At the same time, these similarities should not overshadow certain distinc-tive aspects of the Yugoslav experience. As Markovic, Kulic, Mrduljas, and Patterson have argued, Yugoslavia’s geopolitical and ideological positioning in between the liberal, capitalist West and the socialist Eastern Bloc had profound implications for artistic creativity and everyday life alike. In housing and ur-ban planning, the result was something that was neither fish nor fowl. For ex-ample, Yugoslavia began to try to limit its involvement in housing provision at roughly the same time as Western European states. Nonetheless, nothing like a capitalist real estate market would ever come to compete with the state housing sector. It was simply not possible, for both ideological and practical reasons, for the state to withdraw entirely from housing provision. As a result, the state continued to build modernist residential neighborhoods, the hous-ing-shortage problem persisted, and inhabitants continued to aspire to living in these estates, as in the Eastern Bloc.
In addition, the Yugoslav modernist project, particularly as concerns the development of residential districts, can be contrasted with the mass con-struction of housing that was launched in the rest of the Eastern Bloc during Khrushchev’s rule (or sometimes later). The latter drive was directed almost exclusively at resolving the housing problem as quickly as possible, and intel-lectual and material resources were directed specifically to those ends. Yugo-slavia’s desire to demonstrate the superiority of its brand of socialism, its need at first to court the United States, and later its leadership in the Nonaligned Movement meant that the potent aesthetic of modernism was as important for the regime as was its application of Taylorism. In addition, Yugoslav citizens were encouraged to buy into the Yugoslav Dream, a vision of the good life that was strongly influenced by Western images of modern living. As a result, the Yugoslav regime had a greater stake in the way its settlements looked and in- vested more in urban design. Belgrade does stand out in the Second World in terms of the creativity and resources invested in designing distinctive buildings and neighborhoods and the unusual choice to make a residential neighborhood the symbolic center of the capital.69 A third distinction suggests caution in generalizing from the case of Bel-grade. Town planning in Yugoslavia was a decentralized affair, paralleling the country’s administrative structure, in contrast to other socialist states, such as the GDR and Czechoslovakia. This fact, in turn, means that it is impossible to generalize from the story of a single city. Consequently, it is simply not possi-ble to assume that the story of Belgrade was replicated in other cities of similar stature and size, such as Zagreb or Skoplje, let alone in smaller municipalities or other types of towns, such as resorts or industrial towns. Thus, the com-plete and definitive history of modernism in Yugoslavia, and in particular its variations and consistencies, will by necessity be the work of many authors. would only launch collectivization in 1949.1 The rebuilding of Belgrade was expected to reflect this new social and economic organization. The renewed capital should be a classless society, and therefore the rebuilders would have to address the social inequalities embedded in the urban fabric that were a legacy of the city’s history.
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While all dates chosen as beginnings are arbitrary, the history of modern Belgrade began in some ways in 1867, when the Kingdom of Serbia obtained its independence from Ottoman control, and the Porte officially transferred control of the city to Prince Mihailo. With this action, Belgrade went from being a provincial backwater of the weakening Ottoman Empire to the capi-tal of the small but ambitious new Serbian state. In the ensuing decades, the city attracted new inhabitants, both civil servants of varying social status and workers employed in nascent industry. The old city center, a district of nar-row, curving streets that had formerly been dominated by the Ottoman elite and then had entered a period of extended decline, was rebuilt on a grid pat-tern. The expanse between it and the ethnic Serbian settlement along the Sava River filled out with new construction. As Dubravka Stojanovic has shown, the municipal government was both too conservative and too weak to exert effective control over the city’s growth. Because Belgrade’s denizens were un-willing to finance the improvement of the city’s poor periphery, it set the city’s boundaries very narrowly, excluding a number of nearby unauthorized settle-ments and villages that were certain to become a part of the urban fabric as the city expanded. It also refrained from regulating construction on its ter-ritory until 1897, when it finally adopted a construction law. As it turns out, the municipality was unable or unwilling to enforce this law. The absence of a land tax, which would have penalized landowners who did not capitalize on their plots, and the lack of affordable credit, which discouraged construction of high-quality, modern buildings, further undermined the city’s development as an attractive capital. As a result of the authorities’ reluctance to direct the growth of Belgrade, it developed into an unsightly and poverty-ridden city. While certain main arteries were dominated by elegant villas, they also con-tained more modest single-story buildings. The majority of Belgrade’s streets were lined with single-story houses. Their owners rented out primitive apart-ments, consisting of a room and a kitchen, in shacks that crowded into their courtyards. Migrants to Belgrade paid very high rents—higher, in fact, than in other major European cities—to live in these humid and dimly lit shacks, some of which had previously been used as animal stalls. Alternatively, they might choose to live in settlements that mushroomed immediately outside the city limits, where rents were much lower, but the city had not built any infrastructure—no roads or sewage or water provision. In sum, Belgrade was a city in which low-income workers seeking lodging faced exploitation and unhy-gienic living conditions. Thus, underneath the devastation that had laid waste to the city during the Second World War, social inequality was inscribed into the city’s matrix.2
For the Partisans contemplating the battered city after its liberation from the Wehrmacht in 1944, it would not be sufficient to merely rebuild the city and correct the injustices of the past. Urban planners would also have to anticipate the population growth that resulted from collectivization, industrialization, and especially the development of an efficient, modern bureaucracy. As central planning promised to manage resources more efficiently than ever before, so the activities of urban life should be scientifically organized in the city to facilitate that task. Finally, the capital should be a symbol of the rupture with the past, as well as of the power and ability of the new regime.
To fulfill the need of the regime both for more space and for a powerful representation of its triumph, a bold move was proposed: shifting the center of the city across the Sava River, replacing floodplains with a shining new me-tropolis. Here, too, it is not clear whether the decision was made by the polit-ical leadership or by urban planners.3 Drawing heavily on the concept of the functional city promoted by CIAM, a team headed first by architect Nikola Dobrovic, and then by Milos Somborski, envisioned a modern, egalitarian city founded on a rational management of resources and use of space.
However, merely three years after the end of the war, before Belgrade’s urban planners had much opportunity to make headway, a crisis shook the young state—the falling out between Tito and Stalin, resulting in the expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Eastern Bloc. All of a sudden, Yugoslavia’s economy was profoundly dislocated, its military expenditures increased, and its pros-pects for the future became uncertain. Imagining a profoundly transformed city under those circumstances was a daunting challenge.4