ПК 5500 // 2015

shrinkage // urban regeneration // post-socialism // activation // action research // production of wishes // engagement // ecological restoration

ПК 5500 was a self-initiated project in Lovech, Bulgaria, developed together with Tinka Legvart and Ana-Marija Vasicek under the guidance of Barbara Holub, Christina Schraml, Daniel Aschwanden and Herwig Turk, and in cooperation between the University of Applied Arts Vienna and Lovech municipality. It was provoked by the process of regeneration of a former military barracks site in the town. It consisted of a series of artistic interventions during a one-week visit by social design students and professors on site. The actions employed creative tools for engagement with the local community in an attempt to reveal the wishes and reconstruct narratives wandering around the city. Ultimately, the project addressed issues of self-organization, readiness to cooperate, civic engagement and participation in decision-making about the urban environment.

The political changes of 1989 in Bulgaria were followed by a weakening economy and decrease in population and de-industrialization in many regional cities. Lovech is located in the northwest region, characterized by the lowest economic development, the highest unemployment rates and rapid outmigration. Instinctively, when faced with the consequences of urban decline, a return to growth is often sought after. In an attempt to rebrand shrinking cities, a common formula has emerged combining tourism, creative industries and the knowledge economy. But in the case of Lovech, such efforts are doubtfully fruitful in a community marked by pessimism and inertia, and conditioned by everyday survival. Positively reframing shrinkage and decline would mean embracing the town's smaller scale and population and focusing on creating a good quality of life and adequate opportunities for its residents. It would involve obliterating the borders between rural and urban life, based on a combination of existing resources and traditions and contemporary lifestyles.

The future potential of the military barracks site lies in its transformation into a multi-functional public space where exchange between generations and cultural groups is encouraged and supported by mutually enjoyable activities, creating positive communal experiences. By creating opportunities for learning and growth and active participation in the community at all stages of life, the soil would be cultivated for the long-term benefits of a stronger social economy, employment, rising value of property and attraction to investors.

Inspired by the wishes expressed by the local community and the force of nature reclaiming the space over the years of disuse, we worked towards a vision based on strategies of ecological restoration, cultural regeneration and historic preservation through staged development and temporary use.

In June 2015 we were invited to present the project in the small town of Oberwart (Austria). In the frames of the exhibition „Junge Kunst“ local and international artists and students at the University of Applied Arts Vienna dealt with the question of the oppositions and intersections between art and design. With OHO's annual focus on social design in rural regions, a discussion was initiated about potential regional development projects in cooperation between artists and local interest groups.

Photos by Daniel Aschwanden, Jan Phillip Ley, Ana-Marija Vasicek and me.