June 30th 2014, Transylvania, City of Udvarhely
In this Granite Garden, a communist dream, people walk everywhere; it is a one square kilometer area. They meet, bond, hate and forgive each other. This is a big Granite Garden Neighborhood , where human scale and way of living was defined a long time ago. Blocks, like matchboxes pile on top of each other and next to each other. These 4-6 level tall blocks were set as human scale. But one should not be mistaken: people live here with style; have comfort against the limited space and mundane design. Places, homes are tidy and clean. Most apartments have central heating, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, microwave and other kitchen electric apparatus, computers and TVs, even flat screen TV. They are the ‘refurbishers’ and ‘reusers’. What the West throve out they reuse, repair and even sell. Some are making successful legal business or just some pocket-money on the side. There are second-hand shop clothing stores like Salvation Army, Goodwill in every third block. These stores are pretty ephemeral. Ownerships change fast, but people make a living out of West overusing and over shopping habits. What they do for living works, it is a hard job to remain here.
They learned to use the limited space smartly. I used to feel as a burden coming from this side of town, somebody who committed something unethical just by being born here. Felt ashamed, ugly by not growing up in one of those houses with nice garden and backyards. My window looked down to these houses, only a one-way street away is the Garden City. My block is the first in this Granite Garden Neighborhood.
But let not judge too fast. I realized people here know each other, connected; places are walkable and beneficial for everybody. There is everything that people might need here: a center, green spaces, bars, restaurants, playgrounds, gas station, grocery stores, couple of schools, pharmacy, dentists, hair dresser, churches, and two small fresh markets. The list is not even complete. It is not picturesque, true, but practical. It works. This Granite Garden supports a way of living that reduces sprawl; shows that people can transform places and make it their home as a community. As a planner I do not have to reinvent the wheel but show respect and learn to see what this community can teach me. The neighborhood is pretty green, rose bushes, flowers, parks and lots of playing children showing something here works, what does not work in many American neighborhoods. Even the most rich neighborhood streets are empty, or just seeing couple kids having a routine walk while they parents supervise them. And those neighborhoods are pretty and green. Here parents feel safe sending a six-year-old buy a bred at the store and let children under 10 play by themselves. These children connect, play and make lifelong friendships. This is what I did 20 years ago; children still do the same today, next to video games and TV. Parents know they children are safe and the whole community is watching out for them, not just for they safety but how they act and they even educate them on the street. Streets, block-backyards are important because these children connect to the world and being part of a community for the first time. Even adults need streets where they can feel involved and be a part of something bigger, a community. America needs to revitalize streets, because kids need them, adults need them.They need freedom in a safe environment and not being locked in a car alienated from people who are the “strangers”. These “strangers” are me and you. We should not let some bad person keep away us from our streets, from our neighborhood and live alienated from our world.
This example shows that we can live respectfully in poorly designed areas but also learn that design is crucial for a new development and let not commit the same mistakes what 70`s communist planners did. People wish for better planned environments and they show the need for it by beautification efforts, even small ones, but it is here. We cannot demolish these neighborhoods but we can embrace them instead of ignoring them. My conclusion is that the post-communist reality is not all bad, people are adjusting, embracing the new and they learn to be the planners of they own environment. They need time, let be patient.