December 1, 2023

Placemaking Europe

Creating a democratic community via placemaking in the post-occupation context

by Iurii Hranovskyi, Veronika Mol and Andrii Batin

What is Nashe Place about?

The “Nashe Place” project aims to revitalize public places that were neglected or destroyed due to the Russian-Ukrainian war. The focus of the project is not only on building a certain place but also on co-creating this location together with the community. The team comprises more than ten people, including architects, urban planners, designers, and even an artist. This allows us to see the project from different perspectives and provide maximum benefit to the community.

The project idea was born during the consultation between urban planners and a Ukrainian business, the construction company RDS. The hypothesis that formed the basis of the project is that placemaking helps people restore horizontal connections, and therefore returns ownership and support to war-affected communities. Having a beginner’s mind, the team went to explore Makariv,a small town in an hour’s drive from Kyiv and the administrative center of the Makariv community. In March 2022, the Makariv community stood in the way of Russian troops to Kyiv, finding itself under occupation for terrible 33 days.

So far, together with the Makariv community, the team has created the following solutions:

  • a vision of the development of the entire Panskyi Park in the town.
  • an architectural concept of the riverfront in the park. two soft solutions: an exhibition aimed at reimagining the occupation experience (together with constructions) and a multifunctional amphitheater. You can read more about these solutions on the project website.

Just in time: why placemaking is relevant

When we started the project, a full-scale war with Russia had been going on for a year. At that time, there was a trend in Ukraine of prioritizing efforts related to the army and critical infrastructure, while other projects were postponed until victory. However, our experience shows that placemaking is highly relevant and worth the effort, even during the war.

The demand for support has gone up, and the means of getting it have gotten worse.

“During the ongoing war, the demand for public spaces has surged as people find themselves increasingly fatigued. We need more support and human connections. Yet, in the communities that have been freed from occupation, even the basics are lacking. The Russian war has destroyed many amenities that were left after the Soviet occupation and the following thirty years of independence,” shares Iurii Granovskyi, facilitator, designer, and urban planner. For Iurii, this is a signal that placemaking has become even more important.

Effective reconstruction of Ukraine requires a united community.

Due to Russian aggression, many communities face destruction. In Makariv, more than 40% of buildings and 60% of infrastructure were destroyed. And effective reconstruction requires a united community. “A community becomes united when its members identify with the locality, comprehend how to collaborate and negotiate effectively. This is crucial because waiting for assistance is not the current need; instead, there’s a call to come together and take initiative,” believes Andriy Batin, designer, and urban planner.

We need to learn to be respectful of the experiences of others.

War is not a monolithic experience. In Ukrainian society, people have different traumatic memories. Some serve in the army, some are in the occupation, some have fled from a burning house, etc. “This happens even at such a close distance as Kyiv-Makariv,” artist Veronika Mol says, “because the people in Makariv were in occupation, but those in Kyiv were not. The “Nashe Place” project and the discussions it initiates help establish a dialogue format where the community can reach a shared understanding, recognize each other’s needs and experiences, and approach others’ perspectives with respect.”

Beginner’s mind and frugality: specifics of work in a war context

Working on the creation of a public space has not changed significantly due to the war, but the focus and trends have shifted a bit.

The team has encountered a critically high need to remember. “We need to understand, that old, often Soviet scenarios and methods of memorialization do not work anymore. This is a crisis situation for Ukrainian society — it is necessary to invent something completely new, a new typology of space. For example, the space for commemoration can become a garden,” believes Iurii.

There is also the need to document the terrible experiences that the community has gone through. “I spoke with the community representatives at one of the facilitation sessions and realized that the wound of the occupation is still raw. Therefore, we realized that the Makariv community was not ready for an artistic interpretation. At the moment, they needed to witness their experience as is,” shares Veronika. As a result, a documentary exhibition was proposed and held. Many representatives of the entire Makariv community were involved in the collection of materials. So, the initial archive of photos grew approximately three times.

Another need that has been identified is about balance, specifically the balance between the fact that life goes on and people need rest and celebration, while at the same time, they remain in a war context. “There is a demand for a new modesty,” says Iurii, “that is, such a rest that respects the wider context.” Those norms of behavior also still need to be understood, and a new social contract is to be established.

Modesty or even frugality is becoming popular in design as well. “Yermylov’s design, which means obtaining the maximum benefit from a minimum of resources, fits well with war conditions. This approach can result in minimalistic and expressive designs that require only a minimal budget,” says Andriy. Also, due to the simplicity of the designs, they can be easily repeated without special skills.

There are also complications in project implementation. “My biggest insight is that you need to think better about involving the community in placemaking and allocate separate resources for it,” Andrii shares. In times of war, residents are expected to have many other concerns and need additional motivation. “Nashe place” will continue to work with this.

Of course, working with people who have survived war actions and occupation requires sensitivity. “I started communication in a state of beginner’s mind. That is, I honestly admitted that I do not understand at all what these people experienced,” says Iurii. “And, paradoxically, it is precisely this recognition of the difference in our experiences that allows us to communicate and work with trust and respect.”

In the de-occupied territories, where it is still easy to come across the effects of war — from dilapidated buildings to holes in the asphalt or mines in the nearest forest — the memory of the war becomes an integral part of the creation of a public place. In such circumstances, co-placemaking tools offer opportunities not only to rebuild place, but also to restore community spirit and unity.

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