Discovering the Optujska barracks in Varazdin
An Open Day to involve citizens in the reappropriation of the former military area.
by Ema Grdan
Varaždin's Urbact Local Group has intensified its engagement, working with new vigour since the second stage of our MAPS project commenced. After the kick-off meeting that was held in Varaždin at the end of June 2016, the new and larger ULG organized its first meeting and workshop in the following month of October. The local group includes stakeholders from every colour of the spectrum in Varaždin’s community, involving representatives of institutions, organizations, NGOs, universities, cultural associations and also individual citizens and members of the local neighborhood Council. The workshop has identified not only the basic problems related to the former military settings on the urban territory, but has also pointed out their causes, presenting many ideas as a possible solution. All the proposals and the overall atmosphere were very constructive and positive, which gives the project team a fair amount of optimism for our work in 2017 and 2018.
The ULG has identified two key matters: the question of ownership and management of the complex on one hand, and the lack of knowledge and interest by general public on the other.
At present, the complex is owned by the State and is being managed by The State Property Management Office (DUUDI). "Throughout Croatia - say the ULG members - there is an immense quantity of dismissed properties, for which no plan, vision or strategy have ever been shared. Local communities face many difficulties in their pursuit to reform the inefficiencies deriving from this situation and are asking for the ownership to be transferred to City and County levels. The City of Varaždin hopes that once the Integrated Action Plan is completed, this could give us a very important addition to our case in negotiations with the Government, due not only to its integrated and sustainable approach, but also to the way in which it may emphasize public interests in plans of revitalization of this very large and very important space".
"On the other hand - the ULG members add - what we can successfully tackle right now is the lack of public interest, which is a result of the fact that the site has been isolated for decades from its immediate neighbourhood on the western edge of the city. Moreover, after losing its military function at the end of Nineties, it has become even more obscured in the memories of Varaždin citizens, although parts of it are regularly used by a few associations and institutions for a diverse set of activities. Bearing in mind the success of a previous similar iniative we organized in February, we believe that an open doors or open gates day is a very effective method to present the “Optujska” former barracks complex to a wider public. A visit to the site can be very useful to inform citizens that actions have been undertaken in order to revitalize the whole area, but it can help us also to inspire them in becoming part of the process before the next ULG meeting takes place".
The latest Open Day event was held on the 5th of November. The program included guided tours throughout the complex, with information about its past, development, former use, current state and the challenges awaiting ahead. The citizens, which showed up in hundreds, had the opportunity to meet some of the current users of several buildings in the barracks, and attended a very interesting lecture on the Croatian participation at the Architecture Biennale in Venice, based on three revitalization projects for old, disused or unfinished settings in three Croatian cities, that will be turned into public cultural spaces.
Another public presentation of the military site in Varazdin and the Maps network was held at the headquarters of the local association of architects on November the 8th. More about it can be read at the following link:
The national Urbact Info-day for Croatia was organized a few days later in Zagreb, on the 15th of November:
Last but not least, a video about the Open Day at Optujska barracks is on line on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/hz56qr6JwKE
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