Bucharest is (in)famous for its vast number of large housing complexes around the city built during the communist era – between 1965 and 1989 approximately 450,000 new apartments were built. During less than 20 years, the city has dramatically changed, the number of inhabitants doubled, many of them coming from the rural areas, and the city area grew by almost eight times (studioBASAR 2010). Despite certain similarities with big social housing developments in Western Europe, the origins and character of the communist blocks differ radically. They were not meant for economically disadvantaged people. They represented quite simply the only type of new housing. Hence such blocks were inhabited by everybody (except the establishment), from workers to intellectuals or policemen. The modernist social-mix dream thus came true only in the absence of any other alternative (Ghenciulescu, S. & Goagea, C. & Vöckler, K. (ed.) 2009).
We could not miss visiting one of the housing blocks, so we decided to visit the Drumul Taberei neighbourhood, which was recommended to us by local architects. Drumul Taberei is a typical socialist panel housing estate built between the 1950s and 1970s in the south-west of Bucharest, considered to be one of the few successful examples thanks to its concept of high-density urban living.
We took a bus from the city centre and after half an hour we got off on a busy street, bordering the Drumul Taberei neighbourhood. We went through a narrow path leading through wild greenery between two blocks, The trails were lined by benches, but the seatings were removed so no unwelcomed users would loiter there – therefore people usually sat on the fence. The more we were going inside the neighbourhood, the quieter it was. During our walk, we always had in mind the atmosphere described by the architects from the CișmiCivic group and the curator of the Rumanian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. They were right when saying that in the past, more kids used to play and hang out in the in-between spaces, appropriating the urban furniture such as the carpet hangers. Nowadays, children play in the defined playgrounds, all the other open areas are occupied by cars and it does not feel safe. Cars park everywhere, in any possible space – on the grass (if it is not protected), on the sidewalk or even in a painted traffic island in the middle of the road. Basically each piece of grass is fenced off, in some cases to protect it from pedestrians, but usually more effective against the cars; putting up fences is a good business in Romania. A typical street profile is: wall – greenery – fence – sidewalk (with parked cars) – road – sidewalk (with parked cars) – fence – greenery – wall. Although it was forbidden until recently to step on the grass in parks, it is still acceptable for cars to be parked on the sidewalk, and for pedestrians to walk on the road.
“A collection of individual places are floating on a neglected ground. This ground – the public space of the city is used, consumed intensely and, in rapidly changing ways, bits of it are continuously snatched. Thus, islands of order, neatness or even luxury are contiguous to wastelands. There still are rules, but which are all the time bypassed or ignored. The public domain has become a battleground of interests and signs and doesn’t seem to form a coherent system anymore. I think we can, therefore, speak about the territory of the city as an archipelago of private spaces.” (Ghenciulescu, S. 2010)
After a while and crossing several four lanes road, we needled through the housing part and reach the central park, which is again under construction after the inauguration in 2015. It gained new landscape homogeneity, modern infrastructure and many playful features – amphitheatre, piers, bridges, flower beds… But the most breathtaking element is the huge cable-stayed half-arc footbridge spanning over the pond (but not actually crossing it) offering panorama views from its top. It feels very trendy and welcoming and according to the number of visitors also a favourite place for walking, playing or sitting on one of the benches. But it needs to be mentioned, that even here many rules apply – it is not allowed to swim in the water, bike or skate in most of the new footpaths or step on the grass in some places. In comparison to the in-between spaces among the houses, the park attracts many residents of the neighbourhood. Most of the expenses of the 30 hectares park rehabilitation, in total 18 million EUR, were covered by the EU funding. Even it is a public park, our impression was that the public body treated it similarly as individuals act in public space – everyone claims its private use(s) and do not take into account the community needs or wishes. Here as well, we thought that the investor did not take into consideration the residents’ ideas and did not incorporate them into the design of the park, a typical top-down project. The huge investment into the “trendy” park does not correlate with the deteriorated condition of the open space in the rest of the neighbourhood.
On the way to the tram, we smelled the aroma of freshly baked bread and heard voices. Later, we discovered a local centre with different services, such as a doctor, pharmacy or pet shop, but especially a food market. It proved that the Drumul Taberei is indeed one of the well-functioning neighbourhood with its lively centre and urban infrastructure.
studioBASAR (2010). Bucharest: The State of Uncertainty. In studioBASAR (ed.): Evicting the Ghost. Architectures of Survival. Bucharest: Centre for Visual Introspection / pepluspatru Association. p. 108–112
Ghenciulescu, S. (2010). Non-public. Urban Space in Bucharest after 1989. In studioBASAR (ed.): Evicting the Ghost. Architectures of Survival. Bucharest: Centre for Visual Introspection / pepluspatru Association. p. 175–183
Ghenciulescu, S. & Goagea, C. & Vöckler, K. (ed.) (2009). Magic Blocks: Scenarios for socialist collective housing estates in Bucharest. Bucharest: Zeppelin