The Rise of Alternative Practices in Urban Development

Marko Peterlin

By Marko Peterlin, on February 19th, 2015

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In many European countries, traditional planning approaches are facing various problems. In the more developed countries, spatial and urban planning is often characterised by over-formalised procedures, whereas in the less developed countries, the authorities responsible for spatial and urban planning are often unable to regulate private and other particular interests in favour of the common good. Moreover, resources available to local authorities are typically very limited and have been generally decreasing over the last few decades.

In addition, the disadvantages of the dominant neoliberal model of market economy have become evident in the last years as well. This has triggered the evolution of alternative production, management and economic models of considerable diversity, which have significant impact also on urban development.

 Collaborative Spatial Practices

Various concepts have already described urban initiatives, arising from these alternative models: »DIY Urbanism«, »Tactical Urbanism«, »Hands-on Urbanism«, »Lighter-Quicker-Cheaper«, »Transition Towns« or »Sharing Cities« are only a few concepts that deal with similar urban practices. These alternative approaches to urban development are usually self-organised, initiated from the bottom-up, led by informal groups and managed commonly, communally or in collaboration with users. Local communities, residents, representatives of local economy as well as local NGOs usually play a crucial role in these collaborative spatial practices.

In Slovenia, Institute for Spatial Policies – IpoP , as the coordinator of Network for Spatial Development, connecting NGOs in the field of spatial and urban development, has set up an editorial team to gather more knowledge and spread the word about such initiatives. Some of the most interesting examples were compiled in a publication Prostori sodelovanja (“Spaces of Collaboration”) and a dedicated website


“Spaces of Collaboration” deal with a wide variety of collaborative spatial practices within seven themes: co-mobility, housing communities, bottom-up regeneration, temporary use of space, coworking, local economies and urban gardening. Although interesting cases appear within all themes, a few cases are particularly illustrative.

One of them is Beyond a Construction Site (Onkraj gradbišča), a community-based garden intervention in a degraded urban space in Ljubljana, long-fenced-off as stalled construction site. It was initiated by Obrat Culture and Art Association in collaboration with residents of the neighbourhood and other interested people. The project enhances and promotes possibilities for urban gardening as well as a more active inclusion of inhabitants in decision making about the planning, development, and management of the city spaces.

Onkraj gradbišča julij 2011 - Foto Drago Kos

Another such case is Poligon Creative Centre. Poligon unites communities, which operate in the fields of creative economy, social entrepreneurship and culture. These communities have developed as a response to the economic downturn and increasing precariousness of young professionals. Poligon is an autonomous platform for non-profit and for-profit project development with an agenda to empower the self-employed. It animates a formerly empty space in a degraded area of abandoned industrial complex and failed real-estate project Tobačna in Ljubljana.


The editorial team sees collaborative spatial practices as a very positive phenomenon for several reasons. They enable improvements in neighbourhoods through small steps that are generally considerably cheaper than traditional planning approaches. They typically employ a participatory approach to planning, implementation and management. They also prove that changes are possible and within reach: in contrast to the alienated and long-lasting formal procedures. For these reasons, collaborative spatial practices contribute to a higher quality of life in cities.

In further blog posts we will explore more examples of collaborative spatial practices in Slovenia.

By Marko Peterlin and Petra Očkerl, IPoP

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