Autonomy and the City

LJUBLJANA IS NOT A CORPORATION

A Brief Introduction

Tovarna Rog has been a conflicting issue in Ljubljana ever since the initial occupation of the former bike factory’s derelict buildings in 2006. A small scroll around the internet will reveal a wealth of information about the place’s conflicting past, as well as an ongoing battle for autonomy against the municipality of Ljubljana’s plans for regeneration. The story is well known throughout Slovenia and has lead to heated debates and power struggles on various areas: at Rog factory’s buildings, on the street, across media outlets and at court.

As the economic stagnation brought forth by the global financial crisis of the past decade, halted the municipality’s regeneration plans, the occupation of the industrial complex flourished with a wealth of grassroots activity ranging from activism, to artistic expression, to music and parties as well as athletic events. Across this broad spectrum of activity, consensus might be hard to achieve (since there is no single hierarchical representation) however, the preservation of the place’s autonomy appears to offer some common ground or common perspective to Rog’s groups of users.

And indeed, for the time being Rog’s users have managed to buy some valuable time ever since the court battle between Rog and the municipality has led to a standstill: the municipality’s ownership rights not withstanding, individual eviction notices will have to be served against hundreds of Rog users, as Rog factory lacks any legal status and any centralised form of representation and management per se. It follows that such a task can be impossible to enforce and administer, whereas any intervention by way of private security and demolition attempts is met by the community’s backlash.

Adding to the uncertainty that arises from the current situation, the plans of the municipality seem to lack any concrete focus: the primary aim has been to redevelop the land as a hub for the creative industries, following an overall strategic/ neoliberal theme for the city of Ljubljana as a whole. Prior to that, attempts for commercial and residential redevelopment where met with a lack of relevant funding, a story that has been well-known around Ljubljana and which has resulted in the addition of many a construction-site-in-progress around the city.

It appears that in a city that still struggles to re-invent itself in the global neoliberal setting, answers about the common use of urban surpluses can be found in the spaces of Tovarna Rog, as they are currently used. What remains however, is a power struggle or a game of dynamics between the lawful ownership, aiming to assert its presence and legitimacy top-down, and the current state of affairs within ROG, which is however characterised by lack of common vision from the part of the groups, as well as by the progressive degradation of the physical environment and the lack of infrastructure, all of which point to a rather unstable and unsustainable future.

As the physical needs of ROG become even more pressing, issues of place use and management come to the limelight with increasing speed. Any solution about ROG ought to stem from ROG as such. It is an interesting endeavour therefore, to map and analyse what ROG is in order to envision what its future can be.

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