ArgumentNo. 13/2021

/We Sit And Think – A Manifesto Event. A Dialogue on the Necessity of Public Spaces in Bucharest

https://doi.org/10.54508/Argument.13.23

  • / PhDc. in anthropology, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Sociology and Social Assistance, Bucharest, RO

Abstract

It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished. (Whyte, 1988)

Designing public spaces in which the urban atmosphere can be truly felt (with particular reference to squares and streets) has not been a priority in the urban design of Bucharest. Attention to the details that transform a given space into one that is suitable for leisure activities has been superseded by investments which focus rather on commercial functions. In Whyte’s vision (1980), a high-quality urban public space presupposes, among other elements, the creation of conditions that foster socialization and the community spirit, that take into account climate and environment factors and that are in permanent contact with city life.

The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 in Bucharest favoured the discovery of the city unconcealed by commercial spaces. During the intervals when hospitality establishments were closed partially or entirely, the city residents “conquered” new spaces (public squares, green areas, streets, etc.). This

context facilitated the start of a dialogue on the need for a versatile built space, which can fulfill several functions simultaneously and allow the unimpeded access of all users.

The initiative of the event /We Sit and Think, launched by the Samizdat editorial team, in partnership with the Active Urbanism Assocation of Bucharest, developed from the observation of these deficiencies in the capital. The project proposed a way of rethinking the human-space interaction

by bringing into the limelight the inhabitants’ need for such “urban oases” and focusing on the finding of feasible and versatile public seating solutions.

The event We Sit and Think is organized by Samizdat and Urbanism Activ Bucharest and draws attention to the importance of well-designed urban public spaces for recreation and socialization, to the need for high-quality public seating in the city and the diversity of materials from which it can be constructed. The event aims to inspire civic initiative groups and involved citizens to produce such benches and chairs in their communities, as an experiment of social interaction and a form of silent protest against the disinterest of the public administration in the public spaces of the city (We Sit and Think, Manifesto, 2021).

The project was initially supposed to take place on Intrarea Sibioara in Bucharest (which would have been pedestrianised for the duration of the event) and in the courtyard of the National Museum of Romanian Literature. Yet, due to the safety measures imposed by the pandemic, the project was

carried out in a mixed format, both online (with live broadcasts) and offline (restricted to the number of participants admitted by Covid regulations), in three locations and with three different timespans and different artists at each location. Thus, the public could attend performances by The Craft, Nadina Stoica and Sebastian Stoici in the portico of the “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urban Planning; by Anastasia Gavrilovici (with Gura Mare and Lucia Prodan) at the National Museum of Romanian Literature; by Atelier Kairos and Grupul de Inițiativă Civică at Sala Palatului and by Radu Pandele, Emil Ghiță and Anca Vintilă Dragu at the Sandwich Gallery. The choice of a mixed, online and offline, event was the only one possible in the current context; the aim of the event, namely to gather the city residents in public spaces, had to be adjusted to the circumstances.

As for the concept of the project and its initial version, in which the chairs were to be placed in the public space to make them usable by the passers-by, I consider them beneficial to the city and to the setting-up of a dialogue with the authorities on viable (albeit still incipient) ways of relating to

urban spaces.

The strong points (related to the event) were firstly the organization of a project competition, mainly aimed at the students of the architecture and urban planning faculties, yet open to students from other fields, on the theme of remodelling some streets as community spaces. Secondly, a preliminary

survey of 100 people, which attempted an examination of the non-commercial spaces in which Bucharest residents spend their leisure time is to be appreciated. The results of the survey have been published (Stancu, 2020) and will provide the premise of subsequent events in this series. The main problem of the event is that the designed chairs will be eventually destined for galleries and commercial spaces, which slightly deviates from the purpose of their construction. The following editions of the event will have to take into account the possibility of creating far more versatile seating

areas. “Fixed individual seats deny choice. The designer is saying you sit here and you sit there. This is arrogant of him. People are much better at this than designers” (Whyte, 1980, p. 121).

This type of events should have far greater resonance in civil society and such initatives should be supported so as to contribute to the shaping of a city whose versatility fulfills the needs of as many of its inhabitants as possible.

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References

  1. Whyte, W. (1988). City: Rediscovering the Center. New York: Doubleday
  2. Whyte, W. (1980). The Social Life of Small Urban Places, Washington, DC: The Conservation Foundation
  3. Stancu, S. (2021). ,,Am întrebat 100 de bucureșteni” ce și-ar dori de la orașul lor, Revista Samizdat. Disponibil online: https://samizdatrevista.com/am-intrebat-100-de-bucuresteni-ce-si-ar-dori-de-la-orasul-lor/

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