With the mayoral elections looming, the current Belgrade city government has made itself busy to wow Belgraders with shiny new projects. Although some of them are long needed infrastructural improvements, many of them aimed to beautify Belgrade and make it more attarctive to vistors.
Unfortunately, most these beautification attempts are either badly executed or completely mis-conceived, and they rely on bling rather than brains. They run counter to why (savvy) tourists come to Belgrade (to learno about its turbulent history and enjoy vivacious nightlife) and instead strive to turn in into a cheap Eastern European Disneyland knock-off. Even more importantly, these kitchy ideas often make daily life in Belgrade worse, as they are impractical and obtrusive even after they are finished.
The revamp of the historic Kosnancicev venac and extension of the pedestrian zone around Knez Mihajlova are great examples of terrible execution of these projects. Sluggish progress means that some of the city’s prettiest streets are left looking like they were targeted in a WWII air-raid.
Then there is the new dreaded expensive kitchy bling, like the dancing multi-coloured music fountain in the middle of derelict Slavija roundabout (cost: EUR 2 million) and the proposed mega flagpole at Usce (cost: EUR 2 million). The fountain manages not only to be oversized and blingy, but its music (a mix of Serbian pop classics and Michael Jackson= also annoys nearby residents. Worryingly, there are even worse ideas that were proposed. The cable car from Usce to Kalemegdan, demolition of Generalstab to build Stefan Nemanja memorial and building of medieval-inspired quarter over Kalemegdan’s lower part, send chills down my spine and I can hope that they are just misjudged publicity stunts.
Given Belgrade’s city planners apparently want to spend copious amounts of money on making Belgrade more attractive, I dreamt up a few projects that I think would help their aim of making more iconic sights but are not a kitchy mess. These ideas build on Belgrade’s heritage and style, mixed with proven concpets from aorund the world. None of them would break the bank, but would make best use of existing buildings and infrastructure, mobilise private capital and expertise and increase “liveablity” in their areas.
1. Boutique hotel @ West Gate/Genex tower, New Belgrade
Belgrade’s brutalist West Gate is a beloved city landmark, however its commercial wing has been neglected since Genex, one of Yugoslav giant companies who built the complex, went bust. The facade has been used since as a giant bilboard, a disgrace for one of masterpieces of Yugoslav architecture.
The city should incentivize the current owner to restore the builing to the old glory and make it a nice boutique hotel celebrating its sexy 1970s aesthetic, like the newly revamped Watergate in DC or the famed Standard hotel in New York. If done well, the new hotel and its restored revolving restaurant could be the magnet for the smart set (a bit like New York’s Standard hotel), and would also give a boost to this sleepy area. Even a less swanky hotel would make commercial sense as theproximity to the Belgrade airport and the motorway could attract weary travellers.
2. Spa centre @ Krsmanović public bath, Dorćol
Belgrade’s last public bath was founded by Krsmanović brothers in Dušanova, closed its doors over 10 years ago when it was used as an exhibition space during Oktobarski salon. This ended centuries old tradition of hammams that reflected Belgrade’s Ottoman past. Although there were plans to open the gallery inside the building, the building remained shuttered ever since.
Given the wellness boom that is gripping Belgrade, the city should rennovate the baths and make it into a modern wellness centre that would honour the city’s history, like the beautiful spas around Budapest, hammams in Istanbul or saunas in Finland. It could be managed by good people from Milan Gale Muškatirović, who have a very well run spa and gym in their complex a few kilometers away. Add a nice healthy cafe outside and a gift shop selling home made bath products (like the very good all-Nut from Čumićevo sokace), and it could offer a healthy way for locals and tourists alike to unwind, before hitting Dorcol’s cafes and restaurants.
3. Plaza\park @ Marina Dorćol, Lower Dorćol
After the collapse of the luxury Marina Dorćol development, this attractive plateau next to the Danube promenade has once again become an overgrown mess. Even now, the plateau has a derelict beauty due to the imposing art deco “Snaga and Svetlost” power-plant and the nearby marina. With little investment to remove the debris and maybe connect it to power and water, this space could become pretty cool new hangout in gentruifying Donji Dorćol. In the summer, it could hosts matinee concerts or just serve as a place for bbqs, while in the winter there could be a small icerink overlooking the Danube. Phase 2 of the project can get big and include adaptation of “Snaga and Svetlost”, as Belgrade’s equivalent of Tate Modern.
4. Creative hub @ Old Belgrade shipyard, New Belgrade
Belgrade’s large shipyard lies below the new Ada bridge and has been defunct for a long while. Although now there is a project to redevelop it along the lines of Belgrade Waterfront, chances are it will remain dormant for a while yet. Given that New Belgrade is still lacking an alternative cultural hub, the shipyard could just do the trick as it is both far from residential areas, close enough to Belgrade’s centre and is rather big, stunning place. Its big basin and plenty of abandoned industrial buildings could make it a nice new location for new ultural centres/clubs like Mikser House or Dorcol Platz or work-space offices for creative firms looking for post-industrial space.