Alternative Bucharest

Reactivating vacant spaces in the former Communist capital

Bucharest can easily be characterised as a city of contrasts which range from cultural to social and urban levels. A substantial part of the city’s identity and potential is being forgotten though. The city is faced with a fragmented image, disconnected from its citizens and seems somewhat in a state of limbo when it comes to transformations proposed by the government. This lack of governmental initiatives triggered a response from various specialists and citizens which started to promote bottom-up projects as alternatives.

‘RE-use’, ‘RE-activate’, ‘RE-generate’

These three words are currently key concepts when it comes to new urban development projects in Bucharest. As the number of people living in the city keeps growing, so does the need for urban spaces. Although the general tendencies push towards an expansion of the city outside its limits, a number of bottom-up initiatives argue for the reuse of existent abandoned spaces as an alternative.

© Calup

A recent study conducted by the University of Architecture and Urban Planning ‘Ion Mincu’ identified over 400 unused spaces in the city. Varying from former industrial plants to historical buildings and abandoned theatres, the study reaffirmed the potential held by such places as new community based projects. It also provided ‘official’ support for what local initiatives were arguing already: the reactivation of spaces would highlight both their role in the sustainable development of the city and also their importance for local communities.

‘transform vacancy into opportunity’

Calup is one of those initiatives. Coming together as an interdisciplinary group of friends, in 2012 they developed Calup as an urban regeneration project that stays true to the motto: by the community for the community. Promoting local best practices solutions from the creative industry and working with the challenges posed by the current economic context, Calup started to mobilise people to join their initiative. Projects like Dark Matter, Antumbra or Paralel Wolrds are some of the initiatives that proved community needs and perspectives can actually materialise.

A positive response from the community made them take one step further in trying to improve the quality of urban life in the city. This resulted in the launch of an online platform in 2015 that brings together people, projects and vacant spaces. Using an interactive map of the city, Calup plans on expanding local participation in three modes:

  • offering citizens the possibility to pin spaces that hold potential
  • providing bottom-up initiatives with the opportunity to propose projects for the spaces on the map
  • bringing people together by presenting citizens who own a facility the possibility to select an initiative from the site and host it at their location (under the label of space starter, open house or pop-up event)

Calup community online mapping

The response to this initiative came to prove that Bucharest is emerging from a previous government intensively controlled city to a new democratic, citizen oriented capital. Two weeks after the online platform was created, around 150 spaces were noted down on the map. Now, it holds over 400 vacant places. New initiatives are starting to join Calup in this participation process and building owners become interested in hosting some of the creative projects proposed.

Considering the fast-pace in which these transformations took place – around two years – it will be interesting to follow how Bucharest is RE-shaping its identity to a community-oriented capital based on private-public-community governance structures.

© Calup

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