“A commons-based society refers to a shift in policies and values away from the market-based system that has dominated modern society for the past two hundred years, with a particular vengeance in the past thirty. A commons-based society would place as much emphasis on social justice, democratic participation, and environmental protection as on economic competitiveness and private property. Market-based solutions would be valuable tools in a commons-based society, as long as they do not undermine the workings of the commons itself.” -- Jay Walljasper, 2010
The concept of a commons-based society seems tempting to explore in the context of Budapest, the capital and largest city of Hungary. Hungary’s modern history is defined by a Communist era lasting from 1947 until 1989. Since 1989, the country has been governed as a democratic parliamentary republic, and is today classified as a high-income OECD member. Nevertheless, many Hungarians express concern about an uneven distribution of wealth, the loss of social values, solidarity or life quality in general and generate or substitute their income by informal economic activities. According to the OECD (2011), approximately 20 to 25% of the GDP is generated in the informal economy and specifically the social economy is very strong, embracing a wide range of community, voluntary and not-for-profit activities. Social economic activities are not registered nor accounted but legal and don’t harm the regular economy.
In Budapest, the economic activities are contradicted by large amounts of unoccupied office or retail spaces that we intend to reanimate by what we call “Buda-Land: A Social Network Economy (SNE)”. At the core of our proposal stands the creation of a central network organization that focuses on promoting the urban social economy. The organizational platform will be developed (1) to inform about types of businesses and their activities; (2) to communicate available work and office spaces; (3) to link young ambitious offices to potential partners as well as financers; (4) to set up a network needed for the entire operation of the social businesses, such as employment, shop design and construction, purchase of raw materials needed, sales assistance, waste management etc; (5) to promote and create exposure for products of the network businesses; (6) to assist in legal issues regarding business operations or the necessary spatial transformations of business locations; and (7) to promote and develop a juridical framework with adequate policies and regulations based on new modes of governance with a multi-stakeholder approach that has at its core the local bottom-up initiatives (this could include forms of self-regulation by network organizations or legislation on working safely at home). Buda-Land could be managed by the Contemporary Architecture Centre KEK or the Municipality of Budapest with financial and organizational support of international agencies, public institutions, universities, the private sector, NGOs, and representatives of the local SME and other bottom-up activities. It will create its own logic and physical manifestation in the city; it will redefine the character of three case study sites called Szervita Ter, Metro Skala, and District 7.
Szervita Ter: Although situated in the heart of Budapest right next to the municipality offices, the upper floors of this office building are currently vacant. As an interim use, we propose a gradual transformation into a “creative factory”, including the offices of the central network organization itself. Functioning as a central HQ of the SNE, the individual floors can be subdivided into small and affordable office spaces for start up companies. All kinds of creative and social businesses will be promoted; new alliances will be shaped in-house. The building serves as a forum to find business partners from Hungary or abroad. The individual spaces can easily be refurbished or sub-divided, affordability secures a high level of occupation (and vice versa). The interim uses will take care of building maintenance and upgrade the value of the property as a desired location. Private companies could finance the renovation of the building and support start ups financially in exchange for getting shares of the business, receive tax reductions on this CSR investment, and have the opportunity to look for potential employees, consultants and service deliverers among this motivated and inspiring group of young professionals. Inside of the building, shared facilities like meeting rooms and showrooms will provide the necessary infrastructure; outside of the building bridges and escalators can create better access to the upper floors and emphasize the new uses of the building in the heart of town. Besides the already exiting uses on ground floor, a cafe and urban meeting point can be included. A roof top bar with a roof terrace and sky lounge can stimulate uses after office hours in this area dominated by office activities, putting Szervita Ter on the Budapest map as a new location to go to.
Metro Skala: The empty upper floor of this former department store Metro Skala will be transformed into “The Hub”. Functioning as a multifunctional event space with good accessibility by metro, tram and train lines, this location will be made available for the SNE as a place for weekly food fairs, seasonal art fairs, concerts, fashion shows, or other exhibition necessities defined by individual businesses (like those from district 7). Inside of the building, a series of flexible and prefabricated exhibition pavilions can be rented at low cost to create revenue for business maintenance; their position and configuration can be adapted according to the specific event structure. Outside of the building, a giant temporary staircase will connect the second level of Metro Skala to the ground floor at street level, creating a direct link between the building and the railway station and transport hub across the street. Besides being an optimized connector, the staircase itself will become a center stage in certain event scenarios. It could function as a grand stand towards the newly created temporary urban plaza or as an urban catwalk for fashion shows and other types of large-scale presentations.
District 7: All proposed interventions combined form part of a greater network, both physically and virtually thinking. Nevertheless, specifically District 7 with its historic urban structure and vacant shop fronts suggests a specific network approach on the contained scale of an urban neighborhood where 60.000 people live on only two square kilometers, which means double the population density compared to the bordering districts 5 and 6. At the same time, District 7 offers 40% less businesses and shops, compared to the adjacent districts. In order to improve the commercial offer and at the same time foster young professionals and local identity, we propose for the owners of the vacant shops and buildings to rent out their spaces for low rent in exchange of the users maintaining them and thus avoiding decay and unwanted occupancy. In terms of program, we propose a demand-driven toolbox of new opportunities to fill the vacant spaces on ground level, as well as to extend the SNE into the upper floors and towards the backyards of the vacant lots in this historic district. From children to senior cares that are operated by the people of District 7, from carpentries to wood shops that furnish the individual businesses, from creative design offices to furniture makers, from bicycle shops to provide non-motorized transport for urban explorations to home cooking deliveries where meals are produced with locally harvested products from neighborhood gardening initiatives: District 7 will become the urban landmark of all local and authentic good(s) that the SNE’s “shareconomy” will have to offer.
Scope: Action Plan for Urban Economic Revival, Bottom-Up Participation
Location: Budapest, Hungary