1989-2019 CEE urban transformation revisited: city visions, self-made transitions and alternative development models

Urban transformation of post-socialist cities, as envisaged by national and municipal governments, was from the start marked by the ambition to move away from ‘compromised’ solutions of the past into the bright ‘European’ future with the Western city positioned as an ideal model of this transformation (Young & Kaczmarek, 2008). Instead of facilitating those ambitions, the early transition period, however, reinforced informal and makeshift urban solutions. In particular challenging economic context, legal loopholes and uncontrolled privatisation processes reinforced phenomena such as: spontaneous commercial activities (Vasilevska et al., 2015), self-built construction and self-made housing extensions (Hirt, 2012; Salukvadze & Golubchikov, 2015) and/or growth of informal settlements (Tsenkova, 2009). Consequently, some aspects of the urban transformation in CEE resembled trends occurring in the Global South rather than in Western Europe, with variety of ad-hoc and add-on structures (Grubbauer, 2015) representing a form of "confused eclecticism" (Hirt, 2008). These phenomena, nowadays overlap with the remains of the previous era, that is, the "frozen mirrors of socialism" (Sýkora & Bouzarovski, 2012: 45), as well as the outcomes of the private and public sector led planning processes.

This panel invites papers, which explore these phenomena from diversity of disciplinary, methodological and institutional perspectives. Those may include citizens' responses ranging from resistance, formalisation or transformation as well as public sector’s responses such as eradication, integration or passiveness. Examples of interesting themes include (but are not limited to): self-managed (housing) developments and extensions, informal trading, appropriation of common and public spaces, different forms of ‘adjustment of urban patterns’ (Jacobsson, 2015: 11) or the creation of new symbolic landscapes. The panel encourages papers, which build parallels with the processes occurring beyond the region and the conventional conceptual frameworks shaping the discourse on post-socialist transition. Simultaneously the session seeks to investigate process occurring beyond mere physical structure: therefore, contributions that explore “an inextricable link between social and material changes” (Hirt, 2012: 39)



-Grubbauer, M. (2015). “The nadogradnjeas a mode of urbanism” in Quadflieg, Sven and Theune, Gregor (eds.) Nadogradnje: Urban Self-Regulation in Post-Yugoslav Cities. Weimar: M BOOKS. pp. 93-110.

-Hirt, S. (2008) Landscapes of Postmodernity: Changes in the Built Fabric of Belgrade and Sofia since the end of Socialism. Urban Geography, 29(8), 785–810

-Hirt, S. (2012). Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatisation of Space in Post- Socialist City. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

-Jacobsson, K. (Ed.). (2015). Urban grassroots movements in Central and Eastern Europe. Farnham: Ashgate.

-Salukvadze, J., & Golubchikov, O. (2016). City as a geopolitics: Tbilisi, Georgia—A globalizing metropolis in a turbulent region. Cities,52, 39-54.

-Sýkora, L. & Bouzarovski, S. (2012). Multiple Transformations: Conceptualising the Post-communist Urban Transition. Urban Studies, 49(1), 43-60.

-Tsenkova, S. (2009).Self-made cities: In search of sustainable solutions for informal settlements in the United Nations economic commission for Europe region(Vol. 9). United Nations Publications.

-Vasilevska, L., Milanovic, D., Nikolic, M., Vranic, P., & Milojkovic, A. (2015). “Garage capitalism” as a form and process of post-socialist urban changes: Its pace, intensity and structural characteristics. A case study of Nis, Serbia. Habitat International, 48, 149-158.

-Young, C., & Kaczmarek, S. (2008). The socialist past and postsocialist urban identity in Central and Eastern Europe: The case of Łódź, Poland. European urban and regional studies, 15(1), 53-70.

Session chairs:

Dr. Sonja Lakić, Independent researcher, Banja Luka, Bosnia Herzegovina;   

Dr. Sonja Lakić is an internationally trained architect, urban designer and planner. During her PhD studies at Gran Sasso Science Institute – GSSI Social Sciences, her research focused on the relationship established between the homeowners-managed DIY illegal practices of apartments transformation and the socio-political context, in particular with the post-socialist process of transition in the medium-sized former Yugoslav cities. In her research she generally seeks to grasp the new reality and understand how is transition lived and experienced by the new social category of the homeowners.


Jakub Galuszka, Faculty of Architecture, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany;

Jakub Galuszka is a doctoral candidate with a background in urban planning and sociology, currently working as a coordinator of the Wits-TUB Urban Lab project at the Chair of International Urbanism and Design - Habitat Unit. Before joining the Habitat Unit he worked and conducted research in Poland, the Philippines, Georgia and South Africa. He published in journals such as Environment and Urbanization, Planning Theory and Town Planning Review.

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