Saša Šimpraga is a writer and an activist from Zagreb. He is the founder of 1POSTOZAGRAD (1 percent for the city), a Zagreb based platform focused on public space and commons. Alongside many small scale city improvements, such as numerous treelines or benches, its successes include the creation of a number of new public parks, urban gardens network and drinking water fountains networks for Zagreb. Its work also include changing the Zagreb’s masterplan in favour of a green areas. 1POSTOZAGRAD is not an NGO, but 100 percent volunteer initiative.
Why do you think building communities in urban environments is important? In order to be relevant, any change needs to be local. Acting on one’s own can be less effective than creating a group or a network that advocates the same issue. Fundamentally, democratic process lies in the community.
How can citizens be more involved in creating urbant and resilient environments? I can give you an example of how I created an active group and initiated small and big scale improvements in communal standard of Zagreb. Needing more activists to help 1POSTOZAGRAD intiatives, in 2016 I started a year long programme called Seminar for Walkers. I offered free themed walks once a month, while selected participants had an obligation to participate in one of the city initiatives we put together after each walk. Participants were selected by an open call at the very beginning of the year. It was a group of some 20 people. Those selected had an obligation which was very simple, for instance writing an e-mail to the municipality. All the walks were at the same time open to the general public which was also invited to participate in supporting the initiatives, but had no obligation to do so. Many joined. Each month one walk was held and one initiative was launched. As a result, in less than a year, a new drinking water fountains network was started to be put in place on the locations we suggested, one city park completely restored and a number of trees planted, to mention only some of the successful initiatives. Despite the fact that the whole programme was done 100 percent voluntarily, that is without any financial support whatsoever, we also managed to have at least one expert guest attending each walk. Those mostly being my friends. After the Seminar ended, some of the participants later on started their own initiatives in their respectful neighborhoods. I see Seminar for Walkers as an example of how to combine urban exploration, community building and commons in a fun and effective way.
What is your favorite project of community engagement in Croatia? A local initiative in Zagreb, named Savica (name of the neighborhood) for Park was formed after city authorities announced that church complex is to be built on the location of a local public park, thus destroying it. Park in question is the only public park in the neighborhood, urbanistically planned in the center of the mostly housing settlement consisting of high rise buildings. Losing the park would be a huge and irreplaceable loss. Park for Savica is a grassroot initiative that stood on the forefront of public interest. It is important to emphasize that the organisation is not a formal NGO, but all their work was done strictly voluntary. Given the hugeness of the task and their success in preserving the park, their work is both impressive and inspiring.
What is your favorite project of community engagement abroad? There are so many I appreciate, but say organizations like Park People in Toronto who initiate a number of various activities, both focused on environment and building communities related to local parks.