CANactions
Architecture and Urban Planning in Romanian Cities
Interview with Tiberiu Ciolacu and Benjamin Kohl

Architecture and Urban Planning in Romanian Cities
Interview with Tiberiu Ciolacu and Benjamin Kohl
Tiberiu Ciolacu and Benjamin Kohl are partners in the German-Romanian collaboration office Planwerk, based in Cluj (Romania). They are also the senior mentors of the new educational program of CANactions School "Integrated Spatial Planning for Amalgamated Hromadas". Before the start of the Program and their lecture in the framework of CANactions Public Program Tiberiu and Benjamin shared their thoughts on what is the specifics of urban planning in Romania, what is the focus of Planwerk activity, as well as their expectations of being involved in the Educational Program Team of CANactions School.
СANactions: What are the specificities of urban planning in Romanian cities?

Tiberiu and Benjamin We could name three basic factors, which influenced urban planning in Romania after 1990, without them necessarily being country specific:

1. A process of administrative and political decentralization. The disappearance of public planning departments and institutes led to professional outsourcing;

2. Privatization of decision making against the backdrop of emerging markets and of weakened public supervision over initiative and resources;

3. Import of professional know-how and guidelines along with legislation reform, especially after joining the EU.

What are the difficulties of the work of architects in redeveloping post-socialist environment?

Many of the recurring difficulties are related to the official framework that we are working in:

* representatives of local administrations are often less than perfectly prepared and overworked;

* norms and laws are in a process of constant alteration, leading to a lack of predictability and affecting especially long term development projects;

* the civil society is only slowly gaining self confidence;

* real estate developers are calculating with high rates of return of investment and are oftentimes not aware of their responsibilities for users / buyers and the environment, both built and natural.

On a more human level, almost all architects we know suffer from a constant hurry to finish projects and the need to drastically adapt solutions overnight, due to various reasons described above.

What is the reason for the efficient land use being the major and constant theme of Planwerk's work?

At the beginning of the 2000s, the natural post-socialist enthusiasm for house ownership and investment, combined with a rather permissive legal framework and boosted by a short lived economic boom, triggered a process of high land consumption. Large agricultural surfaces surrounding cities were turned into building land for (mostly speculative) new estates, with little regard for ecology, for later developments or for the

necessary infrastructure, while large inner city areas stood empty. The dramatic increase of car ownership was inflicting a huge pressure on the inherited infrastructure and led to the extension of surfaces dedicated to car traffic inside many cities, on the expense of public space.

This was the background on which Planwerk started its first studies for the cities of Cluj and Sibiu. As a response, we tried to understand, adapt and later apply in practice strategies and tools, which could assist both the public administration and private owners in managing land resources.
What are the tools for establishing efficient land use?

Efficient land use is a well-known component of any sustainable urban and regional development and became, as such, a key principle in the European strategic documents like The Leipzig Charter or the Toledo Declaration.

Applying these principles is of course a matter of context and scale, but it is basically centered around recycling inner city land resources as a mean of protecting green field territories and reducing land supply. In addition, by using land wisely, planners and administrations can provide a better living environment both inside and outside cities. This is an equally valid approach for all scales of planning and even for design.

Density is often marketed as a safe way to sustainability, which is only true if it gets balanced through social, spatial and environmental qualities.

How developed is the culture of public discussion of various projects and territory development plans in Romania?

Participative planning is at its beginnings. Very often still, planning and administrative communities see public debate as a rather useless and costly task, forced upon them by the European Union. In fact, the obligativity of involving the public in urban planning, enacted in 2010, was lifted by the government four years later.

On the other hand, many local authorities voluntarily choose to continue applying the procedure. Some cities even actively promote and encourage dialogue as an integrated part of the whole planning process. The municipality of Cluj, for instance, introduced a few years ago a participatory budgeting process the results of which, even if unspectacular, are encouraging.

Citizens also became increasingly aware of their rights and their responsibilities when it comes to preserving and enhancing the quality of their living environment. The many excesses of the real estate bubble of the 2000s had an important effect on society as a whole and on citizens of larger cities in particular.
What are the mechanisms for involving representatives of local self-government and just residents of certain territorial units in the work on territorial development projects?

Beyond the formal procedures of informing the public about ongoing projects, collect and eventually integrate the feedback, we witness citizen initiatives of various amplitudes and shapes taking place more and more often. Today, NGOs, interdisciplinary workgroups, or simply resident communities are reacting to or sometimes even positively initiate projects in their cities or neighborhoods. We think the key element in triggering such processes is the transparency of decision making and the free circulation of information, concerning both the projects themselves and the rights and responsibilities of citizens affected.

Moreover, one should not forget the political capital such an open policy could gather. Mayors start to discover the potential of festivalizing urban development and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
You have been teaching architecture design and urban regeneration studios at the Technical University of Cluj for more than ten years. What is the focus of your teaching methodology? What is important for young professionals in the field of architecture and urban planning today?

Compared to technical, functional and especially aesthetic skills, communication continues to be an undervalued component in the academic training of future professionals. Students and young architects often find it difficult to analyze, to discuss and to integrate multiple interests in their work. We have tried to lower the focus on formal questions and to stress the importance of understanding and including context – built, social or cultural – into the design process. This would be primarily achieved by good communication, in both directions, with the surrounding realities and with a large range of people and communities.

You are the senior mentors of the program "Integrated Spatial Planning in Amalgamated Hromadas" of CANactions School of Urban Studies. What do you expect from this experience and how do you see your mission there?

We are excited about our involvement in the program and we are thankful for the opportunity of exchanging expertise and questions on topics that are both familiar and new to us. Mutual learning through international collaborative work is what brought Planwerk to life in the first place and we hope to be able to extend this experience in the context and to the benefit of the Hromadas.
Text: Olena Vozniak