The capital of Macedonia, Skopje’s development has been top-down and disconnected from citizen needs. Neo-baroque buildings and monumental sculptures constructed under the Skopje 2014 project earned the city the nickname “the capital of kitsch,” while public spaces and infrastructure important to everyday life have been neglected. Green spaces in the center of Skopje declined by over 50 percent since 2010, and air pollution shot up. Skopje reached an unsavory distinction: one of the most polluted cities in Europe.
Team Skopje worked to made these issues visible and motivate citizen action for change, through a set of creative interventions in a city center park.
The Actors team goal was to draw attention to Parc de la Francophonie in the Centar through urban art actions in such a way that the residents and the municipality would realize its value and protect it. They also sought to demonstrate ways citizens could get involved to affect the city’s future development.
The activists worked to make visible the essential role of green space in recreation and air quality in Skopje. One of their first urban art actions included a “mountain air booth” and information displays to help residents visualize the dangerously high concentration of fine dust particles in the Skopje air.
The overall goal was to draw attention to the role of green spaces in determining air quality and pressure city decision-makers to action on pollution.
A playful street light installation called “She and He” drew hundreds of couples and Skopje media coming in droves to take photos. Another large-scale installation that sparked dialogue: a 2×2 meter large bird’s nest on the sidewalk at an intersection close to the park, along with the critical question: “Where will our birds nest when we cut down all the trees?” Many of the art pieces have gone viral on social networks, spreading Team Skopje’s messages about ecological issues and community-driven solutions.
A survey of park users and a debate conducted by Team Skopje revealed the desire by residents for a skate park, a chess table and to renovate an amateur football field, projects that all moved forward with the financial support of the municipality. Such changes allowed residents to seeing the park as theirs, changeable through their voices — this supported Team Skopje’s efforts to build a culture of local stewardship for the park.
The sense of ownership by the community emerging from the collaboration process has helped cooperation to protect the park from future construction.