Local Community Centre as Utilitarian, Governing and Social Space

The Case of New Belgrade CMZ

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The paper studies local community centres (Serbian: centar mesne zajednice - CMZ) of post-war mass housing neighbourhoods in New Belgrade. Those were designed and built in 1970s as multifunctional centres with facilities and programmes complementary to the housing blocks: socio-cultural, commercial (grocery stores), daily services (post office, bank, crafts, etc.) spaces for socio-political activities and office spaces for the local community. The local community centres significantly increased quality of life of the residents, liveability and socialisation in the neighbourhoods. Furthermore, one of the main aims of these spaces was to enable actual realisation of the self-management in local communities. This paper reflects on the ideological and theoretical basis for their conceptualisation, referring to Edvard Kardelj, one of the main ideologues of self-management and originator of the local community concept in Yugoslavia. Moreover, the paper investigates: how the local community centres were planned, designed and programmed, and how they were spatially integrated in the existing residential blocks; how their organisational and governing role has been neglected over time, and their main purpose altered; and what are potentials and socio-spatial capacities for their future reuse. Reaffirmation of local community centres as utilitarian, governing and social space is recognized as key for promoting participation and collaborative governance in New Belgrade blocks, as well as for improving social connections, solidarity and sense of belonging in these neighbourhoods. As such, the local community centres could be one of the main factors of revitalisation of the blocks, increasing vitality and improving quality of life of the residents. Furthermore, the local community centres could have a major role in unlocking the potential of institutions and individuals towards new effective urban governance structures, as well as institutionalising citizens' participation and bottom-up governance as direct democracy in the city today.