Readers of this blog up to now might note that whilst it has been undoubtedly urban, its examples of subversion have been quite subtle and discrete. So, to redress the balance, and because I’m heading back to Zagreb this weekend, I present to you Pravo na Grad – Zagreb’s Right to the City Movement, which is one of the most explicitly subversive examples of urban activism you could ever wish to find.
It will become apparent very quickly that I absolutely love this campaign and have enormous admiration for the people who have organised and participated in it over the last 5 years or so. Indeed in many ways it sets the standard for what I mean by subversive urbanism. The key ingredients are that Pravo na Grad:
# Was concerned with protecting public space against commercial and political incursion.
# Transformed righteous anger into cool, effective action.
# Employed wit, humour, originality and creativity in its methods.
# Avoided aggression or direct confrontation with the forces of oppression.
# Successfully scaled-up its constituency from a hard core of committed actors to a mass movement.
# Appealed on different levels to a broad cross section of people.
# Had real impact and led to real change.
Pravo na Grad (PNG) grew out of the concern of people in Zagreb, and other parts of Croatia, that they could no longer trust their politicians to act in the interests of the public good, in the management of important pieces of urban and rural land and infrastructure. Most Croatians were prepared to cynically accept this, shrug their shoulders, keep their heads down and get on with living their lives. What else could they do? The wonderful thing about PNG is that it didn’t just point out all the things that were bad about Croatia and complain about them. It’s not even that they managed to turn some of these negatives around, although they did. It’s wonderful because it put into the hands and heads of a mass of people both hope and the power to change not just the political figureheads but the system. Over a period of five years they succeeded in changing the public mood, the political climate and, ultimately the law in Croatia, but it started from very humble beginnings and could at any stage have gone horribly wrong.