There is no better symbol for the death of the Industrial Era than the closing of underground coal mines all around the world. The fuel that once fed the development of the World, is considered either too polluting to be used anymore, or too expensive to extract, and it is being replaced by cheaper and/or cleaner (not always sustainable) types of fuel. In this radical shift from the Industrial to the Post-Industrial, coal mines are often left behind in ruin, reminders of what once was the pride of the Industrial Revolution. But the mines themselves are not the only casualty of the shift to the Post-Industrial. The miners are being put even now with an impossible choice: changing their profession (running for generations in some families) or unemployment. Not in the least, the cities and villages always in a close connection with the mines are affected as well. From Sheffield and Nottingham to the Jiu Valley in Romania, whole cities suffered and entered a period of decline following the closure of coal mines.
The Post-Industrial Era started without completely healing these deep wounds from the past. Projects and strategies are being sought for dealing with the problems of coal mines, former workers and cities affected, but there is no one medicine to cure all problems. Some solutions seek to solve mainly the problem of the coal mine itself, concerning themselves with the idea of industrial heritage. Conversions into museums, cultural facilities, parks or other leisure activities became quite a fashion lately, especially in the former coal mines of Germany and Belgium. The idea is that if the mine is converted, the rest will follow. Others try to deal with a solution for a bigger area, concerning a network of cities affected, by territorial planning and economic strategies at a larger scale. These strategies often fail to see the close personal relation the miners have with their former workplaces, usually treating everything according to statistics and numbers. As usual, the solutions focused mainly on the people, the miners, are the hardest to implement and the most uncertain as effects.
This article presents the history and some of the conclusions after the Post-Industrial Urban Regeneration Workshop that took place in Petrila, the site of one of the main coal mines still in use in the Jiu Valley, Romania, in October 2012. The participants at this workshop were young professionals in the field of architecture, urban planning, landscape, ecology, sociology and students from the University of Architecture and Urban Planning “Ion Mincu” Bucharest, the University of Bucharest, the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca in multidisciplinary teams, focusing on the different relations established by the coal mine with its environment.
In the Jiu Valley, the main coal extraction area of Romania, the picture today is grim. The coal mines are either closed or about to be closed in a maximum of 5 years’ time. All mines reduced their activities and personnel. There is no official national, regional or local strategy for the redevelopment of the area. Therefore the area is being plagued by high unemployment, high emigration rate in the younger population towards other EU states, an aging population, children being raised by grandparents leading to dysfunctional families, and much more. As in what concerns the coal mines themselves, the only “strategy” applied until now is demolition and letting grass grow all over what once was a workplace for up to thousands of people (as it was the case of Dalja Mine). A befitting action: the death of the Industrial Era must be marked with a Post-Industrial funeral and burrowing.
In the face of the lack of any top-down strategy and seeing how the place in which they used to work is about to be razed to the ground, the former workers are feeling at the same time helpless and revolted. How can the place in which they worked for tens of years, sometimes giving their blood, and in which some of their friends gave their lives be just razed? And, at the same time, how is it possible to leave a ruin standing, when something else could be done instead? To complicate the matters further, the industrialization of Romania is closely linked to the Communist regime, which makes any industrial building to be a constant reminder of a tragic period for a majority of the population. The mixed feelings and attachment to the industrial past and its architectural products seems to be characteristic of this area.
In Petrila, one of the biggest mines of the Jiu Valley, the coal mine is strongly linked to the city. Almost all of the 22 000 residents have worked or had a close relative that worked in the mine. The life and history of the people in Petrila cannot be separated from that of the mine. The mine still functions, although at a limited capacity and it is programmed to close in 3 years. Most probably its fate, as it stands now, will follow that of Dalja Mine, it will be razed to the ground and it will be covered with vegetation soil.
Some of the local citizens, former workers in the Petrila mine, in a very unique practice, especially for Romania, are trying to save some of the mine’s memory as it is linked to their own identity. They organized themselves in the “Romanian Condition” cultural foundation, led by the local artist Ion Barbu. They created initiatives such as the “Save the Petrila Mine” initiative (https://www.facebook.com/SalvatiMinaPetrila). They launched a petition addressed to the Romanian government to save and convert their mine into a cultural space closing their petition with the following words:<blockquote>“Believing. That Petrila Mine can die but can never surrender! We make this appeal to all good willing and very good willing people all over not to come to plant daisies in the precinct of the former Petrila Mine! Closing. With Sirbu’s saying that “Europe is but a poor continent. Petrila is a whole world” we invite you, quoting almost every Miss World participants, y compris Bruce Willis, to Save the World!”</blockquote> This is one of the first local initiatives to which local citizens adhered in order to save a coal mine in Romania. Through their very close connection to this space and its meaning, the idea of coexistence with this colossus is ingrained within them. There can be no Petrila without the mine. Until this event, the idea of an industrial heritage, its protection and promotion, has been the discourse of experts, mainly architects, artists and urban planners. In most of the other cases of industrial site demolition, for example, the mixed feelings of the citizens regarding the remnants of a communist industrial past, paralyzed their initiative, not knowing exactly what value to attribute to the industrial heritage. An image best expressed by one of the citizens of Petrila saying: “Here is both Heaven and Hell”. This is why this particular local initiative is so interesting to the idea of thinking ahead and the sustainable development of industrial sites.
But Saving the Mine is the only relatively widespread consensus the citizens of Petrila have reached regarding its future. As one of the citizens put it: “We struggled 40 years to build socialism, and now they destroy it without putting anything in its place”. But from this point, each solution and desire is different. The title shows one of the more radical approaches to the future of the mine - maintaining the idea of industrial production with the erasure of the industrial past. A paradox of the Industrial to Post-Industrial shift, the times change but the people do not change so easily. Keeping the site for industrial production is a form of maintaining the character of an area. Thus, even though it may seem radical as statement, it is still a form of maintaining a piece of Petrila’s past.
The different visions regarding the future of the mine raises three questions:<ul><li>Can the tension between the different futures envisioned for the mine be a source of potential for its successful conversion and re-appropriation?</li><li>Do the local agents, which initiated the process, have any power to tackle such a big and complex problem as the conversion of the mine?</li><li>What should the role of the expert planner be in such a situation?</li></ul> a future for all or a future for each? From Lefebvre to the more recent Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Ranciere, Jeremy Till, or Richard Sennett, rational consensus in habermasian terms is seen as an unreachable ideal. Consensus can only be achieved through power struggles in which one side will end up dominating the other. The idea of dissensus on the other hand, which Ranciere puts it as being the essence of politics, can be a starting point for the process of involving the citizens in the conversion process (Ranciere, 2010). But dissensus doesn’t mean antagonism and conflict. Chantal Mouffe argues for an agonistic approach to public space. In other words, a taming of the existing antagonism in order to be productive, but without eliminating confrontation: “For the agonistic model, the public space is the battleground where different hegemonic projects are confronted, without any possibility of final reconciliation” (Mouffe, 2005, pag.806). The idea of a productive conflict is exactly what Petrila has to offer and one of the methods that can be used to reactivate de initiative of the citizens. The conflict comes from the fact that each citizen follows his own interest. The idea is that the mine can accommodate this conflict of private interests and thus can become a true public space and a space of negotiation.
In Petrila, we can speak of four parts in this conflict. As any classification and separation it simplifies the on-site reality, always mixed, but we consider it necessary in order to better illustrate our point. On one side we have the “Romanian Condition” cultural foundation which seeks to transform the mine into a museum dedicated to the personality of I.D. Sirbu, a local philosopher and writer, persecuted by the communist regime. The conversion, in their view, should have as motto: “Petrila mine is dead! Long live the Sirbu Mine!” The museum, keeping most parts of the Industrial heritage, should be dedicated to cultural activities. On another side we have the local authorities, most concerned with the issue of tourism. For them the interest regarding the mine is to have an activity appealing to the general public so that a mass-scale tourism can be developed. This excludes by definition the idea of culture, as promoted by the “Romanian Condition” cultural foundation, as that can be considered to be addressed to an elite. On another side there is the mining company officials and their local representatives, the director of the Petrila mine, which would like to transform the mine into a museum dedicated to the history of mining in Petrila and in the Jiu Valley. Last but not least, there are the citizens and former miners which would like, if possible, to keep the mine working, and if not, to be replaced by another production facility. Four different types of interests and all of them in a form of dissensus. This can be seen as a potential for the development and conversion of the mine. Two of the agents involved in the process desire the conversion and maintain the current structures (the cultural foundation and the mine directors). The other two desire something to be done, without considering a conversion. Or, as one of the citizens said: “let them stay there. They are new buildings. If they have not been used, why should they demolish them? Just to build something new?” The buildings can be kept because they can be used for another thing, they have a functional value. Demolishing and rebuilding is seen as irrational because it involves more work, not because of the high value attached to the buildings.
A future envisioned for the mine cannot ignore any of these private interests. This tension between culture, memory and work must be exploited, finding a just balance between all. One of the strategies that came out of the Post-Industrial Urban Regeneration Workshop regarding the future of the mine tried specifically to accommodate all these desires. We considered that leaving out any of the groups linked to the mine is illegitimate, as all of them have a claim to this space. Therefore, one of the strategies considered, built in two stages, proposes for starters a collaboration between the local administration and the community for three easily achievable objectives: organizing cultural events and education regarding the mine, Petrila and the Jiu Valley, and a greenhouse, a form common reappropriation of the mine by the former employees through another type of productive work. The second stage tries to combine all the desires of the local actors - culture, work and stimulating tourism. Thinking the whole process in stages, with small steps at first, is one of the strategies known to work in projects conceived and controlled locally. It is a form of empowerment, a win-stay, lose-shift strategy, characteristic for any cooperation. It is a model used in the famous Tupelo Model or the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Chicago, which Robert Putnam describes in his book Better Together, a collection of examples of social capital construction from the US (Putnam, Feldstein, 2004).
a locally controlled process In the case of Petrila, where the mine is so closely tied to the city, but, at the same time, poses so many problems through its size and complexity of the intervention, a locally initiated and governed process of conversion of the Industrial heritage could be seen as impossible. Faced with such a big challenge some members of the community might feel helpless, disappointed and eventually withdraw their involvement. So how can the local actors be empowered in such a way that they would eventually tackle themselves the problems of the mine, without delegating the whole process to experts and other nonlocal actors?
Two of the strategies proposed during the workshop envisioned a process of approaching the mine gradually. This process is actually a series of small scale, local interventions, starting from the immediate surroundings of the home, to the public space of the city, then dealing with the river, which is presently a barrier between the mine and the city, and eventually reaching the mine. As mentioned before, this small step strategy is mainly a strategy for the gradual empowerment of the citizens of Petrila. A higher degree of empowerment and trust in their own forces can trigger political action and pressure on local, regional or even national agents. This is the lesson of Portland or Valley Interfaith in Texas. This is the lesson of the practice of aaa (atelier d’architecture autogeree) in Paris, now moving to Colombes, near Paris, and the list can go on. From small scale and the immediate to large scale action and political empowerment. This is especially important in the case of the Jiu Valley where there is no big scale strategy regarding the future of the coal mines. Therefore a multistage small scale intervention strategy initiated and controlled by local actors can be a way to short-circuit the inabilities of the higher authorities.
This strategy already began through the work of the “Romanian Condition” cultural foundation, with its artistic project “Cry and Laugh Colony” (Petrila - European Periphery of Culture http://petrilafeeria.tripod.com/id5.html). This project tried to show how the everyday settings can become different with a touch of art and poetry. It is a demonstration of the fact that a multistage small scale intervention strategy could work in Petrila.
The strategy envisioned by the participants at the workshop tried for first to re-appropriate the poorly used outdoor residential spaces. As it often happens, these common spaces at the ground floor of residential areas is a no man’s land. There are no indications or suggestions of use, just an open green space, managed by the local authorities who actually do very little else than trim the grass. One suggestion is to transform this space for all into spaces for each, by giving a small plot of land to each resident. Another step is the conversion of underused or unused residential buildings into hotels, workshops, or other small scale activity spaces. Passing from the residential areas to the larger public spaces, the idea was to create connections, a network of public spaces and green spaces. This would put the different agents involved in the requalification of their own, immediate space, to cooperate and to establish direct links.
Closing the gap between the city and the mine was considered as the critical point in this strategy. If the redevelopment of the Jiu river banks can be done through locally initiated and controlled actions, than the mine can be converted through the same types of actions. It was considered a challenge because the space is no longer directly linked to any small group or agents. It will be a test of cooperation between all the agents that were involved in the redevelopment of spaces more closely linked to their homes. Again, the images show minimal interventions, concerning accessibility, cleaning and re-naturalization of the banks. In the end, the mine itself will be (again) a space for each, redeveloped through small scale intervention. When the space of the mine is filled with small scale interventions following local rules, a complex system is created, much richer than any other type of top-down expert approach.
so why do we need experts for? As mentioned before, the current situation in the Jiu Valley is grim and Petrila does not make an exception. High unemployment, high emigration rates, and above all, a former Industrial mammoth closely linked to the lives of each citizen is about to be closed and become a ruin. Seeing such a grim future ahead, even though the citizens have taken the initiative, they still feel hopeless against the forces of economy and society in general. Their initiative is more of a cry for help and seeking attention from authorities who have the power to change the situation, than an action oriented approach. Therefore, the role of the workshop and the experts in general is to empower these local actors in any way possible, thus stimulating their desire for action.
Doina Petrescu of aaa, said in one article that the expert should be less concerned about controlling the process through his technical expertise, but try to stimulate the multiple desires of the local actors. The architect and any other expert should work as curators do. “An architect who acts as a curator, in the middle between institutions, clients and users, a mediator, draws on others creativity, connector of people, things, desires, stories, opportunities” (Petrescu, 2005, pag.57). The Post-Industrial Urban Regeneration Workshop didn’t set as purpose to give solutions and impose them to the citizens. Instead, it drew on some of the desires of the citizens and stimulated new ones. It tried to show that something can be done, and it is not always at such a large scale that they cannot try to solve it themselves. It explored opportunities and didn’t try to solve problems. The results of the workshop are thought to act as tools and facilitators for further negotiations and actions of the involved actors. Even in the case of the value of the Industrial heritage present, the workshop did not classify very rigorously what is to be kept and has clear historical value, as experts always do. Instead it tried to find the value the citizens attached specific buildings and mediate between these values and the values as established by expert knowledge.
A mine, its workers, a city conceived specifically for the coal mine extraction industry. What to do with the remnants of an Industrial past in the Post-Industrial age? In Petrila the mine, the city and its people are so closely linked that they form a common body. Some of the people have made the jump to the Post-Industrial through leaving and emigration, but what remains there is the Industrial past. A radical change, as a tabula rasa thinking that the authorities have at the moment, will uproot the people there, losing all their identity. A new identity has to be created but in such a way that the old one is not forgotten. Based on the local initiatives, the Post-Industrial Urban Regeneration Workshop tried to analyze the relations of the Petrila coal mine with its territory, the people, the public spaces, the landscape, and its own past in order to envision a future. It tried to envision a dignified passing from the Industrial to the Post-Industrial. The strategies found concerned mainly the empowerment of local actors and stimulation of local initiatives regarding the Petrila mine. A multi-staged gradual process in which the local actors will be in control. This was thought to be a way of triggering the right solutions for the conversion, regeneration and re-appropriation of these industrial mammoths and maybe the only way to ensure a fair and sustainable future for this Romanian coal mine.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This paper was supported by the project “Improvement of the doctoral studies quality in engineering science for development of the knowledge based society-QDOC” contract no. POSDRU/107/1.5/S/78534, project co-funded by the European Social Fund through the Sectorial Operational Program Human Resources 2007-2013.
Sources: Mouffe, CHantal, 2005, Some Reflections on an Agonistic Approach to the Public, in Latour, Bruno, Weibel, Peter (editors), Making things Public. Atmospheres of democracy, Cambridge, MIT Press, pag. 804 - 807 Petrescu, Doina, 2005, Losing Control, Keeping Desire in Jones, Peter Blundell; Petrescu, Doina; Till, Jeremy (editors), Architecture and Participation, Oxon, New York, Taylor and Francis Putnam, Robert; Feldstein, Lewis, 2004, Better Together. Restoring the American Community, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Simon&Schuster Ranciere, Jaques, 2010, Dissensus. On Politics and Aesthetics, New York, Continuum Books (translation by Steven Corcoran) </span>