Reclaim the streets!

The “Asphaltpirates” set unconventional accents to provide the streets in the Vienna Josefstadt temporarily as a recreation area for residents, as a stage for open-air concerts or as a market-place for organic food. With their actions, they want to call attention to the unfair distribution of public space in densely built urban areas in favor of car-traffic and to the detriment of walking people.

Christian Schrefel, Vienna, Austria

The “Asphaltpirates” were founded in 2010 under the Local Agenda 21 Josefstadt. Since then they follow their motto “use the streets differently” with a series of actions that shall broaden the perspective about the use of public space in the Josefstadt. By “removing” the cars temporarily from specific road sections, people shall be invited to revitalize the streets in front of their doors with alternative activities.

Since 2010, when the Asphaltpirates started to block different road sections temporarily during the first “Josefstädter summer”, it could be grilled and chilled, chatted and played right outside ones door. Once the cars were removed from the road sections, it becomes visible, how much public space actually exists.
In summer 2011 the “Lange Gasse” was closed for car-traffic several times. About 100 people celebrated together on a “Long Table” and shared food and drinks there.
In the year 2012, five „private viewing islands” were built up on the temporarily closed “Josef-Mathias-Hauer Platz”, which is normally a quite confusing crossing area, but has a big potential for urban development and improvements. On another time, the Asphaltpirates rolled out a carpet of grass on the crossing plateau of the “Albertplatz” and neighbors came for a “Grill & Chill”. The place is normally dominated by automobile traffic, but this action showed its great potential for other use. A classic open air with internationally known opera singers and around 250 visitors sitting on the temporarily closed and normally less attractive “Hugo-Bettauer-Platz” was the impressive highlight of “Josefstädter Summer 2012”. This intervention gave a lively feeling about the latent potential of the public space in front of our doors, when they are not dominated by motorized traffic.

Through the various interventions of the Asphaltpirates some new acquaintances between the participating neighbors were born. Several participants started to think about how to improve the quality of the street and public space. The temporarily actions initiated, for example, the founding of a new local agenda 21 citizens group called “Livingspace Lange Gasse”. The very active group developed common ideas and actions for a higher amenity value for all residents, pedestrians and children living in the street.
The Asphaltpirates still support this citizens group with actions like open air concerts or an organic food and delicacy-market in the Lange Gasse. The market was initiated with a view to traffic calming on the heavily used street and takes place now regularly on Saturdays. The market is situated in a particularly attractive section of the road, where an ensemble of Biedermeier-buildings is surrounding the street. People come to meet there and to buy food and delicacies of the organic farmers, who offer their regional products here.

Temporarily interventions like the ones of the “Asphaltpirates” allow the local people – old, young and little ones - to experience the public space in front of their door in a very different way than usually. It is like tasting its latent qualities. This experience can be very activating! People become aware of the problem and start to engage for improvements and traffic reductions together, or at least start to rethink own behaviors. There is no need for big investments or construction activities ahead of actions like this. Temporarily interventions are a simple and low-treshold method to create awareness for the disproportional use of public space. In parallel they have the potential to awake peoples will and energy for changes. On the long term some concrete physical and organizational measurements can follow, which create a permanent safer, greener and more attractive area for pedestrians.

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