Green Action: Friends of the Earth Croatia

Zagreb-based Green Action, Croatia’s largest environmental NGO, celebrated its 20th anniversary on January 22. On the same day, its activists, along with those of the Right to the City (Pravo na grad) initiative, temporarily occupied part of Zagreb’s pedestrian zone, due to be turned into an entrance ramp for an underground car park, for several hours.

The car park, planned to accommodate 400 vehicles, is part of the Cvjetni project planned by Hoto Group (a Croatian corporate group), along with luxury flats and a shopping centre set in a sterile temple of glass and steel, slap-bang in the heart of Zagreb’s already heavily congested old town. It is expected to lead to complete traffic chaos in the surrounding streets, as well as destroy part of the pedestrian zone and deny the possibility for its much-needed further expansion.

The project is also tarnished by the unmistakable whiff of corruption, with the city authorities declaring it to be a project of public interest on the flimsy (and no longer truthful) grounds that there would be a passage from one side of the block to the other. Taxpayers are paying for the construction of the entrance ramp in spite of unprecedented opposition from various groups, ranging from architects’ associations to youth organisations and the Lower Town local district council.

The campaign has already lasted for three years (see Carbusters #31) and has formed a focal point for much of Green Action’s work on urban mobility during that time. Far from being a single case, it is one of several similar projects planned in Zagreb’s city centre, where it was previously forbidden to construct public car parks due to the resulting congestion.

The campaign has focused on a combination of relentless use of official procedures, such as spatial plan changes, meticulous media work involving a wide constituency of respected figures to critique the project and propose alternative investment priorities for Zagreb, and public actions, including civil disobedience and direct action where necessary. One of the key principles has been to concentrate on challenging the city and state authorities rather than the investor – as they balance the public and private interests. Another crucual point was not to use up all the action ideas at once, but to carefully pace the activities.

On February 10 the campaign attracted its greatest attention yet, when a demonstration gathered around 4,000 people. (read more about this in the action report on page 9.)

There are now two official bodies which could stop the project: the Zagreb city assembly and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Spatial Planning and Construction. However, both are trying to evade responsibility and the next few weeks will tell whether they will finally stand up and do the right thing.

The evolution of this project will have a great impact on other planned projects in Zagreb and indeed on the whole governance of the city. In any case the campaign, in combination with other political developments, has already borne fruit. In the coming months, there will most likely be another change of the Zagreb General Urban Plan and there is a good chance that the ban on construction of new public garages in the city centre will be reinstated. This would stop plans for the construction of several new public garages. In addition, the project has shrunk, as Hoto Group was unable to buy one of the existing buildings; the project has been massively delayed, providing a disincentive to other investors to act in a similar manner; and the composition of the city assembly has changed to be more critical of the mayor.

The challenge now is to build on the momentum, not only to stop the project but to make long-term changes in Zagreb’s corrupt and antiquated spatial planning system.

More information:

Pippa Gallop

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