A new age was dawning—the golden 1960s. Already, by the mid-1950s, the authorities had hinted at an impending shift of priorities—a new emphasis on raising the standard of living. At first, this shift seemed to finally enable Bel-grade’s town planning office to realize its goal of transforming the way in which people lived, by injecting much-needed investment into housing construction. This priority shift produced results: whereas in 1957, 2,706 apartments were built, the number increased to over 5,300 in 1960.1 Between 1961 and 1965, 35,000 new apartments were put into use.2
Times had changed. Town planners needed to modify the original concept for New Belgrade. For one thing, the adoption of self-management made the older notion of New Belgrade as the command center of the country obsolete.3 Town planners had to find a new symbolic function for the settlement. When asked to revise the initial concept for New Belgrade, as the promise of a better life had become a central idealogical tenet of the regime, town planners chose to make aspiration to the good life the new symbolic focus of the city center. New Belgrade was destined to become a showcase for how well people could live in a socialist state, embodying the new “Yugoslav Dream” that was designed to provide legitimacy to the regime.4 Because it already embodied the goal of raising the poor man’s standard of living through a radical redefinition of urban space, the modernist functionalist city envisioned by the Town Planning Institute in the late 1940s was well adapted to the new zeitgeist. The shift in economic pri-orities in effect enabled urban planners to finally begin realizing their vision.
Town planners had to find a new symbolic function for the settlement. In the long run, the process of rethinking economic priorities culminated in a reconceptualization of economic modernization by the Yugoslav authorities that had serious implications for housing and, thereby, town planning. The Yugoslav economy had been moving away from central planning since the adoption in 1953 of self-management, which placed greater control over production into the hands of workers’ councils. In 1965, the regime moved toward a new approach to modernization: market socialism, which loosened state control on the econ-omy, freed firms to compete openly on the domestic market, and gave consumer demand a much greater role in driving economic growth. In line with this new approach, the state adopted a more limited role in the provision of housing and consequently encouraged the private acquisition of housing through the mar-ket, with the financial support of the banking sector. The regime liberalized
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This innovation did not automatically lead to a repudiation of earlier plan-ning methods. However, the shifting of focus from the needs of the “worker producer” to those of the consumer had profound implications for urban planning. Because the aspiration to acquire consumer goods was now consid-ered a good incentive for increasing productivity, town planners were asked to take into consideration consumer preferences, including detached family homes and even luxury homes. 5 This pressure to accommodate consumer preferences represented an insidious challenge to the Athens Charter model of urban planning, because it privileged private interests over the common good. In particular, the inclusion of such housing encouraged sprawl, which plan-ners feared would drive up the cost of infrastructure. Nonetheless, town plan-ners went along with these new requirements as long as they preserved their leadership role in conceiving settlements, as well as the primacy of collective housing, which, they believed, was the only affordable way to provide a mod-ern, high-quality living environment to the vast majority of Belgrade’s citizens.
By the mid-1950s, New Belgrade was a muddy and sparsely built outpost, an embarrassing parody of the cutting-edge city planners had once imagined. Reminiscing in 1968, one observer described this bleak period in the settlement’s history: “For years, the concrete skeletons of the Federal Executive Council and the [Representative] Hotel stuck out ghostly from the sand banks of the Danube. Locomotive smoke blackened the hotel’s structure, erected next to the Zemun train station. . . . The insufficiently stabilized ground caved under the enormous weight of concrete in the Federal Executive Council building.”6
After years of inactivity, the ideological shift toward consumption and the identification of housing as a consumer good put pressure on planners to get back to work on New Belgrade, as well as giving them something to cling to in the context of ideological uncertainty that followed the Communist Party’s rejection of Stalinism. In 1954, Stanko Mandic, who had played an important role in the conception of the 1950 master plan, produced a study of the plan for New Belgrade as it stood at the time of the adoption of the master plan. He examined the earlier plan from an aesthetic, technical, and financial perspective. He rejected several elements of the concept adopted in the master plan. Namely, he questioned the feasibility of creating an artificial lake by joining Veliko Ratno Ostrvo to the riverbanks and categorically rejected plans to raise the ground level for all of New Belgrade as unrealistic. His objections were also aesthetic, as he condemned the plan to spread out different configurations of four-story apartment buildings as visual “chaos” in the depression between Zemun, Bezanijska Kosa (the rise south of Zemun), and Belgrade. Instead, he proposed that eleven superblocks three hundred meters in diameter be erected in specific sites. Mandic was still entranced by the Corbusian concept of high-rise towers situated in parks, which was not particularly realistic in view of the Yugoslav construction industry’s level of technical expertise. Each superblock would contain four twenty-story towers housing 10,000 inhabitants, or 125 in-habitants on each floor of each building. This design would allow planners to focus on raising the ground level only in specific sites and would create a more structured landscape.7 Mandic’s proposal, however, was not adopted.