“ZapazeteBedechka” (“Preserve Bedechka”)
Today urban spaces are contested in-between the pressure of development interests and their value as serving the common good. Essentially, this is a classical story of public vs. private but the story of “Bedechka” park also includes the issues of nature vs. urbanity, normative controversy and fragmented society. It is a story about the willingness to fight for democracy and the ambition of reinforcing the belief in local communities through the practical, human-centered ideology of placemaking.
Town of Stara Zagora, part of Southeastern region of Bulgaria
The case of “Bedechka” park in Stara Zagora is a decades long story of civic struggle for preserving a green area of more than 300.000 square meters - well known in the media. Finally, a new general town plan was adopted recovering the green regime, however the risk of a “frozen conflict” is real. The “Bedechka” story features numerous typical issues of urban spaces across Bulgaria due to the controversial restructuring processes after the communist regime. The latter has caused firm urban development contradictions, in the concrete case - between the owners of the former agricultural properties, the municipal authorities, local residents and civic activists. All these stakeholders have been engaged in a controversial process regarding the park for already two decades.
As the priority intention of the project is to incorporate a maximum number stakeholders in the process of re-establishing “Bedechka” park, we are planning to connect further the informal actors (local community, people living nearby, NGO sector, active citizens, different vulnerable groups) with formal representatives and property owners into a collaborative framework through the engagement approach of placemaking. This will happen on three major stages, as described below. Process like this will ensure enough time and opportunities for all stakeholders to participate actively in order to find a common solution for the park. We aim to engage about: 250 people in the placemaking process, 25 property owners, the mayor and municipality council, 25 000 people that are aware of the project.
To undertake and execute our initiative through the practical and human-centered approach of placemaking. Тhe power of democracy will be revealed as people re-discover their capabilities to shape the urban environment! That said, the envision approach incorporates few main steps:
(1) Collective vision - incorporation of more stakeholders in shaping park’s area, through series of public dialogues and thematic events to encourage input and, respectively, engagement.
(2) Collective rehabilitation - co-creating or improving specific places within the park through a physical involvement of citizens.
(3) Collective future - long-term strategy plan and knowledge sharing; this activity will be on-going from the very beginning of the project realisation and emphasised further as it progresses.
The project fits the programme’s objectives as it aims at empowering local civil groups, incl. vulnerable ones. The town would get a cleaner and safer park, owners would obtain an extra opportunity to partner with local authorities to find a resolution to the present normative issues. By active involvement more locals will appropriate the park as their own and maintain it as a pleasant place to use. Environmental activism as a movement will also gain popularity and strength by including more supporters. Based on the long history of civic action, the creation of a collective long-term programming for park “Bedechka” will assure an additional sense of belonging, care and empowerment. Last but not least, a guide - roadmap, describing the process and lessons learned from it will be published.
The initiative’s major intention is to incorporate a maximum amount of stakeholders in the process of re-establishing “Bedechka” park as a space with a common value. This is an ongoing process but we are planning to connect further the informal actors (local communities) with formal representatives into a collaborative framework through the engagement approach of placemaking. The initiative will pursue its main goals as simultaneously ‘produce’: 1) physical improvements of key locations within the park - co-creating specific places and 2) practical strategies to negotiate and overcome normative challenges.
By employing this action plan, our team intends to deliver tangible results of the active collaborative actions within the long-term strategic framework.
Our struggle to keep the park is a decades long story. We overcame obstacles to reach the present where we almost ensured а ‘green’ future for the park. This is our personal fight and this is why we believe that the realization of this idea could be the turning point for the municipality to understand the importance of the park for Stara Zagora and its citizens and to start expropriate private property in order to keep park “Bedechka”. Within the wider scope, we really believe that by provoking local actions, residents will become more engaging and initiative regarding public issues around them. This will respectively make our own surroundings, communities and cities better, while the demanding battle for democracy and common good progress as a deeply satisfying endeavour.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Travel and accommodation costs - 3000 EUR
Materials - 20 000 EUR
Personnel costs - 12 000 EUR
Communication and dissemination - 6000 EUR
External experts and events - 6000 EUR
Unexpected costs - 3000 EUR
Some expert know-how from partnering and coaching organizations will be welcome - in order to create a “roadmap” for assisting local authorities in the process of compensation to owners. Some advice is needed to form another “roadmap” - for applying our experience in other places in Bulgaria.