Asking the locals

01/10/2019 BUI

In order to be more successful in a place-led development, we need to inquire about inhabitants’ opinions on their public open spaces and direct urban environment. We are interested in what directions of essential spatial improvements they would associate with as locals. Therefore, BUI has been investigating in neighbourhoods either heavily hit by car-oriented open spaces or districts containing vast amount of underused spaces. As a street questionnaire, this preliminary research has been merely qualitative based on genuine discussions triggering exciting and versatile responses.

Our main questions that led the conversations were: (1) Which neighbourhood do you live? Would you like to see some changes in its environment? (2) What do you think of the streets and corners of this area? Would you prefer more green? (3) Are you willing to bike in the city? What do you find pros and cons towards it? (4) How far (on foot/by bike) is the closest garden/park/green space to your home? Would you spend time in smaller green spaces near your home (e.g. corners, pocket parks)? (5) Would you use small outdoor exercising opportunities next to your home? (6) To what extent do you think these topics are part of public and private conversations? (7) How much summer heat waves effects your living environment? (8) Would you be interested in joining a participatory design process in your neighbourhood?

Our first round of the survey took place in 3 districts (6th, 8th and 9th) in the central and high density area of Budapest, which is the most problematic when it comes to green area coverage or heat island effects. We found a clear pattern between the most represented population groups – we managed to talk to – and the answers they gave. The inner 9th district (see map) has younger, more affluent inhabitants who are highly critical regarding their needs for nature-oriented spatial amenities. The 8th district has a diverse population by financial status and ethnicity. While population in district 9 are often interested in smaller scale street developments, people in the latter are more interested in bigger scale recreational spaces. In the 6th we had many older respondents demanding primarily architectural aesthetics for facades and had only secondary interest for further street and public space developments.

The biggest problem in the 9th district – where the diverse interviewees included a child, student, young architect, middle-aged father, and women – were over-tourism and Airbnb guests taking over the local communities that has a negative effect on space and its ownership. Too many cars and a lack of green were also highlighted as key problems. Half of the respondents occasionally cycle in the district or the larger city from which half of them were in fear of cars in the absence of safe bicycle routes. On the contrary, a father of 4 had an interesting observation that spaces shared between bikes and cars could catalyse drivers’ awareness – for others on the road. Of course, this would require 30kph zones to produce safer streets. There was a general agreement that while there are smaller and bigger parks nearby, much more green was crucial around the streets. Generally, they were very open to exercise outdoors close to their home. As climate change effects on every-day life are becoming heavier, there is a growing trend to involve green topics in every-day discussions. Overall, all respondents are greatly affected by urban heat island and consider it less and less bearable. There was a general willingness to join participative design for the neighbourhood in case it serves the community and not political interests.

As expressed by the inhabitants, the Magdolna quarter in the 8th district faces a diverse set of challenges. These include a devastating state of street cleanliness, the lack of green and play areas for children, parking challenges and heavy traffic. The latter is a serious issue when it comes to cycling. Being on the road on two wheelers is a dangerous sport in the district that easily leads to conflicts on the narrow streets busy with speeding and occupied by parking cars. While inhabitants are concerned for their parking spots, they agree in the need of more green space and improved street conditions. While there are relatively close-by parks, they are overcrowded resulting in space-use conflicts within different user-groups. In their opinion, these problems could be resolved by an increased variety of larger and smaller places. Inhabitants would be glad to use outdoor public exercising opportunities, if they were available and offered equally for everyone. Although, exercising outdoors with the current emission is dangerous and arise an obstacle. Many local communities discuss these topics but there is a feeling of helplessness by the lack of involvement and care from the municipality for these places. Quite possibly this is the reason why most of the respondents took neutral answers when asked about their willingness in participatory design.

Surveying in a less affluent area of the 6th district offered different opinions. Here respondents varied from young professionals to pensioners and local business owners and there was an unquestionable agreement on the dreadful state of buildings and facades, besides street cleanliness. They wish to see more green but concerned of the parking spots. This may come from being the densest area of the whole city where new green amenities are unlikely without removing some parking. The local opinion was that only marked bike lanes by paint on the road is insufficient for their security and thus would not motivate them to cycle. Generally residents of the area exercise at later hours of the day when they assume that air quality is better. This on the one hand shows health concern, on the other hand, it can be a dangerous perception on the changing Budapest climate. There was again some mixed interest for participation. The sense of lack of power was named as the primary reason for hesitation. 

In conclusion, there is a clear demand for enhanced urban environments in residential areas, particularly when it comes to urban nature and recreational activities. A concern and opportunity at the same time is that the often mentioned street dirt also relates to a lack of space ownership that could be easily improved by street aesthetics. From often only metre-wide sidewalks that lay between parked cars and the facades vegetation and safe bicycle lanes could be implemented that is strongly demanded by locals. The street improvements would strongly elevate the public space-use attitude from mobility – e.g. cycling – to spending more time outside, for instance having a coffee or doing some pull-ups. In the coming period the Budapest Moves project seeks to develop new urban ideals that will help to create inviting and resilient public open spaces focused on local community needs. As concluded from the preliminary questionnaire Budapest inhabitants indeed are interested to take part in the co-creation of their immediate urban environment.

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© Budapest Urban Ideals 2019