Prešov and urban commons: a few words with Peter Formela
Edited on10 February 2021
Prešov's project manager Peter Formela introduces the involvement of the Slovakian city in the Civic eState Network and how they are working to recover an abandoned public space
Inteview by Matúš Žák
The main goal of the Civic eState transfer network is to transfer and reuse an example of good practice that has already achieved results in the city of Naples and subsequently adapt it to the environment of the cities that have joined the network. In this sense, the City of Prešov decided to take part in the project to re-design the former "City Oasis", a small but remarkable public space near the city center.
This interview to Peter Formela, project manager for Prešov's URBACT Local Group, was prepared as a summary of their work during the first two phases of the project, i.e. how Prešov's team prepared to enter the project and how they implemented it, provided individual tasks and developed a system based on the experience transferred at our group's transfer meetings.
More than 15 years ago, the European Union introduced the URBACT Operational Program, the main aim of which is to enable European cities to work together effectively, exchange experiences and best practices between cities across Europe. How did you hear about this operational program?
The opportunity to participate in the URBACT project was presented in various ways, through URBACT - Slovak contact point http://urbact.eu/urbact-slovenska-republika, but the offer was also presented within the membership of the city of Prešov in one of the commissions operating at the Ministry of Transport of the Slovak Republic, which after a short time we reflected on and perceived as one of the forms of our integration within the framework of pan-European urban cooperation. Although we know that several cities in Slovakia have withdrawn from this project, we still perceived a positive benefit for our city.
Transnational networking is a key activity of the URBACT Operational Program, through which European cities seek common sustainable solutions to current economic, social and environmental problems. Could you please tell us how you joined one of the network types? What type of transnational network is it?
The city of Prešov cooperates on several transnational projects and establishes international cooperation with partner cities, which are the basis for successful solutions or projects beneficial to all interested partners. In the URBACT Civic eState project, we try to activate community entities within participatory activities aimed at the use of abandoned or unused real estate, we work with experience and good examples from the practice of our partner cities, which are Naples, Barcelona, Gdansk, Amsterdam, Ghent and Iasi, Romania.
What challenges did the City of Prešov face before entering the Civic eState transfer network? What is your main goal within the project?
In general, it can be said that in the past the city of Prešov devoted itself to a minimal extent to projects based on the active participation of communities, which was publicly and openly presented to the city of Prešov in the initial phase of the URBACT project. It was difficult to gain trust, to lay the foundations for effective cooperation in order to achieve the project's goals, to find the right path and way to follow it. Perhaps this was the reason why we continued this project to gain a chance not to repeat the mistakes and to lay new foundations for effective cooperation, based on proven ways of participation that have been "tried and tested" in other European cities.
The main mechanism of the URBACT Operational Program is the application of a two-phase approach, which is used primarily to improve the objectives set and to form the final partnership. What did you manage to achieve during the first 6-month phase of the project?
As we have already mentioned, the first big question, which we managed to solve thanks to our partners, was to set goals that depend on specific conditions in individual partner cities and to adapt them to our capabilities, which are in accordance with applicable Slovak legislation and administrative procedures at the level of territorial self-government of the city of Prešov. A great benefit was and is the cooperation with the University of Prešov, with which we signed a Memorandum of Cooperation on this project in the first phase.
How is the cooperation with other European cities going? Which example of good practice from the partner cities did you find inspiring?
Representatives of our partner cities received us as a "learning" member extremely friendly and welcoming, in a very short time we helped each other to identify many important factors for solving local issues in a given city, meeting cities of different sizes. with different conditions and different legal levels of competencies that they can use in project preparation. We were extremely lucky that our Lead Partners and experts were so passionate about Neapolitans, full of enthusiasm, willing to pass on the experience and help find solutions, whether you are a small Prešov or a huge Barcelona. The level of participation of some cities is at such a high level that there were many moments that were inspiring for us. The cooperating University of Prešov helped in the evaluation of possible goals and risks of the city of Prešov, but after raising awareness of participation in this project, other communities also joined our URBACT Local Group.
The "URBACT Local Group", which brings together all stakeholders, is a key element of the operational program. How did you set up it? How did you work together?
In view of the previously mentioned, the creation of the ULG member group was probably the most difficult task, as the initial mutual mistrust did not allow to build a strong working core from the beginning of the project. After the accession of the University of Prešov to the project, we also gained the partial trust of some new members and a basic five-member management core was created. The current pandemic situation came into play, and the creation of the expansion of the membership base slowed down again. We solved this by preparing a competition within the local festival of architecture and design FEAD, where we promoted a design competition for creativity for the implementation of activities in our selected space - the former City Oasis - as a form of open call. Already during the preparation of this competition, despite the crisis, our group expanded with other new members.
How did you implement the activities within the second phase of the Civic eState project? What have you accomplished to date?
So far it has been more or less about planning, solving and adapting processes. At present, real work is beginning to work with communities in the form of active participation of the city's citizens, as we go into the phase of implementing the first pilot activities based on our preparations from the first phase.
What specific results do you expect from participating in the Civic eState transfer network at local and transnational level?
Expectations have been significantly reduced during the current situation with the spread of CoViD-19, but we cannot afford to stop working and discard some of the successes achieved so far, which means great progress in addressing the common issues of the project. First of all, it is the launch of a project aimed at finding the optimal and sustainable use of a selected deserted area in the narrower center of Prešov. Secondly, we will work on the preparation and setting of all processes so that they can not only be verified within the project, but then applied to other projects in the future.
How would you like to continue to use the knowledge gained after the end of the project?
The task of the project is to build an administrative scheme, ie a process that will be applied in similar cases in the future, and to test this scheme in at least one pilot project. We firmly believe that, despite the significantly limiting procedures within the territorial self-government, the model we create will be functional and, if necessary, will eventually be transformed directly into the city's governing legislation.
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