The economic crisis of 2008, brought an abrupt end to a period of unfettered optimism. Suddenly confronted with a collapsing real estate market and the collapse of the financial institutions it had once relied on, cities faced a situation where the very fabric of its existence was unravelling. Vacancy had begun, and while not unique to the city of Budapest, it’s position at the very edge of eastern Europe is also indicative of its position in the progress of economic recovery. The ruthless self preservation that exposed itself in the frantic aftermath of the crisis had left Budapest behind, suffering at the whim of more powerful economic powers with more mercenary interests in the development of the city. Left to it’s own devices, the situation of vacancy in Budapest has reached a critical point. The continual fragmentation of the urban fabric, coupled with the sustained neglect of vacant properties in the core of the city has made it economically prudent for investors to focus elsewhere for potential development.
In early 2013, Wonderland in cooperation with KEK organized a competition and workshop entitled Urban Vacancy, to challenge international teams to come up with model solutions for vacant sites around the city. Selected teams of participants were gathered together in a workshop to discuss not only the situations that led to the condition of vacancy, but more importantly to determine why vacancy has persisted and what can be done to counteract it’s effects. The workshop commenced with a degree of expediency as the city of Budapest has allocated funds specifically for interested municipalities in collaboration with NGO’s to renovate vacant sites around the city. Suddenly what ostensibly began as a response to the aftermath of the economic crisis became an opportunity for the radical reconsideration of traditional models of development.
The week long workshop progressed with a mutual understanding that in order to ensure the diversity required for the revitalization of the vacant properties, it was vital to create the infrastructure and framework to involve the local community in the process. Throughout the workshop, various social groups came forward with proposals to renovate and occupy these vacant sites,. Though many of the groups had difficulty making a sound economic case for the sustained occupation of the sites, the needs of these groups highlighted an underlying shortage of community spaces in the city.
A proposal was made, to not only consider the individual needs of these social groups, but to use the renovated sites as a key part of a strategy to address the broader issue of vacancy. By pooling their resources together into the creation of diverse community rooms distributed throughout the district, the social groups not only create economical models for community properties, but they also create social hubs that bring activity into the district.
Following an agency model, the district would support a local agency directed by representatives from the community. This local agency is tasked with the creation and operation of these social hubs, which bring in the critical mass of traffic and activity to make occupation of the surrounding vacant sites viable. The agency is also better equipped to deal with the administration and logistical support of potential occupants in the area, providing the tools required for sustained development in the area. This approach to vacancy not only provides the framework for a diverse and durable model but integrates community and social activities at it’s core. Serving not only as the impetus of the revitalization, but as a vital part of the community for generations to come.
[Social functions activate communities - community activities help locals regenerate district life]