Odessa’s yard communities, a movement for a more livable City
Nowadays in Odessa, a unique grassroots movement of citizens in yard communities (YC) is emerging. It is supported by YC leaders and local NGOs and fuelled through non-formal education and cultural activities.
Odessa has about 8,000 apartment buildings. They are united by common spaces: yards where citizens spend much of their lives. The city has the highest population density, 4256 people per sq.km and the largest number of apartment buildings in Ukraine. Historical traditions and urban planning are favourable for developing neighbourhood culture and close connections in Odessa. Also need take into attention, that in condominium management systems (both private and public) every building stands on its own, but there are no means to manage their common yard territory jointly, as this public space belongs to the city.
Historically, yards in Odessa have played an important social role. They have been key sites for intercultural dialogue and for the formation and functioning of urban micro-communities. Over time, the practice and the particular culture of social interaction at the yard level in Odessa were almost lost. However, today, thanks to the efforts of activists, they are beginning to revive, and in the city, there are already very active yard communities that acquire some personality in the life of the local Odessa community.
Today, residents of courtyards do not know each other. There is poor communication between neighbours. The tradition of joint-living having common traditions in micro-communities is almost forgotten. As a result, there is a low level of mutual support and trust between people. There is a situation when people can’t ask for help from their neighbours in order to call the emergency services, because of doubts about whether they will get support.
In 2019, a team of enthusiasts from three NGOs – NGO Odessa Development Fund, NGO Pixelated Realities, NGO Zatsikavleni – conducted the first School of Neighbourhood Culture in Odessa, with supported by forum ZFD and the Ukraine Confidence Building Initiative (USAID project in Ukraine) and the Department of Culture and Tourism of the Odessa City Council.
The School was perceived positively by yard communities, in total 25 persons representing 10 courtyards took part in the School. The proportion of the applicants was 80% of heads and board members of condominiums and 20% of initiative residents of municipal housing companies. 27 yards took part in the Odessa Yards Festival (OYF), and 4500 guests visited this event. The Festival presented and celebrated the success of yards, which took part in the School to transform their spaces, like Dvor-SCENA, into more open and inclusive ones.
The Festival was attended by Mr. Atanase Perifan, who founded the European Day of Neighbours and awarded the Odessa community with Friendly and United City Award. Through the award Odessa joined the worldwide movement of good neighbourhood.
As an additional result, in order to sustain the expectations and needs of yard communities, the project team developed a draft of a 5-year strategy plan “Declaration of Rights of Yards” aimed at advocating the development of yards and bringing relevant changes into the city policies.
2020 made its adjustments to the project plans, and so were postponed some activities to the earliest possible time – Odessa Yards Festival 2020 (OYF) and Neighbourhood Culture Forum (NCF), together with U.S. experts of National Neighbourhood Day.
At the same time, cooperation with the forum ZFD continues and the course for alumni of School 2019 has already been launched; a grant agreement will be signed soon with the Ukrainian Cultural Fund, that will ensure:
- a new set of participants for the School 2020;
- the preparation of an expanded media-program for the YouTube channel of the Project;
- the conclusion of the process of the “Declaration of Rights of Yards”, for an impact in the legislative field.