New Urban Topologies

Urbanism and society

New Urban Topologies in Chișinău

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On 13–15 October 2010 Färgfabriken jointly with its Moldovan partner Oberliht carried out an extensive program on urban topologies in Chişinău for city hall representatives, architects, urban planners, students and other interested participants. The aim of the initiative was to identify ways to strengthen positive values and transform challenges facing the city of Chişinău.

Meeting Chisinau
The starting point of the project New Urban Topologies (NUT) in Chişinău was a seminar in the City Hall. At the opening, the Swedish Ambassador to Moldova, Ingrid Tersman underlined the importance of an elaborate participatory process within the fields of architecture and city planning. The involvement of the people is the major challenge for planners, and a great opportunity for citizens to influence the future, she said. Chişinău’s Vice Mayor, architect Nistor Grozavu, stressed that the city need to pay more attention to the environment and the use of renewal energy. The transportation system needs to be developed and more parking lots included, he said, adding that another important topic is the preservation of the historical structures.

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Involving more citizens in the planning process, as women and children, was another issue he found essential. The founder of Oberlicht, Vladimir Us explained how public spaces did not represent any value in the Soviet system, and that they after 1991 were taken over by commercial and political interests, which in turn has created a continuous excluding of the city dwellers. This is the reason for Oberliht to operate in public places and try to encourage participation at these sites, he said.The director of Färgfabriken, Joachim Granit, spoke on the projects of Färgfabriken and the history of Sweden, from the 1800s urban slums to 1960s massive housing projects to the segregation of today. NUT project director Thomas Lundh explained the working methods of Färgfabriken, which are focused on gathering of different kind of professionals for an exchange of experiences and ideas. Niklas Svensson from the City Planning Office in Stockholm spoke on the challenges and benefits of the city’s population growth, the planning tradition of Stockholm, the present structure of the planning process and future projects that will take place in the city. Mohamed El Abed from The Office of Regional Planning in Stockholm talked about the successful technological systems of the region, but also its lack of housing and problem with segregation. He also underlined the importance of preserving green spaces and the creation more meeting places for people of different background. Bojan Boric from The Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm described the structure of the school and how it relates to urban design and planning. It is essential that the students learn how to read and present cities and that they are taught about the connections between the local and global level when it comes to cities, he said.

Travelling through public space
The second day, the participants visited a number of areas, places and monuments throughout the city in order to generate a discussion and new thoughts within the group. The route included 15 sites that had been picked by Oberliht with the aim of showing a wide spectrum of what the city of Chişinău is today. The excursion included an open space for contemporary art on a public square occupied by parked cars, a memorial complex in the shape of rifles from the Soviet times, informal spaces for street art in the city’s periphery, multi-storey Soviet buildings, urban gardening, and new residential luxury housing.

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After the 15 sites were visited, a group discussion followed at the location of the last stop, Centro 73. The Moldovan participants were asked to contribute with topics and issues for the workshop the coming day, and most of the partakers did add a topic or question. On the basis of the presentations, the informal discussions that had taken place earlier and the suggested topics Färgfabriken and Oberliht summarized it all into three themes: Public Space for People; Ecology of resources; City of History – Looking Into the Future.

There is a lot to discuss!
The discussion on public spaces spontaneously led to the case of the main public square in the center of Chişinău, Piaţa Marii Adunări Naţionale. The team members concluded that the square today is very monumental, empty and uninviting––a space of politics, monuments, control and security. They perceived the square as a space that is difficult to access because of the wide roads in front and around it. I was also stated that any sorts of protests are not allowed and that only the government stages the cultural events that occur on the square. The participants were bothered by the presence of the commercial billboards that could be seen from the square. The subsequent discussion and sketches presenting the alternative spatial proposal reflected the need for making the square more public and to allow diverse public functions including music, public art, sport activities, free wi-fi internet, and cultural events that could happen more spontaneously and whose organization would include people of Chişinău.

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The group that focused on the ecology of resources came to discuss the relation between the green structures and their surrounding areas and how these interact or not. Riscani Park, located in the northeast part of the city, was picked as an example. The team members proposed that this green space should be preserved and further developed into an area that the city dwellers can use and be proud of. Today, only parts of the park are used, which allows new constructions to be built on its unused grounds. This was something the participants sought to prevent. The recommended strategy included a protecting edging of ecological villas, a cleansing of water for urban fishing and a new meandering road crossing the park, which would connect neighborhoods and constitute an attraction itself. The team members agreed upon the statement to use the economic forces to develop the park and the surrounding areas. The affluent people that would live in the villas and the tourist visiting the park would function as the “guardians” of the park, the group argued. In line with this, central values for Chişinău were discussed. The city has been known for its large amount of green belts and parks. As the present pollution and many centrally located industrial areas make it hard to market the city as a sustainable and “green”, the group came to the conclusion that Chişinău could be internationally promoted as “The Forest City".

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The group that focused on the historical city and its prospects for the future came to analyze many aspects within the theme. One focal point was architect Nicolae Ischimji’s proposal of a reconstruction of the street grid in the old town, which was destroyed by the construction of two main boulevards built after the Second World War. Another suggestion was to arrange architectural competitions, which, according to the group, does not take place in Moldova at the moment. This strategy could be used to support a more diverse architectural scene in Chişinău. Students should also be encouraged to participate in international competitions. The team members also saw the need for contemporary buildings that could interact in a better way with the historic parts of the city. Further suggestions included an aerial cableway for public transportation and a renewal of the areas surrounding the river Bic, where new boardwalks and a transformation of the mainly unused plants where vital parts.

A city grown in the forest
One of the important subject matters that came out of NUT was that a successful path in making Chişinău attractive to its own citizens and making the city appealing to foreign visitors might go hand-in-hand. The city needs cultural centers as well as better infrastructure. According to Mohamed El Abed, the city of Chişinău has a market value that combines the profile as a "city grown in the forest" as a way to draw tourism which at the same time could function as protection of green spaces for the city dwellers. the young people of Chişinău have a strong desire for an extended dialogue between citizens and decision makers and a greater transparency within processes of architecture, city planning and urban design. As Bojan Boric put it, "the issue of public space reflects the nature and the degree of development of democracy in every society".

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Participants and contributors in NUT Chisinau:

Moldova: Oberliht, The City of Chişinău, The Agency of Inspection and Restoration of Monuments, The Moldova State University, The Romanian Culture Insitute, ISP Industrial Project, Chişinău ecological map, Digger phenomenon, Squatting movement and several independent architects, students and citizens of Chisinau.

Sweden: Färgfabriken, The City Planning Office in Stockholm, The Office of Regional Planning in Stockholm, The Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm, Embassy of Sweden in Moldova.


The text is an shortened, and partly re-written, version of the report "New Urban Topologies Chisinau" by Rebecka Gordan.