civil society, the fight against corruption and visions of the future of Ukrainian cities.
After NUT programs in Kharkiv (2013) and Ternopil (2014) Färgfabriken returned to Ukraine at the end of September 2015 with a NUT program in Poltava.
Poltava, the third city after Kharkiv and Ternopil in the program “Ukrainian Puzzle” hosted a NUT project in late September 2015. Communication between the authorities and civil society, as well as the effects of corruption were overriding themes, along with strengthening the internal network between civil society organizations active in urban issues.
Despite difficulties with regard to communication and public transparency there have been encouraging developments. Our partners in Kharkiv have registered their own NGO, Critical Thinking while our Ternopil partner, Changing Ternopil, noted better relations and growing cooperation with the city authorities. City Lab in Poltava recently accomplished a popular biking project. Crowd funding for urban CSO projects have taken off in Franko-Ivanovsk etc.
One of Färgfabriken’s oldest partner organizations, Oberliht in Chisinau, has assumed regional importance and came to Poltava to share their experiences. Of the Kiev based NGOs one is working with children and another one admirably with projects in the war torn Donbas area.
Strengthening civil society to fill local gaps where the authorities can’t or won’t reach out attracted great interest; the approach should be to identify common interests and present concrete proposals, not just criticising.
On the other hand, critical art expressions and mobile information booths or vans would serve the purpose of exploring the thoughts, desires and visions of all urban stakeholders. Social media were favoured as a tool to strengthen civil society.
Last but not least, the participants in Poltava called for increased international exchange. To satisfy this in a modest way Färgfabriken has invited four participants from Kiev. Kharkiv, Ternopil and Poltava for a study and capacity building visit to Sweden during the last week of November.
The “Ukrainian Puzzle” is taking shape!
New Urban Topologies – Yangon
– Democratic acupuncture through art and urban planing.
New Urban Topologies project in Yangon in Myanmar May 4-6 2015.
Yangon is in a quick state of flux with new investment, rapid construction and migration into the city. At the same time there are valuables to safeguard; the historical heritage and the environmental assets that the lakes, the river and the greenery represent. Infrastructure and public transportation is under strain. It all has to do with the identity of Yangon, with the pride in a sense of belonging among the citizens, about creating a better life in a liveable city.
By examples and experiences from abroad and from inside Myanmar, New Urban Topologies wants to promote better mutual understanding and a holistic view of the urban future, adding art and architecture to technology and keeping ears and eyes open to the actual needs and wishes of those who inhabit the city.
Färgfabriken’s international program, New Urban Topologies is an initiative that rose from such questions. For example, those that challenge the lack of methods for dialogue between the cities’ different voices and interests. The program brings together different experiences and attitudes, which help us interpret our cities. The results vary from city to city. The essential idea here is to create possible communications between the cities’ policy makers and grass roots organisations. Activists, culture workers, city planners and architects often represent these groups. Until today, New Urban Topologies has operated in the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa and South-East Asia. The work was primarily carried out in cities in nascent democratic development which face extensive challenges, like endangered public spaces, a lack of transparency and significant environmental issues.
New Urban Topologies – Ternopil
– Strengthening of domestic civil society networks and shaping models for communication between civil society and authorities.
New Urban Topologies (NUT) is a dialogue project that in principle inspires a democratic and participatory process about urban planning. During the fall 2013 New Urban Topologies visited Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. The 19th to 21st of Novmeber 2014 New Urban Topologies visits Ternopil for a follow-up on the discussion in Kharkiv 2013.
Three issues topped the agenda at the New Urban Topologies program in Ternopil; after Kharkiv the second “NUT city” in Ukraine. The priority themes were Capacity building for civil society organizations in the art, architecture and urbanism sector, Strengthening of domestic civil society networks and Shaping models for communication between civil society and authorities. In addition, participants investigated the contents, identity and values of the city of Ternopil. The NUT program took place November 19-21 2014 in cooperation with the local organization Changing Ternopil and its founder Oleg Mushyi. Partners from NUT Kharkiv were present along with NGO activists from Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk. These presented “best practice” examples of local projects to an audience consisting of activists, students and municipal officials. Changing Ternopil’s internet advertisement of the NUT workshop noted 2 500 hits which shows the attraction that urban issues hold for the young in Ukraine.
Ternopil is seen a city of knowledge and education. It has universities with more than 40 000 students, several publishing houses and book stores. There is a large theatre and several museums. Yet, many of the older generation stick to a concept of Ternopil as an industrial city although most of the once great factories have closed or have little production. This creates a divide in visions for the city, especially since politicians and senior officials are mostly of the older generation. The workshop participants put forward a lot of suggestions on how to improve their city. They wanted Ternopil to grow from the inside rather than by construction of satellite towns, by taking advantage of the large, now unused industrial areas. Ternopil has a great physical advantage in being built around an attractive lake; arrangements should be developed to make the lake a public space during all seasons. There was a need felt for an independent urban center for communication between the citizens and the municipal leaders. Many argued that much could be gained by creating synergies between writers, publishers, libraries, book stores and the art scene in the city.
The workshop participants agreed that capacity building for and improved networking between civil society organizations as well as ideas on models to promote transparent communication and consultation between CSOs and authorities should be implemented all over Ukraine. In order to follow-up on the “Ternopil wish list” the next NUT in Ukraine, to take place in Poltava in late September 2015, will focus on these issues, not forgetting the fight against corruption.
New Urban Topologies Kharkiv
– Destruction, Diversity & Communication
“The older generation is educating the younger, but in the end I’m not sure who’s going to teach who.” Says Vladimir Bysov who's being interviewed in the film. This film was made during New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv. It's describing the historical development of the city, current situation and possible future solutions - all investigated during the workshop.
Färgfabriken’s international program New Urban Topologies brings together architects, academics, artists, and officialls from Sweden, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. The objective is to create conditions for dialogue regarding geographical, cultural and sociological conditions and to investigates how we can redesign and reformulate our common urban environment.New Urban Topologies was carried out in Kharkiv October 23 – 25, 2013.
Download a Russian version of the article here.
Kharkiv in the Ukraine is a city looking for a new direction. The city, devastated during World war II, has since grown in leaps, from few inhabitants after the war, to 1,5 mill. at present time. The population growth is manifested in large tenement building areas, increasingly as towers, encircling the city in rings expanding from decade to decade. Since the transformation from a command economy to capitalism, Ukraine is experiencing a replacement of old and sometimes historical buildings by modern condos or office buildings, at times built on speculation and remaining more or less empty because of excessive price levels. At the same time, quite central areas of summer cottages, “datchas” on very small plots of land, are being renovated or demolished and replaced by modern one-family villas. While improving the housing standards in the city these two phenomena contribute to creating segregation between the economic elite and the ordinary citizens.
Also, there is a need to preserve and restore the rather few remaining pre-revolutionary buildings as well as examples of constructivist architecture from the USSR era. Another issue of concern is new buildings – allowed by authorities because investors hold considerable means of influence - that block city views and street perspectives. Furthermore remaining heavy bureaucracy from the Soviet times, exacerbated by widespread corruption and deep mistrust of the authorities by the citizenry and of civil society by the government impede communications and transparency with regard to the transformation of the city.
Such were the issues that New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv, October 23 – 25 2013, set out to grapple with. New Urban Topologies participants in Kharkiv were of different generations and different walks of life; academics, practitioners, artists, activists and students. International participants from Beirut, Mostar and Minsk also contributed with their experiences, which led to many fruitful exchanges between the cities. Kharkiv shares a sad history of destruction by war with Beirut, Mostar and Minsk. In the two former cities armed conflict erupted because of ethno-religious differences. Kharkiv, also a city of many ethnicities, possesses potential assets in terms of multiculturalism. Another core area for improvement is consultation and communication between the administration, the professionals and the citizenry, a remnant of the fact that Kharkiv, Minsk, Mostar and Riga have emerged from authorita¬rian systems of government. One reason for the difficulties in this regard in the Ukraine is the juxtaposition of political forces which tend to lead to a stalemate in government action. On the positive side, all four cities are now at a stage of reconstruction, revitalization and reconciliation and can draw on each other’s current experiences.
Vasylysa Shchogoleva, is an important key figure for New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv, she studies her last year at the architectural faculty in Kharkiv National University of Civil Engineering and Architecture.
Tell us a little bit about your background?
Besides the university I'm also involved in “Architectural Adventures”, which is a collaboration between students, graduates in architecture and people from other related fields. The main aim of “Architectural Adventures” is to raise architectural awareness and culture among its users and creators (architects and designers).
What are your experiences from New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv?
New Urban Topologies became a possibility for collaboration with people whom I never met and those who I only knew by their professional skills, but never have succeeded to cooperate with before. During New Urban Topologies we got an opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences about our city, where we live our everyday life. Thanks to the excursions where we walked around together with the international participants, who were in Kharkiv for the first time, we were also able to see our city from a different perspective.
Can you tell us a little bit about the outcome of New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv?
New Urban Topologies brought an opportunity for dialog. This was strongly necessary for locals, who walk the same streets every day, visit the same cafes, rarely leave their own district. However, they have never talked about such topic as “Kharkiv” before and about the spaces that they actually share. Final discussion also highlighted some important key needs that are in the air among people in our city today: dialog between people of different professions and ages; dialog between government and citizens; Kharkiv's entirety vision; professional critiques and reviews of changes that take place in Kharkiv; alternative proposals for the future of Kharkiv.
Why are these transboundary meetings important in Kharkiv?
It is important because it creates an open dialog in which alternative views of the city can be created in collaboration with people who live in the city but have different backgrounds. It helps us understand what our cities are about and what perspectives we could create for the development and prosperity. That seems to be possible when we all start to share our ideas, knowledge and experience. When dialog becomes international we can learn faster, through other experiences and through others outcomes.
Download a pdf with more information about the project here.
New Urban Topologies – Alexandria III
– Sustainability, security, recycling and the specific needs of children and women.
New Urban Topologies (NUT) is a dialogue project that in principle inspires a democratic and participatory process about urban planning. During more than three years, Färgfabriken-Center for Contemporary Art and The Swedish Institute in Alexandria, SwedAlex in collaboration with Alexandria University, brought together official decision-makers from Alexandria Urban Planning office, experts, architects, students, activist, academics, researchers and others from the civil society. Furthermore the workshops have always brought together participants from Stockholm, Sweden, Balkan and from MENA region.
From the 29–30th of September 2014 Färgfabriken in conjunction with the Swedish Institute Alexandria and its Egyptian partners Gudran and Alexandria University carried out an extensive session on the neighborhood of Kafr Ashri within the New Urban Topologies (NUT) program. In focusing on this specific case study Färgfabriken continued its previous work in engaging municipal representatives, architects, urban planners, scholars, students, activists and ordinary citizens from Alexandria in a common dialogue that is now directed towards concrete results and actions.
The participatory planning process that was initiated by Färgfabriken during the previous NUT sessions in 2011 and 2013 has not only led to a new dialogue between different stakeholders in the city but also to concrete initiatives by the cultural organization Gudran and the municipality in the residential area Kafr Ashri, a site chosen as a case study in 2013. The university has furthermore continued the process by mapping the neighborhood and its needs. This third NUT session built upon these initiatives.
The aim was to move the dialogue towards the stage where concrete small scale actions could be discussed and prepared for a quick implementation. A site visit to Kafr Ashri and a seminar on the needs and history of the neighborhood was complemented with lectures on successful examples of public participation and interventions in Beirut, Cairo, Riadh and Doetinchem that has led to effective results.
The theme of the following workshop was “Developing Kafr Ashri from an economic, social/cultural and environmental perspective”. Each group was designated to suggest one project or more at one of the unused open spaces in the area with a particular focus on women and children. The overall theme was chosen on the basis of previous NUT sessions and the ideas and needs raised by the inhabitants of Kafr Ashri .
In the previous session of NUT Alexandria Kafr Ashri’s community representative Adel El Said stressed that the inhabitants have seen students of architecture and activists coming in before, but that nothing has occurred that has changed their situation. He urged that the NUT participants must listen to what the inhabitants have to say – if they do he promised they will do everything to help make change happen, but if the people of Kafr Ashri are given false promises their trust in authorities and outsiders will disappear.
With this in mind the organizers set out guidelines to make the final recommendations easily and quickly implementable. Of vital importance was to foresee sustainable alternatives that could be realized in times of insufficient government capacities. The result was eight pragmatic suggestions for future interventions, among them a new pedestrian bridge over the Mahmoudia Canal, a new public market space under the neighboring over path and modern recycling handicraft classes. These design solutions will be an important part of the holistic action plan for Kafr Ashri that all stakeholders consider necessary.
As with the previous sessions, Alexandria III was documented. This will result in a film produced by Gudran and an interview series appearing on Färgfabriken’s website. Participants in the third NUT session were also interviewed for an article on Alexandria’s development in Arkitekten, the journal of the Swedish Association of Architects. An episode of the Swedish podcast Staden discusses the history and current challenges for Alexandria and Färgfabriken’s initiatives at the site.
The world is being urbanised at breakneck speed. Exploring our cities from different perspectives is a growing need and allows us to keep pace with this development. Especially relevant in this regard, is the linking of diverse questions of democracy, allied to economic and social segregation within cities’ physical structures. Färgfabriken’s international program, New Urban Topologies is an initiative that rose from such questions. For example, those that challenge the lack of methods for dialogue between the cities’ different voices and interests. Until today, New Urban Topologies operated in the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa and South-East Asia. The work was primarily carried out in cities that have a shortage of democratic development and face extensive challenges, like endangered public spaces, a lack of transparency and significant environmental questions. New Urban Topologies are always looking for new ways to formulate societies and the city. Methods of thinking that have contributed to the birth of these new projects, are Baltic Dimensions and Patchwork of Narratives. It is the contact with people and ideas that inspire and develop these projects.
"The Ukranian Puzzle" - about dialogue and participatory urban planning. Finds connections between organisations, activists, artists, politicians and citizens.
A follow up on the visit in May to promote better mutual understanding and a holistic view.
Focusing on strengthening civil society, the fight against corruption and visions for the future.
A connection between culture and water through the Val, the Water Ring of Kaliningrad
Democratic acupuncture through art and urban planing.
Strengthening of civil society networks and models for communication with authorities.
Sustainability, security, recycling and the specific needs of children and women.
"The older teach the younger, but in the end I'm not sure who actually learns something."
Digital communications were vital in the political changes -what comes after?
This disputed area is in the middle of change. How to make this into a place that unites and creates spaces for all of Mostars inhabitants?
Jakarta, Yogykarta, Surabaya
Discussions about disaster prevention and walkable and bicycle friendly cities.
Amman is currently going through changes that affect the growth, urban form and socioeconomic dimensions of the city.
Exchange of experiences and identify problematic and successful aspects of the city of Stockholm
Barely a year after the revolution, artists, architects and students met in Alexandria to discuss the city's history, idenity and potential.
The city of Skopje is a mix of a lot of different styles and cultures. In later years, the central parts have gone though big changes.
In co-operation with the artistic institutes of Oberliht and Gallery Ў, Färgfabriken created a space for intense talks about urban development.
City parks threatened by big constructions and anonymous module suburbs emerging at breakneck-speed.
New Urban Topologies in Alexandria, session II
– February 21–23 2013.
In February 2013 New Urban Topologies returned to Egypt to conduct a follow-up to the visit in 2011. During the workshop we also produced the film "New Urban Topologies Alexandria" (above). The film depicts the situation in Alexandria today and imposes several general issues that could be applied to many cities around the world.
On 20–24 February 2013 Färgfabriken in conjunction with its Egyptian partner Gudran carried out an extensive session on dialogue, communication and participatory planning in the city of Alexandria within the New Urban Topologies (NUT) program. The participants were municipal representatives, architects, urban planners, scholars, students, activists and ordinary citizens from the cities of Alexandria, East Jerusalem, Beirut, and Jakarta and Stockholm. The initiative has a strong connection to the ongoing democratic transition in Egypt and was a result of a request from the Egyptian participants in previous sessions.
The purpose was to empower the individual participants and the NUT network through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and analogue participatory methods.
ICT and democracy
Public seminar on participatory planning
Kafr Ashri case study excursion
A selected group of New Urban Topologies participants got to visit the area and talk to some of its inhabitants. The group was guided by Sameh El Halawany and Hebattallah Abouelfadl. At the site the group sat down with the local community representative Adel El Said who told them about the area and the problems the community is facing. The group was shown new badly constructed residential illegal buildings, streets in bad condition, the lack of street lights, empty warehouses in the vicinity of the area and the only bridge connecting Kafr Ashri to the south, made by cardboard and plastic and guarded by a man that asked for money when inhabitants are crossing.
The group also got a change to talk to a few children. They said what they most wished for in Kafr Ashri was playgrounds and to have a school for girls. As for now the young girls have to walk a long way and also make use of the rundown bridge in order to get to school. The visit indicates that local actors as door openers when entering an area are crucial, and that partnering with local NGOs – which is a part of the NUT strategy – is a necessity.
The workshop – problems and possibilities in the Kafr Ashri area
NUT-ICT; a new platform
With around 35 million Internet uses in Egypt, the participants identified the need to develop and empower this phenomenon and make use of the full potential of this digital revolution. Hand in hand with the need to make good use of the digital transformation goes the NUT-ICT network, the participants concluded. A better communication within the group would affect also external communication. One further point was that local inhabitants outside the professional sphere should be invited to participate and share their views at the platform. “The architects need these people to give input to their design, and the people need the architects to be able to make use of the design tools allowing change”, one of the participants concluded.
Visualizing the Platform
Mapping, sharing and strengthening the network
The participants found it very interesting with e-learning, and one team brought up the importance of developing a methodology similar to the Swedish “folkskola”, equivalent to a free public school open to all. All participants agreed on that personal development within the NUT program is very important and that a future online platform should give participants a possibility to develop. In line with this they stated that NUT should not only focus on institutions, organizations and municipalities but also the people the network consists of. Being part of the NUT network is a personal choice and the participants stressed that they engage not only to make a change in society but also to learn new methods and get new perspectives that they can make use of in their own daily work.
In the New Urban Topologies menu you can find reports, reflections and pictures from each city. It's also possible to download and read the two publications "The Chisinau and Minsk experience" and "Alexandria – City of Layers". New Urban Topologies is supported by the Swedish Institute and by the Swedish Institute in Alexandria.
On New Urban Topologies
– by Thomas Lundh, advisor New Urban Topologies.
For more than a decade, Färgfabriken has been active in the fields of urban planning, sociology, and architecture. Färgfabriken has a dual function, both being an exhibition space and a meeting place for different disciplines. Facilitating new net-works between public and private spheres, Färgfabriken wants to promote new ideas and strategies for our urban future.
A successful example using this method was Stockholm at Large, a pro-ject in several steps that Färgfabriken initiated in 2001 and produced. Here, the future of Stockholm in a long-term perspective was analyzed, considering a population growth of 600,000 people. This is one of several projects in the fields of urban planning and development, all with different starting points and perspectives, which Färgfabriken has organized. By making the complex process of urban development more accessible through exhibitions, seminars and publications, we believe more people will find it meaningful to engage in the development of their cities.
With extensive experience in initiating meetings on the city’s future and potential, Färgfabriken decided to fund a program with an inter-national scope in 2009, New Urban Topologies. The aim of the initiative is to create an open and free platform for an exchange of experiences be-tween the different stakeholders and the participating cities. This is in order to strengthen political participation and transboundary networks.
At the moment, New Urban Topologies is focusing on projects in the Middle East, the Balkans and in Eastern Europe. There are also plans for programs in South East Asia. Up until now, we have executed projects in Chisinau in Moldova, Minsk in Belarus, Skopje in Macedonia, Alexandria in Egypt, Amman in Jordan and Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our main objective at these sites has been to start a process where Färgfabriken, in conjunction with participating local partners, initiates a discussion regarding urban challenges and possibilities. Together we identify a number of geographical areas of interest for development or general discussion and problem solving. The purpose is not to deliver complete solutions or answers, but to pinpoint different ways of thinking and to address and discuss complex matters.
It is our evaluation that the intentions of New Urban Topologies i.e. to be a steppingstone for new contacts, knowledge and understanding, between different groups have become reality. We have seen how new contacts between different groups within and between the cities have developed after each single New Urban Topologies session. This informal working method has proven an easy way to loosen up hierarchies and what seemed to be cemented power relations.
Alexandria – City of Layers
The book Alexandria – City of Layers documents the New Urban Topologies project with summaries of workshop presentations and interviews with participants. It also includes essays on Alexandria, and a rich assortment of images. Translated into English and Arabic, the book was launched both in Alexandria and Stockholm during 2012. The electronic version is now available for free down below.
City of Layers
The meeting with Alexandria in Spring 2011, after the big upheaval that the whole of Egypt had been through, was an experience in many ways. The city is worn-down with an intense life, lots of people and ideas—everything in a complex blend where the past meets the present. You could feel it in the air that there had been a change in the Egyptian society. It was liberating to see happy and proud people who had just had the chance to vote in the first round of fair elections.
Situated by the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria has been a center for thoughts and ideas for millenniums. Here, different cultures and religions have met and been inspired by and confronted with each other. The traces of these trails of thoughts can still be found today in different layers, both physical and mental. It was this process of movement and meetings that we wished to high-light when, in co-operation with Gudran Association for Art and Develop-ment, Alexandria University, and the Swedish Institute Alexandria, we decided to organize the first New Urban Topologies in the Middle East.
When we came back to Alexandria six months later to carry out the New Urban Topologies program, the atmosphere in the city had changed. The euphoria from the past months had turned into uncertainty about the future, and impatience with the fact that a new Egypt seemed to take its time to be formed. Who and what groups of people would take over power?
On our way to the Swedish Institute, walking along the beautiful Cor-niche, we passed the courthouse where the trial against two police officers accused of the death of young activist Khaled Said had just begun. The web page We are all Khaled Said had led the way for the revolt, and the ten-sion in the air was obvious. The Military was present and a number of combat vehicles were parked on the street. I saw gripping scenes with people who expressed a deep sense of despair; people who fought for their rights.
Change takes time, and Egypt will eventually find its way forward. How, and in what way, is at the present moment hard to tell. During days of seminars, excursions and intense workshops, the temperature rose. Through meetings, discussions and working together new ideas took shape.
The questions were related to the planning of the city and a possible path to democracy. Alexandria worked as a catalyst for a future Egypt. It be-came an important experience for all of us, both the ones active in Alex-andria and the ones who traveled in from Stockholm, Amman, Istanbul, Damascus, Beirut, and Cairo. We all had different experiences from work-ing with culture, entrepreneurship, universities and the public sector. The diversity created energy.
The first cities were founded almost six thousand years ago, today they symbolize our civilizations. The cities will outlive most of us, but, while we are active in them we have a unique opportunity to create conditions for functioning and exciting urban environments, both for ourselves and for generations to come. We all have a responsibility and we must use it in a clever way. We, who represent Färgfabriken, believe that new struc-tures and new contexts can arise as we work with different sectors of the society and create informal meetings between different groups and wills —with and without power.
During this period that we are referring to as the Arab Spring we have seen clearly that it is in the public spaces that debates take place and where the people challenge the political structures. In Sweden, as in many other countries around the world, there has been a discussion about how these “lungs” should be managed so that they can continue to exist and expand. This important question, along with many other issues that came up during the intense days in October 2011 will be discussed further in this book.
Alexandria has something special. In cities where everything has not been designed and processed in detail, there are many opportunities for an intense dynamic life. This is in strong contrast to my own hometown, Stockholm. I cannot help compare with the present Swedish situation. In our eagerness to plan and structure everything, have we in the process lost what is informal and coincidental, the things that give our cities a soul?
The purpose of New Urban Topologies in Alexandria was to create a mental sphere for a new inventory of the many creative resources that exist in the city, all within a framework of history, culture and future possibilities.
To download the electronic version (PDF) of the book, just click the icon down below.
New Urban Topologies (NUT) is supported by the Swedish Institute and by the Swedish Institute in Alexandria.
Mostar – The Movie
By Johanna Bratel, 2012.