The question of how to finance the construction of residential communities provoked particular discord. Aleksandar Bordevic, the head of the Belgrade Town Planning Institute, castigated the inadequacies of the current financing system in his presentation. He argued that successful residential communities could not be realized when housing was financed differently than all the other elements that were necessary to the success of a settlement: schools, shops, playgrounds, and so on. He also highlighted the impossible conundrum facing the Town Planning Institute: it frequently came into conflict with the vested interests of the actors on whose very cooperation the realization of its plans was dependent. In seeking to maximize their investment, it was only logical that investors should want to build only on green-field sites, to avoid having to compensate the occupants of decrepit homes that would have to be torn down or else build
This accusation directed at the planners that they engaged in utopian planning and paid no attention to the hard realities of the present would be made time and time again. This may seem puzzling, given the relatively modest plans and demands that were coming out of Belgrade’s Town Planning Institute. This tendency of state socialist actors to counter not only idealism but also criticism by referring to what was “realistic” has been wonderfully captured by the East German film The Architects (Peter Kahane, 1990), which por-trays the frustrated efforts of a group of young architects to put their idealism into practice when designing a residential district.
Bjelikov and Bjelicic both explained the lack of consensus at the sympo-sium by the need for more research in Yugoslavia on the residential commu-nity. Bjelicic echoed the standard line, first proclaimed in the 1950 master plan publication, that it was inappropriate for Yugoslav planners to simply import planning concepts developed in other contexts, because they were designed for different societies, with different social structures.67 Was this a mere rhetorical flourish, or did it have any susbstance? Zdenko Sila and Radovan Miscevic’s presentation suggests that urban planning in Yugoslavia was supposed, first and foremost, to aim for the satisfaction of the various needs of the working people, presumably unlike planning in capitalist contexts.68 Moreover, when it introduced self-management, Yugoslavia had ostensibly organized its society on completely different lines than elsewhere in the world, something that ur-ban planning should somehow reflect. This explains Bjelikov’s concern that no one had considered how the political life of the residential community should affect its spatial planning. Theoretically, then, Yugoslavia should develop its own planning tools, adapted to its particular circumstances. The symposium had allowed the country’s planners to propose some basic ideas; the task was now to test them and develop a body of scientific knowledge.
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The symposium can be considered a milestone for two reasons. It was the first time that urban planners had joined forces to come up with a spatial con-cept for the residential community. It also led some observers to believe that the profession needed to evolve. Eighty percent of the participants were archi-tects, reflecting the fact that urban planning was taught as a subdiscipline of decorating. However, the complicated questions involved in creating success-ful housing communities required thorough knowledge of other disciplines sociology, economics, even psychology. Up to this point, planners had relied on their high school knowledge of these subjects, resulting in what Bjelikov called “amateurism by necessity.” The profession stood at a crossroads: Should urban planners become trained in a variety of disciplines “universal special-ists,” or should urban planners no longer be trained primarily by decorating schools and instead be recruited from different fields?
Bjelikov attacked planner-architects for having a “static vision” of spatial planning, which he saw as a kind of professional deformation of the architect. He disapproved of their approach to planning for an ever-changing society, which involved designing a settlement that would suit the needs of an imagined tomorrow but not of the present. Did it make sense, he asked, “to tailor an adult suit for a child, and if we don’t have sufficient material for such a large suit, just to make him a coat and pants and let him complete the outfit however he is able?”69 While he liked the idea of sizing a residential community according to the number of consumers required to make businesses profitable, he noted that improvements in productive capacity and techniques in supply and distribu-tion would cause this ideal number of residents to fluctuate. In a sense, this was a variation on the problem with which the Urbanism Commission had grap-pled in 1948 and 1949. In the 1940s, the challenge had been how to cater to the needs of the present with limited resources, without compromising the vision of the ideal city in the abundant future. While this was still a concern, planners were increasingly concerned that it was not even possible to imagine the ideal city of the future, because that ideal would change as society progressed. Swept up by the optimism of the early 1960s, urban planners struggled to find a way to prepare for a prosperous future that they could not yet imagine.
In spite of urban planners’ conviction that the rise of a communist regime would empower them to carry out sweeping change, they had little control over the development of Belgrade in the first few years after the Second World War. The economic priorities of the regime, the harsh economic context, and the subordination of urban planners and architects to administrative bodies impeded their ability to realize their vision of a transformed city. While the Tito-Stalin split promised no improvement on the economic front, architects and urban planners used the opportunity to reassert their leadership role in building socialism. Seizing on the emerging discourse of self-management, they emphasized the role of decorating and urban planning in understanding and meeting the needs of the individual worker. The state’s promotion of the concept of the residential community, which could be easily superimposed on preexisting modernist functionalist planning schemes, provided further sub-stance to urban planners’ claims that the Athens Charter was the physical em-bodiment of self-management.