"If you really want to sustain, you need to be professional! It is about being less activist, less noisy, but instead working your way gradually and thus sustainably."
Jan Mazur seems to be a busy man. A good sign – it means projects are growing and need his time and attention. Based in Bratislava, he is involved in running the Stará Tržnica. The Stará Tržnica is an antique market hall that has been unused and underused. In 2012 a group of citizens founded an alliance that is now running a new life in there. Ranging from activities such as concerts, cooking events and exhibitions – their heartbeat remains as in former times a weekly market for local and seasonal products.
In the Market Hall Jan Mazur has a twofold role – managing the legal matters and running a research program on the adjacent square and public space policies. This research is linked to the network organization of Shared Cities: Creating Momentum, conducting projects in cities as Berlin, Prague, Budapest and more. Under this umbrella of cultural contacts and financial support from the Creative Europe program, Jan Mazur and his team are researching data around on a wider area around the square called Námestie SNP.
Jan, which processes are involved in this research?
‘We gather different data of this square. We look at its special characteristics; it is for example the hottest spot of Bratislava. Why? – Because there are no trees and the landscape and materials of the square cumulate the heat. The square has certain flows of traffic and we are analyzing this traffic of people, vehicles and other movements. Here we are cooperating with the Slovak Governance Institute. They provide a crowd sensing application that we adjust for our specific research questions.
The ideal would be an expert panel that afterwards will interpret our data collection and use it for interventions on the square. We want to hand in our results to the municipality and hope they will create a competition for the redevelopment of this space. The city is an official partner, so we need to cooperate in order to achieve the best results.
It is about the understanding of the function of a space. Don’t create a space and then assign a function. Instead, explore – whom will it serve and what is possible to do there, what kind of rights do people have in a given space and who is responsible for its administration?’
What brought you into this realm?
‘I am a lawyer by training. As a PhD student I researched crowdfunding and other innovative financial models. This is about the participatory aspect, about when it comes to a crowd. My motivation is the realization of the huge potential hiding in alternative financial models. They make sense for many micro, small and medium enterprises, so I want to make them work. The combination with my interest for IT and ICT, so information and communication technologies, helps making these financial models to a viable alternative.’
Where would you locate the Market Hall in terms of “activist bottom-up initiative” and “city top-down project”?
‘It started in quite an activist way, but was organized very professionally from the beginning. The resources were scarce, so we had to handle them carefully. There was a deal with the city: They would rent the vacant space of the Market Hall for one euro per year. In return, we have to invest 120.000€ per year for the maintenance of the building. The deal also includes the re-activation and maintenance of the public function of that space. To cover the biggest part of these costs we rent out the location to private purposes. This permits us to offer it without any profit orientation towards culturally valuable participants. So in fact, I don’t feel necessarily activist but just do what I consider correct to do. It was a proposal to the city to reactivate this first under- and later unused space.
If you really want to sustain, you need to be professional! It is about being less activist, less noisy, but instead working your way gradually and thus sustainably. However, we certainly don’t want to be boring. But you should not lose energy by making too radical jumps — this often leads to disappointments. We try to work within the system, explore its limits. We don’t strive for revolution but evolution. An evolution that adds value to the existing structures.’