Serban Oncescu (Asociatia Civicus Romania) visits Tiago Castro (4iS – Platform for Social Innovation) in April 2017 in Aveiro, Portugal.
Portugal has many things in common with Romania – Latin origin, a history of authoritarianism, they even produced the same type of all-terrain vehicle for a period of time. So, having met Tiago during CitizensLab meetings and hearing about his activities linked both to active citizenship and art, I took the chance of visiting him in order to see how things are done their way.
The project Tiago is engaged in deals with involving the local community in claiming and transforming an abandoned urban space. Citizens were approached in informal and formal meetings, local businesses, authorities and other stakeholders were also involved. The meeting place was provided by one nearby entrepreneur free of charge, after realising the advantages the restauration will bring to his business. So was the warehouse in which the locals themselves produced the furniture that are now turning a former city void into an outdoor living room. Local cafés hosted informal meetings and spread news about activities. Although the project was completed, locals are still activly involved in maintaining the outdoor furniture and taking care of the minigarden. The results are not only a better looking space instead of a dump place, but also in an art-filled corner in which people are spending their free time together.
My trip started as a total antithesis: I left a rainy, cold and dark Bucharest with stressed people, just to find eight hours later a sunny Aveiro with relaxed people doing things calmly. Though their challenges are similar to ours, it seems public authorities are more aware that their job is to serve the community. At least they respond to civic matters in a less forced manner. There seems to be no need to threaten with legal action in order to get the authorities involved. Rules and regulations are not the focus.
Exploring Tiago’s project I found out that things can be done without stress, at a local coffee shop, around a table, making people feel at ease with their ears open, involving and bringing them together in the process with other stakeholders – shop owners, officials, business owners etc. Also, I found out that too much action in one step can drive people away from civic action and wear them off. So, do not rush, otherwise you lose people along the way!
So, I took with me some detachment and brought it back to Romania. I promised myself to take a distance from the stress and bring some peace of mind to our association’s approach. We already discussed about implementing some DIY/DIT projects in the neighborhoods of the 6th district of Bucharest and started identifying stakeholders. As a first action, we intend to organise an open air DIT coffee place, where people can bring broken home appliances and repair them instead of throwing them away. It will both get people out of the houses during the warm season and help them to socialise.
Serban Oncescu is a civic activist and president of Association Civicus Romania. He dreams of an inhabitant-friendly city, without pollution and hate.