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March 3, 2016

Budapest Puts Empty Spaces to Work

Budapest Puts Empty Spaces to Work

By Cees van Straten and Csaba Mezei

The term “social innovation” is relatively new in Hungary, but social innovation as a phenomenon is not. Existing social innovation comes in many forms, from special kindergartens to hospices and from the cooperative movement to microfinance. However, these concepts have never been analysed together, as various examples of social innovation.

Getting this conversation started has been one of SEiSMiC’s achievements in Hungary. The most commonly agreed definition of social innovation is new solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes, etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovation has direct benefits for society and indirect ones in the way it enhances society’s capacity to act.

Although the economic benefits of social innovation are difficult to quantify, it is important to promote SI for the above reasons.

During research by the Regional Environmental Center (REC), supported by a fellowship grant from the Pioneers into Practice programme, several social entrepreneurs and practitioners were contacted on the state of social innovation in Hungary. The most interesting initiatives were discussed in depth during personal interviews. Three posters were made and presented in Brussels during SEiSMiC Forum #2: New Public Space.

Utilising unused urban green space for the benefit of local communities
Over the last few years there has been a rennaissance of urban gardening in Budapest. Several new initiatives cropped up after the success of gardening trailblazers who overcome initial barriers and launched long-term cooperation with the owners of empty urban lots.

Best practice example
Grundk3rt, in Budapest‘s 8th District, is a local community garden project in a ghetto area where inhabitants had gotten fed up with illegally parked cars, gang conflicts and dog poo and started temporary gardens on idle vacant lots.

Utilising unused buildings for the benefit of local art and culture
There is a growing need for space to foster independent, creative initiatives and art groups. And it turns out that Budapest has several vacant buildings that can address the need. When such groups are allowed to take over such spaces, and are given the freedom to expand and reshape them, they become important incubators of cultural and creative industry.

Best practice example
MüSzi is a cultural and community centre in one of the oldest department stores of Budapest, also in the 8th District. Although the building is in poor condition and out of use, it has proved suitable as a space for multiple, complementary activities related to culture, art and social issues. MüSzi has 35 studios for rent, co-working offices, a bar/cafe, four event rooms, a stage, a hair salon and more. The former department store has a total of 2,800 square metres of space.

Utilising vacant shops and commercial spaces for the benefit of community initiatives
There is less need for entire buildings than there is for individual spaces with good visibility. These can serve many kinds of cash-strapped community initiatives, social entrepreneurs, and creative businesses in Budapest. The city has thousands of unused ground-floor shops and back yards that can fill this need, but they are rarely available.

Best practice example
HellóAnyu (‘HelloMom’) began in 2015 as the first social co-operative that actively supports social community in Budapest‘s 7th District by providing space for mothers with young children. HellóAnyu maintains a community space where they can meet, relax, and socialise and thereby avoid isolation.

Csaba Mezei works at the Regional Environmental Center (REC) and coordinates the Hungarian National Network of SEiSMiC.

Cees van Straten, a sustainability consultant at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, carried out research on new urban space in Budapest as part of his placement at the REC in the Pioneers into Practice programme. His investigation fed into the work of the Hungarian SEiSMiC NaNet and its national workshop on new urban space.