Arts and cultural activities, Youth participation and empowerment

Danube Design Lab shortlist

Vocational school students lead placemaking to restore the connection between Ruse and its river


Who is behind this?

Ani Kodjabasheva

The Collective Foundation


Who is joining forces?

Pencho Milkov, mayor of Ruse


Professional High School for Construction, Architecture and Geodesy "Penyo Penev"


Professional High School for Apparel "Nedka Ivan Lazarova"


Another partner is the Professional High School for Woodworking and Interior Architecture "Joseph Vondrak" ( Тhe principal, Mariyana Garkova, agreed to collaborate with us.


Idea pitch

In Ruse, deindustrialization has left the river detached from the city, while career and social opportunities for youth have diminished. The Danube Design Lab empowers socially excluded youth to change their environment. With help from mentors and in dialogue with officials, vocational school students design public space that opens the riverfront for people. Students learn how to find allies to realize their vision, and they become social entrepreneurs who activate urban and civic development.

Where will your project idea take place?

Ruse, northern Bulgaria

What is the specific societal challenge faced by this region?

Limited social and job prospects cause youth alienation and migration: in 2010-2016, nearly 10% of people aged 15-25 left Ruse. Trade school students, in particular, are even more excluded from public life and professional development, and they distrust local institutions. The system of vocational schools no longer adequately corresponds to the labor market. Despite their skills these students face obstacles in their career paths; they need more mentorship and they lack civic competences, according to a EU report (CEDEFOP, 2018). Ruse is left with disconnected, untapped resources – including the rundown historic River Station area and alienated working-class youth. The Danube Design Lab employs placemaking as a creative mechanism to integrate them both into the urban and social fabric.

Who are you doing it for?

The project brings vocational school students into dialogue with officials to reconnect the river to the city and to create public spaces that activate civic life.
We focus on students from vocational schools. Compared to their peers, they are more likely to drop out and they lack mentorship and civic competences, according to a 2018 EU report. Their unrealized skills and potential are a loss for the town. Our meetings with Ruse’s Mayor and Chief Architect show officials want to engage these students, but the town’s programs do not reach working-class youth.
At the Danube Design Lab, students will collaborate with officials in a series of workshops. Students will receive guidance on policy and urbanism, and they will enter into debate with officials to find viable, sustainable solutions.

How do you plan to get there?

The Danube Design Lab generates placemaking solutions to activate the River Station area by empowering youth to take the lead. Trade school students collaborate with local officials, while Lab experts in architecture, urbanism and PR act as mentors.
• We promote the Lab in target schools. We have arranged with principals to go into classrooms to spark motivation among students. At least 25 participants are selected, observing gender diversity.
• Participants are assigned to teams with peers from other schools and take part in a series of collaborative design, PR and fundraising workshops.
• Students work on reviving the River Station area, using materials already secured by us.
• Officials meet with the teams to discuss work in progress. Ruse’s mayor is very motivated to participate. Students also pitch their projects to businesses to secure extra funding, and they take part in the PR campaign so they can learn all aspects of placemaking.
• Final projects are publicly exhibited, presented and discussed.
• Projects are realized with help from participants and volunteers.
Through this process, students become social entrepreneurs. Our plan is that Design Lab alumni then coach the next cohort of students who will create more interventions along the river. We expect the Lab to foster a local culture of placemaking, and we plan to replicate it in other cities on the Danube.

What are the expected results?

The Danube Design Lab impacts two issues whose solutions reinforce each other: lack of connection between the city and the river, and lack of civic cohesion. The River Station area becomes an active public space rather than a rundown, passive landmark. Vocational school students work side by side with officials to change their environment, and mutual trust increases. Disadvantaged students, institutions, the private sector, NGOs and the wider public unite around a shared goal. Unlike other urban renewal projects in Ruse, the Lab uses collaborative placemaking, not top-down design, so social engagement and cohesion increase. The Lab’s impact extends to civic education: socially excluded youth learn through practice that they can transform their city and they become social entrepreneurs.

How does your idea strengthen active citizenship at a local and community level?

Placemaking is an established process of collective urbanism which is rarely practiced in northern Bulgaria. At the Danube Design Lab, we coach youth in this method and empower them to get their voices heard and their ideas implemented in the city. Students work on multidisciplinary teams and take decisions together. They also learn policies and processes for collaborating with local authorities. A multichannel PR campaign invites diverse segments of the public to the Lab for discussion. People can share feedback both on-site and online; different opinions are taken into account before implementation. Using the river as a link and youth as the catalyst, the Lab improves urban and civic cohesion. Students and the public learn that urbanism can be practiced locally and from the bottom up.

Why is this idea important to you?

- Born and raised in Ruse, Ani is a specialist in architectural history with experience in marketing and communications. She graduated from the University of Oxford and, as a teaching assistant in New York, she completed a fellowship in inclusive pedagogy.
- Martin is a landscape architect raised in the Ruse region. He has worked on urban regeneration projects and led multidisciplinary urbanism workshops across Europe.
- Vladimir and Krasimir of Raynovski Architects are experts in design and construction with extensive experience in urbanism projects.

The team leaders are part of the youth that left Ruse and we are eager to use our experience to give back to the community. Building on our established relationships in Ruse, we want to empower the next generation to transform the city.

€ 35270,-

Total budget

€ 29170,-

Funding requested from Civic Europe

Major expenses

1. project management - 12 864 EUR
2. communication, PR and publicity - 2 360 EUR
3. workshop series - design, civil engagement, policy, fundraising strategies, social entrepreneurship - 7 780 EUR
4. architectural documentation and drawings - 2 740 EUR
5. public exhibition and online discussions - 3 426 EUR
6. placemaking materials and construction expenses - 6 100 EUR - already secured by us.

What do you need from the Civic Europe community?

Please let us know what you think and any steps that can make the project more successful!


Ani Kodjabasheva

Martin Yankov

Idea created on April 20, 2021
Last edit on April 26, 2021

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