With the air rank with dust, thick with exhaust and deafened by the burr of drills and car-horns, Bucharest’s western district of Drumul Taberei is a typical zone of the Romanian capital, with its monotonous slabs of concrete, anarchic parking and war on free space.
Where once there was Communist centrally-planned housing, lawns and open land, now there are new churches and supermarkets, while patches of grass between the blocks are gated off by the authorities, and littered with trash. Public space is no more than corridors that thread around cars, fences and building sites.
An underground line has been under construction here since 2012, further suffocating the gridlocked zone, where apartment prices have plummeted since the financial crash of 2008.
Yet when the packed number 368 bus from the city centre ascends the wide boulevard that bisects the zone, a brighter light from the west enters the vehicle, the streets open, and one can sense balance and harmony, as though this neighbourhood grew from a concept that centred on the needs of citizens, not a plan to build fast, cheap and big to appease a cut-price vision of Communism.
At the end of the 1950s a group of young architects in Bucharest were given the liberty by ruler Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej to develop an unprecedented experiment for Romania - a micro-city on the outskirts of Bucharest.
Over fields and land used by the army, this would be a self-contained urban complex built from zero.
The low-rise blocks were Modernist designs of concrete floating in a sea of greenery, combining the mod cons of the city with the air and freedom of the countryside. Schools, factories, libraries, a cinema and shopping would all be within walking distance.
Intellectually, it intended to lift the body, mind and spirit, inspired by the functional visionary Le Corbusier, but on a scale unprecedented in the west. This was a French utopia inscribed on a blank slate in Romania.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the first residents believed this neighbourhood married the ideals of an egalitarian society with elegant surroundings, and it became a showpiece for successful social engineering, as well as a sanctuary for refugees fleeing military juntas in Chile and Greece.
Although the blocks housed a mix of working and middle classes, many residents felt this was a place for professionals and progressives - a zone out of time and place from both Romania’s feudal past and its totalitarian present.
Then politics intervened.
By the 1970s, the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu took over the duties of urban planning in the capital, and dumped taller and bigger blocks throughout the city, crushing the free space and leaving the streets overcrowded. In the next decade, Romania’s economy stalled and the markets were empty of food and the media empty of news.
Following the violent 1989 Revolution, the streets were invaded by kiosks, rats, stray dogs, prostitutes and bars. One of Drumul Taberei’s libraries became a fake Italian restaurant, and its cinema, Favorit, a squat for the drunk and homeless.
But today a movement by civil society and private enterprise aims to revive the community spirit.
We have researched Drumul Taberei for six months, and have allowed the neighbourhood to tell its story through the voices of four generations who grew up, played, loved and fought there.
What surfaces may be a mythic vision of the past, but we uncover an enlightened and internationalist neighbourhood struggling to regain its cosmopolitan identity.
This article is compiled in collaboration with DoR, which is publishing a Romanian version in its magazine.
The Architect: Marius Lebada, 84 years old
It was on a field for military training exercises.
The project was made with students graduating from the Architecture University in Bucharest in the 1960s.
The authorities wanted just to build it. The only limit was the number of people per hectare. They didn’t know what to do. They knew only the land was very big, and that no one wanted to use it, and they left us, the young graduates, to deal with it.
In Romania there was nothing like this. In France there were a few types of this kind of neighbourhood, but they were much smaller. It included a ‘unite de voisinage’ [neighbourhood unit], for up to 10,000 inhabitants, a small district with a kindergarten, primary school and, for every three or four of these, was a secondary school. In these micro-units was a shopping centre, a green area for children, and there would be no cars. Together, Drumul Taberei was built for around 120,000 people.
The project started in 1960. I was 26.
This loop was in the plan. Not in the form it has today, which is like a curve in a race course. On the west side there would be no new constructions outside the ring road the authorities wanted to build around the city.
From the urban planning point of view, at the beginning, in the project phase and for the approval, no one wanted to take any responsibility for it. I even went to the Party headquarters with the project, and presented it together with the chief architect of the city, to the Party leadership. They didn’t say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, because there were no specialists there, including us.
At that time it wasn’t a big deal if we made it or not.
The Writer on Architecture: Miruna Stroe, 39 years old
The architects were so full of energy and enthusiasm because they felt they could apply the Modernist principles they believed in. It was a chance to manifest their ideals. These were principles of urban planning with individual blocks in a lot of free space, dedicated to the mind and body.
In Drumul Taberei, these planning ideas were influenced by the west. The architects worked with the French magazine L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui to hand.
It is one of those projects that is really intellectual and thought through, with by-the-book principles. It should have worked.
The Resident: Ema, 51 years old
My first memory is of my dad holding me in his arms, entering the block.
Where we lived were few working class people. We had engineers, workers in the defence ministry and teachers, and some people from the countryside. Many were nostalgic about their fields. When I was a child playing outside the block, wanting to pick a cherry from a tree or stepping on the flowers, the people from the countryside were the ones yelling at me from the window. They terrorised me.
Many informers to the secret police were in the block. It was not an ideal community. When you made a noise, they came to bang on the door, and if this happened three times, they made a complaint to the police or the city hall. That was how they showed they had power.
Fresh air circulated around the blocks. There was light. You did not feel overwhelmed.
The park in Drumul Taberei, Moghioros, had a very beautiful original concept. It was built as an amphitheater: as you descend to the lake, you saw the horizon, the trees and the sky.
On the ground floor of our block was space for a library, a place to fix TVs, a bank and the lottery.
The architects were conscious that the units in the ground floor could not be used for all the services people needed, so they made complexes such as Drumul Taberei 34, Romancierilor, Compasului, and Favorit.
A Pensioner: Marilena, 68 Years Old
Favorit had the second largest cinema in Bucharest. There was also a Favorit shop, a supermarket, hairdresser’s, haberdashery, beauty parlour and restaurant. Everyone booked their wedding and baptism parties in the restaurant, and they developed their photographs close by. We cut our hair, met with a neighbour at the seamstress or maybe we went to the cinema. It was a nucleus of socialising.
I stayed there in the queue for Star Wars.
I saw Armageddon there.
It brought culture to us.
The Refugee: Carlos Ramirez Valdebenito, 72 years old
Salvador Allende’s elected Socialist Government was overturned in a coup d’etat in Chile in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet. This was backed by the USA. After its experiences in Cuba, America would not accept another Socialist Government supporting the nationalisation of industries and agrarian reforms.
Allende was voted by workers, intellectuals, scientists, people from the city and from the countryside. In the coup, tens of thousands died and more went into exile, in Latin America and Europe.
The vast majority of foreign embassies in Santiago were surrounded by armed forces. It was impossible for us to ask to be received by another country directly from Chile.
I was a Socialist party member, an economist and a teacher. I fled to Lima, Peru, where there were many of us, and to ease the situation there, the United Nations had to find places abroad. I was brought to Romania in April 1974. Later I was joined by my wife and two young daughters.
What did I know about Romania? It was a Socialist country, and a Latin island in east Europe, which was very important because the Spanish language has Latin roots, and a similar culture.
Thousands of Chileans came through Romania - perhaps up to 4,000. Many stayed only two or three months and left to other countries in Europe.
The Romanian state housed the Chileans in two new ten-floor blocks in Drumul Taberei, M18 and M19, opposite the bus station number 5 on Raul Doamnei. The blocks were only for Chileans, and they were full.
I won a scholarship to begin a doctorate at the Academy of Economic Sciences (ASE) in Bucharest.
Carlos Ramirez Valdebenito
Even if we had common roots, Romania was a unique society, with a Socialist regime, economic and social model, and a single party, the Romanian Communist Party, which was rigorous in its ambition, and this was new for us. Absolutely new! There was a cult of personality of Nicolae Ceausescu and the Party, and songs and poems about them on television, and pictures of the secretary general everywhere, on the streets, on factories, in universities. It was very strange!
We met a nation which was looking at us. From the other perspective, we were seeing how “a socialist nation” developed. We were trying to build one in the West, not in the East. Most of us were political militants. The situation in Romania opened up discussions among us, about this place where we grew our families: “Why are things this way and not a different way?”
We were stopped on the street, I remember my girls were small and people looked at us. There were some who spoke Spanish. We began courses in Romanian. We had a good reception. There were points of interest: the cinema, the shop - Universal - and the cafe. Favorit was the only cinema in the whole neighbourhood. So everyone went to Favorit.
The Romanian people were wonderful. I remember a school director who had meetings with the Chilean parents and said ‘we are making an effort, because we have instructions to accept you and we want to receive you in the best conditions for your children’.
In winter, my daughters threw snowballs and pushed sledges down the hill in Moghioros park. In Chile we didn’t have snow, only high above, in the Andes, and only in the south, close to Antarctica.
It was cold. There was a lot of snow, but the sun was out in the middle of the day, and it was minus 25 degrees.
The sun had teeth.
The heat was practically non-existent. To survive in that cold was very difficult.
With food it was complicated, because we came from an area where there was a lot of green and salads were widespread. Romanians eat a lot of fat. The basis of the food was fat. We eat more beef, chicken and turkey. They eat a lot of pork. It was complicated. We had three exiled doctors in M18 and one of them was a specialist in intestinal medicine who gave us some medical advice, such as: “You need to get used to this slowly”.
Profiteroles were my favourite food in the cafe. But every time I asked for profiteroles, the taste changed. It was no longer the profiterole with that wonderful taste. I do not know what it was.
My wife and two daughters left Romania. My wife could not get used to Romania.
Anarchist, Hotel Receptionist and Activist: Razvan “Craiova” Martin, 42 years old
The block where I lived is from 1973. My parents were married in 1973 and they moved that year. In our neighbourhood a bunch of young people were suddenly brought together. I was born in 1976.
It was a social mix. Maybe mostly the Communist middle class, but also poor families. My friends were from all walks of life.
Outside the block were walnut trees, linden trees and sour cherry trees, and grapevines that grew up to the first floor. In the beginning, there were many green spaces and it was always spectacular.
Every block had many children. I came home from school, threw down my backpack, took a latchkey, and an empty milk bottle, filled it with water and went outside.
There were ten times fewer cars than now. During the most shitty period of Communism, children had no cares. With nothing to watch on TV, we stayed outside. Everyone was on the street.
My nickname in the neighbourhood was ‘Craiova’, after the city in southwestern Romania, because I was a fan of the football team ‘Universtitatea Craiova’. When I became a fan, aged six or seven, they were the best team in the country.
In front of the block was a giant field with little grass. This was our plaza. We made a large football field and every summer came the fair, with animals and a carousel.
I used to sleep in my parents’ bedroom. From my balcony I saw the circus.
For two or three years, it was a great place to play. Then the authorities started building a new block. The builders dug deep foundations. In the winter of 1985 was the deepest snow. We jumped in, and put some cardboard on the snow and slid into the foundations. Some kids were doing somersaults in the air. We used to play hide and seek though the building site.
It was traumatic when the block was finished. We were left without a playground.
I hate that new block.
There was a sensation that this was a town combined with the countryside. A couple of kilometres away was a forest, near the village of Domnesti, where we used to fetch sour cherries. In a cornfield, we picked up lizards, and we took them to school and hid them in girls’ pencil cases.
Our parents didn’t know what we did. We went outside and they couldn’t control us.
We felt free and in another world.
The 1980s were the worst period, you couldn’t find anything in the shops. There was no cheese or eggs. Everyone stood in a queue in front of the grocery store, even when they didn’t know what was being sold.
When I went out to play, my Mum asked me to take a look at the shop from time to time, to check if there was merchandise. All of us stayed with their eyes pinned on the grocery store, to see if there was something to buy.
One time there was a queue for cooking oil and we were playing close by. We called out to the people in the queue: “The hunger is shouting from inside you!”
In the market of Valea Ialomitei, near the loop, was an office where you could order goods by phone, especially those unavailable in normal shops. In theory, anyone could call, but not everybody received the goods. You needed connections. I used to pass by and imagine: ‘My God, they are keeping bananas and chocolate in there!’
One of the largest flea markets in Bucharest was spread over the streets between the blocks. I took my Dad there and asked him to buy me a pair of shoes. He bought them and paid 300 lei, which was a lot of money at the time. Poor him.
After less than two weeks the soles broke. I was so ashamed.
In only one or two places could you find Pepsi - the cafe or in the shopping complex, Indiana. We stayed for hours in a queue for Pepsi.
Once I blacked out standing in a queue.
How can you not hate the Communists?
Youngsters came at night to our school to smash the windows. Many kids identified the school with the Communist Party and the system. Especially in winter, when there was no heat in the school and we wanted to go home.
On a balcony on the tenth floor of on block, where people hung their clothes out to dry, some friends and I liked to throw plastic bags of water and potatoes at the people who came out of the trolleybus.
During winter we would hold on to the backs of cars and make them pull us on the ice. Sometimes the bumper came off, and I would be left holding it in my hand and the driver came outside and beat me up.
I would do the same today.
At one point Ceausescu wanted to see a comparison of urban densities among European capitals and Bucharest was not in the high range of inhabitants per hectare. He said we need to increase this. In housing, the most expensive thing is the infrastructure, so it made sense to build on areas where that infrastructure already was.
At that time, this was not possible in the city centre, but only in dormitory settlements.
In Drumul Taberei, they filled in the gaps on the green spaces in the late 70s and early 80s.
This was ‘The Thickening’, where they construct more buildings and housing without adding amenities. It destroys the architect’s principles and produces public space that is dysfunctional, and not used for what it was designed.
Carlos Ramirez Valdebenito
In 1974, when we came, the groceries were full, you could find everything, from good cheese to sausages. After 1978, the crisis began. Ceausescu paid back Romania’s debts to foreign countries on the back of the citizen in the street. There was much less heating, medical services and hospitals. The lights were turned off, and we stayed in the dark to save energy. There was no food on the table. At the shopping centre Orizont was a small market, and everyone was punching each other to get to tomatoes or potatoes. It was total absence.
There was a deep divide between the people and the party of Government. Nothing existed anymore - not only economically, but culturally and politically. And this was felt in Drumul Taberei.
I was alone in Romania, and I spent my time as an intellectual. I had the chance to travel in central Europe and find out all that was new in economics. I went to East Germany in 1983-1984 to conferences which stated that the socialist system would fall. I was seeing what was happening in Romania, that society was destroyed. Ceausescu and his group were shrinking it day by day.
I was in Drumul Taberei where I had an apartment, my family had left and I had sufficient peace to write. I grew intellectually.
The first time I met Dana, she was a student at the Bucharest economics university, ASE, where I was studying for a doctorate. I was attracted to her wonderful green eyes, like the Caribbean Sea.
It was a fulfilling and transparent relationship. It was a deep relationship, one of people with a good soul. It was a very beautiful period.
But it wasn’t easy. Why? A simple reason. She was the daughter of a director of the State Board of Planning and her mother was a director of work. Relationships with a foreigner were forbidden in Romania. And being the daughter of an important figure in Government was a danger.
We decided to live together in secret. Because if we were discovered, it would have been hard for her. She had courage. I am convinced it was love. And it began, after two years of a fierce struggle.
When I returned to Chile in 1986, it was complicated, because I could put at risk the situation of her parents. Romanians could not leave. If so, they were declared an enemy or a traitor. Dana came to Chile, and stayed with me. We were married there. But already in Romania she was suffering from cancer, and it was very severe.
I believe it was the most beautiful chapter of my life.
This is part of the soul that binds me to Romania, and every time I go to Romania I remember, and there is the memory that is daily present and grows and strengthens.
In December 1989, we saw shooting with mortar fire over the military graveyard three kilometres away from Drumul Taberei, because the soldiers heard there was an attack coming from the cemetery.
Us, the punks from the block, made a guardpost at an intersection. We checked the cars passing by, and the drivers would have to step out and open up their trunks for us to see.
Someone from the army was with us. Sometimes people would swear at the soldier, but they never swore at us. We had moral authority, because we were the young people, who made the Revolution.
There were shootings around Drumul Taberei. Someone was shot in the bum. When we heard bullets, we stayed at home.
In our block lived a senior member of the secret police, the Securitate. The boys told me that on the evening of 21 December, they were getting together on the third staircase, and he said to them: “You sit here like fools, while people are dying at Universitate!”
It was weird for a member of the Securitate to say that.
On 22 December 1989 I was in the main square - Universitate, in the centre of Bucharest, with the revolutionaries. My parents did not know.
The biggest shock was the number of cars. In the 1990s, there were some neighbours who owned a dog, and they told me that the female puppy was killed by a car. I wondered “Which car?” because you were used to seeing only one every billion years.
When I was small there were none. Every fifth apartment had a car. You knew that the neighbours needed a lot of effort to buy the Romanian-manufactured car, the Dacia, as they ate only yoghurt with sugar for two to three years to pay off the credit.
In Drumul Taberei, on a ground floor where now stands the restaurant Trattoria Roma, was a library. I interviewed the librarian in 1997 and he told me he was asked to make the library into something more lucrative: a kiosk or a restaurant.
In the nearby neighbourhood of Militari there was pressure to turn a library into a morgue.
The Landscape Gardener: Corina Trancă, 33 years old
I stayed with my grandmother in Drumul Taberei on the Targu Neamt street.
In the evening after work, the residents used to beat the rugs. Everybody gathered there on Saturdays or Sundays, when they were cleaning. Sometimes people washed the carpet in front of the block with a hose.
We used to meet at the carpet beater.
When the neighborhood was built, many people took trees from the edge of the neighbourhood, where there were still houses - apple, pear, apricot, cherry, mulberry and wax cherry - and planted them in front of their blocks.
My grandmother kept chickens at that time. She put them in the garden, grew them a little and after that took them to the countryside.
In front of our block we had a neighbour on the sixth floor who had a shop. He was from the country and used to bring animals and kill them in the garden. All the kids helped him kill hens.
In other blocks, there were gardens with vegetables - aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and corn. People from the countryside moved here and they did not lose that instinct. In their blood was this need to cultivate and spend time in the garden.
Sometimes, in winter, we would steal a boat from the lake in the park and use it as a sleigh on the highest slope. 40 to 50 people, even more, would gather to push the boat until the top and they would all get “on board” and the boat would slip down the hill until it hit a tree.
At the cinema Favorit, I saw Babe, a film with a talking pig. The cinema was beautiful when it opened. But when I went there at the end, I had to stay with my legs up on the seat because I felt rats at my feet.
After high school we went to Favorit, or to a terrace, or the cafe Grizzly, where we played pool. They knocked down Grizzly and put a Church in its place.
Children around the block always found condoms. We called them balloons.
On Targu Neamt Street, in front of my block it was called ‘The Fanatics’ because there were many rockers and rebels who repaired engines and cars. There was a Toyota Celica and they painted it with hotrods. You felt safe.
Later people began to experiment with drugs and they needed money for drugs and they began to steal. Slowly they were put in prison.
At the school, there was a police station nearby and they made raids very often. Police came once a week to verify what every pupil had in their backpacks to see if we had knives or drugs.
Carlos Ramirez Valdebenito
In 1991, when I returned after five years, I was met in the capital with crosses on the street of people who had died in the Revolution, and signs of gunfire on the walls. The capital transformed into a market. In Drumul Taberei, where there is Orizont, on Moghioros, on that beautiful boulevard, full of flowers, with a doctor’s surgery and a clean square, was a market on all sides, where they sold whisky, Lux soap and Kent cigarettes, all those things which people didn’t have in 45 years of socialism.
Kiosks, no more than two metres by two metres, sold small underwear - not those ugly ones which were sold in Favorit under communism. Anti-conception pills which were previously forbidden were sold on the street.
Orizont restaurant turned into a pub because they could make more money. There were prostitutes in the park and in the market, who were 17 or 18 years old.
When I went to Romania, people were calling for Ceaușescu’s return. I don’t understand that. It’s a topic that hurts me.
Many Chileans left. Some doctors remained. The ones who married Romanians remained. With Romanians, there were fewer Romanian men who married Chilean woman. They married either Chileans or foreigners of other nationalities, but the Chileans married Romanian women. My case with Dana was like that.
I am already much older.
The Americans: Dave (52 years old) and Jennifer Cox (49 years old)
We weren’t interested in coming to Romania, didn’t know much about it, but in 1993, when we were in a park in the southern Romanian city of Pitesti, everyone was playing chess, talking or walking, and we looked at each other and said ‘we belong here’ and we didn’t even know why. We had this strong sense.
We would be happy to have a little bit of green space, and that was so important, and I am glad we moved to Drumul Taberei. When you wake up in the morning and you hear the birds singing and see green in the front, and green in the back, you’re not in the country, but you don’t feel it’s so urban, it’s a good mixture.
In the early days when you walked outside the block there were blankets on the ground and little children with their toys, their Barbie Dolls, and the boys were running around. For our sons, there was a basketball court and it was full of kids all the time. This was a very wholesome thing, what would have been true in the U.S. in our parent’s generation, before all sports were organised.
We grew up in surroundings where we never faced Communism or a war, where people tend to be very positive, almost to an extreme, and not quite so realistic about the problems they are facing. One example is when someone dies. In America, we begin to have more distance, we don’t even look at the body, it’s made up very nicely, we see it briefly and then it’s gone. Here I think people experience the reality of life, the reality of death, the reality of struggles of not having enough money, and are more willing to talk about it rather than saying I’m happy, you’re happy and everything is good. I generally put a positive spin on everything, but we shouldn’t do that, there are some things that are not positive.
We are not suspicious, have not dealt with Communism and, because of that, we can sometimes help connect people who cannot connect naturally. We help them on the basis that people can trust us, we can help them trust each other - I think we are quick to trust, and that effects how Romanians feel.
My best decision was five years ago, when I became the cashier of the block, who takes in the maintenance payments from all the residents. During that time, we had 120 apartments in the block and everyone came to me. I was writing receipts and I filed a lot of numbers. It never worked perfectly and there was too much money. But that’s how I got to know all my neighbours.
However many left. If everyone is leaving [Bucharest], some have to come to replace the ones who have gone. That’s us.
After the Revolution, cafes appeared. We had some gypsy neighbours from the second floor who made the first outdoor bar. They came with Pepsi, with Cola, and after that a kiosk and a flower stall.
In some blocks after the 90s they turned garages into spaces for commerce. The first were those renting out videos. We had access to western decadence.
In 1991, I moved to a new high school and cut links with the neighbourhood, rarely hanging out with old friends. Many gangs split at that time, and some of our friends were lost to hooliganism and drugs.
There are many old people on the street - probably from my parents’ generation. They are in their 70s now. The hairdresser is still there. The shoe repair shop and the seamstress remained. The TV repair shop is also still open.
Who the hell still gets their TV repaired?
The Teenager: Sorin, 16 years old
I have stayed in Drumul Taberei since I was born. My parents moved to the neighbourhood in the 1970s, in a block from the 1960s with four floors. About Communism I knew little, especially when I was small, as my parents thought it was a bad idea to tell me about Communism.
We are the last generation who only spent time outside. I had a computer, but I didn’t use it. As a child, I was rather alone and I didn’t have anyone to play with. When I was small, I couldn’t concentrate like everyone else. So I went to play with the dogs, because they did not laugh at me. I think that for four years I walked with the dogs on the street. Then everyone started to appreciate me. I don’t know how to explain.
We were in two gangs, based on colours - the reds and the blues. One guy, Ducu, who was 17, invented this. He bought bandanas for everyone, from where I don’t know. The blues had 15 people, the reds 20. Everyone had a bandana with their colour, and we cruised around the neighbourhood.
Somewhere in Moghioros park was a bunch of mattresses where we - the Reds - played. In a small pen was a pony. One night when I was 11, me and some friends let the pony loose. We took it from its pen and wanted to see what would happen. The pony came with us. Some kids were there and they said: “Man, what a good idea!”
We gathered a bunch of people around the pony, trying to lead the pony through the park. Of course the park guard was sleeping, and didn’t know what was happening.
It was before Christmas, and the lake was without water. The pony broke free and ran through the empty lake.
To catch the pony, we surrounded him, and someone climbed a tree and threw himself off to land on the pony. After four hours of chasing him, we heard the guard say: “Hey kids, what are you doing there?”
I believe that at 12 or 13 I began to look at the Internet. From 14 I began to mature much more, I didn’t do these things any longer.
Opposite the swimming pools on the corner of Moghioros Park was a big orchard. It was a green space full of trees. After that, because they had this idea of creating sport fields everywhere, all these were destroyed. Now it is a tennis field.
Not many from our gang stayed in the zone. Many left after they had their first child, because they felt they could not grow their children up here, and only around ten per cent remained.
They left because they couldn’t make it here, they realised that they were fighting too hard, that they could not get where they want, and that they didn’t feel good. The traffic was a mission impossible.
The subway construction destroyed our pedestrian areas, parking lots, and green space. On the avenue near the pools are a row of linden trees, initially the idea was that they should be very cubic, after the French model.
The linden trees have begun to die.
At the back of the block where I lived in Targu Neamt, the vegetation has grown and it’s like a tunnel. There are seven to eight metres of greenery, like in a jungle. No one any longer goes into it. No one plays there any longer.
The rest of the neighbourhood is too crowded and too dirty. We have neighbours who owned up to four cars outside their block. If you go anywhere you see so many parked cars. You stand and look at metal boxes.
In my block, among neighbours, there is no longer anyone left from before. The children, their descendants, they sold, left or rented out their apartments. Now I don’t know all my neighbours. There no longer exists a community, people are no longer united.
The metro will change the circulation, because we can leave and others will come. We hope they will bring the green spaces back.
I cannot walk on the sidewalk anymore. I don’t remember the last time I could do this.
Three quarters of my friends from childhood have left abroad. There are renters who you see for one moment and then you don’t see again. Of course it’s sad. I am now friends with all the grandmothers in the block whom I used to hate because they warned me that I was stepping on the flowers.
Now I go to their flats and give them bouquets of flowers.
The Corporate Initiative: Ramona Grozăvescu, Immochan, 34 years old
We have been here for more than three years and our perception is that people are very attached to this neighborhood.
With brand strategists Heraldist we attempted to create an identity for the hypermarket Auchan in Drumul Taberei, somehow drawn from the collective intelligence of the people who live here.
We asked what their needs were and they told us they did not have spaces to socialise. Apart from some terraces and the park, there are no other options.
In our new project, we allocated 250 square feet to a space we called the community hub, where people can come and work together. We have bloggers who can hold parenting, health and food classes. We have a playground where the children will stay while their parents are in the class.
We have said that our center must be a space where people can meet and do all kinds of things together. Because I have noticed this activism that people have.
If I'm a resident in the neighborhood and we have an initiative and want to work together, we can meet in the hub.
We just make sure we have two chairs available.
Favorit was closed 20 years ago. All the doors at the entrance and exit were broken, and homeless people came inside. They started fires in the the main hall. They stole the chairs. At one moment the building was secured with metal and double-glazing, but these were also stolen.
We formed the pressure group Favorit in 2010. Keeping Favorit as the same cinema for the sense of nostalgia doesn’t make sense. Favorit must be reimagined. We proposed to put on the agenda of the local authorities the necessity of a cultural centre in the old cinema, and for the City Hall to invest in the building.
The homeless are no longer there, and the perimeter is secured. Now there will be an auction and we will find a new construction company. It will be a multifunctional centre, with film projections, theatre, ballet, workshops for children and the old, and a library.
We hope the reconstruction will take three years.
Dave and Jennifer Cox
A neighbor asked me: "Why do you leave your blinds open so often?"
We live on the ground floor
Maybe it's a cultural difference. But we want an open life, we don't have anything to hide. If anyone wants to see into our house, they can... We're here.
One thing I miss is that there are not as many children as there were before.
They grew up
But if you come to Drumul Taberei park on a Saturday afternoon it is packed with people, you feel the difference from America.
There, if you go to a park, no one is there.
We had the freedom to work on a relatively large project which, when it was ready, they began to change it. Everyone knew better than us.
The parking spaces are now inside these units and not outside of them. The circulation of cars changed completely, but it is what it is, and these are the times. It was a modernist neighbourhood, but it was not respected, and this is a problem.
I saw that the number of residents had risen. We had allowed for a certain number of people per hectare and I believe they doubled this. Where there was free space left for a park, or greenery for the people, the authorities put more blocks.
I can’t say that I am proud of something. I'm not happy that people who either did not understand the idea on which this design was based or, forced by circumstances, built more and in another way than we envisaged.
But I am pleased that people appreciate the neighbourhood.
I believe that the Metro construction will continue to be a building site until I have kids, but at least they will be able to ride on the Metro, even if I don’t.
There was a type of statue, in the shape of grey thorns in front of the Tip Top patisserie, where we played and hid when we were young and they destroyed it when construction began on the Metro. All the parks around the school are damaged, and it’s much uglier that it was.
The shopping mall in the next district of Militari, AFI, appeared when I was small. The first thing we did was go there and see what it was, why they built it near us, without anyone asking us. We went to explore. Now I see it as a place to lose time.
At school, everyone says that we are a neighbourhood of brats. I don’t understand why. There are very many worlds here, and all types of people.
I don’t have friends from the block, only on one staircase is there still a child with whom I get on. Everywhere else there are no children, but old people. When we were small, we had a laugh with them. They ran after us with sticks, asking us why we were making such a noise. At night I was kicking a ball down the stairs, and they came out and said “I will kill you!” and “In the Second World War there were no children like you!” One guy who was 90 years old came out of his flat with a rifle, so I really think he was from the Second World War.
I don’t know if I will remain in the neighbourhood, but I expect so. I see that they have built new housing blocks near the supermarket Lidl. They are very beautiful. Probably I will move there or something.
These voices have been edited for clarity and context.
With thanks to Irina Tulbure, Stefan Ghenciulescu and the Union of Architects in Romania (UAR)
Opening picture: copyright Petrut Calinescu, all illustrations by Sorina Vazelina, text and interviews by Michael Bird and Vlad Odobescu