Program Exchange Assistant Coordinator, Clubture Network
Upper Town in Zagreb has the challenge of many civic center districts: it lacks vitality after hours when the government workers and tourists go home. The large number of administrative buildings, cultural and educational institutions and historic landmarks has shrunk the living space for Upper Town residents and limited content for everyday life.
LIGHT IN PLACES questioned the identity of Upper Town: its heritage, its current and future growth potential, the content and quality of urban space, the relation between the residents and daytime users and the functionality of the neighborhood.
The Mjestimice svjetlo/Light in Places Festival in Zagreb, Croatia, illuminated issues in Upper Town’s public spaces, using temporary light-based interventions.
Team Zagreb’s goal was to involve residents in a conversation about how public space in the district could be transformed. They asked neighbors for their input, and used that as the starting point for choosing festival locations and the urban problems that needed to be ‘lit up.’ The team issued an open call to artists and led guided walks through the district, bringing together prospective artists and local residents. These walks ignited the spark for collaborations on artworks that offered new perspectives on neglected public spaces: designing temporary light swings for a park without any infrastructure, or opening up a run-down gallery space that had been closed for years, serving only as a museum storage space.
Light installations drew the public eye to certain disadvantages in Zagreb’s Upper Town, and suggested solutions to improve the urban landscape.
These interventions were unveiled to all of Zagreb during a three-day festival of lights. Huge crowds gathered nightat to see the five installations – swings, trees, gallery spaces – and many returned with their friends. Guided tours led by Actors and artists fostered discussion of the issues and potentials of the spaces. Hundreds of neighbors contributed and attended, and thousands more came to take in the scene – people from all over Zagreb who usually wouldn’t spend time in Upper Town. After the success in the first year, Team Zagreb helped plan and run a second edition of the festival in the following year.
Residents took huge pride in their involvement in the production of the festival. Collaborating with the local municipality in the process, they learned the tools to be involved in the creation of their environment.
The project sparked re-engagement of the whole city with their public commons. The local inhabitants started thinking anew about spending time in the public spaces of the neighborhood. Citizens of Zagreb got to know Upper Town as a place worth visiting even if you are not a tourist. The local municipality learned what kind of changes are possible with engaged residents.