Brave New Alps

ECO-Nomadic School in Brezoi (RO)

Recently we were invited by Kathrin Böhm ( / public works ) to participate in a three day (6-8 January 2012) workshop in Brezoi (Romania), as part of the project ECO-Nomadic School (ENS).

ENS is based on a partnership between Atelier d’architecture autogérée (AAA), AGENCY , and Fundatia Communitara de Dezvoltare Local (FCDL), and it is supported by the European network RHYZOM , in which all these partners are involved. The project is a “nomadic and temporary school for mutual learning and teaching of eco-civic practices in different regions of Europe”.

Amongst other modalities, the school is activated through a series of four civic seminars, each organised by one of the partner institutions, which involve local residents and organisations. In a few words, this part of ENS could be described as a loosely organised group of practitioners from different fields – ranging from art to architecture to gardening – who gather periodically in order to research and discuss on different situations and case-studies. During these gatherings ideas for site-specific projects and initiatives are generated that draw on the diverse experiences the participants bring into the group.

The gathering we participated in took place in Brezoi, a post-industrial Romanian town of 7.000 inhabitants located in the Carpathian Mountains, about three hours drive from Bucharest. The meeting was hosted by FCDL, the Community Foundation for Local Development from Brezoi, which started operating in 1996 in order to counteract the negative effects produced by the closure of the local sawmill in 1995, which represented the economic base of the town by employing thousands of people. In the early 90ies, 80% of the population of Brezoi was officially unemployed. Today there exist a number of informal economies in the area and every family has at least one of its members working abroad.

What is particular about Brezoi is that “self-sustainability was the traditional way of living in the rural community: from traditional building with local materials to providing food locally. From grass mowing and animals keeping to procurement of materials and building of houses, the work used to be done in common. During the last 50 years, all these practices/activities started to fade away, being replaced by easier, more efficient (or not) and globally accepted ways of living. Only few traditional practices have resisted, including the obste, which are forms of collective managing of land, pastures and forests.”

FCDL, together with other local organisations and institutions, believes that the social and economic decline Brezoi experiences could be brought to a halt be the reviving of local agriculture and pastoral economy in combination with the development of small-scale alternative tourism centred around local traditions.

The three-day workshop represented a first step in this direction. It mainly revolved around the sharing and discussing of relevant personal experiences by the participants, doing walks around the area, learning about local history and pastoral economy as well as collecting first ideas that will lead to the second, more hands-on phase of the workshop in summer 2012.

Central to the three days were the case studies of the so-called odaia. The term odaia indicates a micro-system made of a piece of land in the mountains (about three hectares), a one room house built on it, a ‘water hole’ fed by a nearby spring that serves several odaia, the plants that are cultivated on the land (for example fruit trees, potatoes, etc.) and the animals (mainly sheep) that are brought to the odaia by the shepherds in summer, the season during which the odaia are mostly used. The odaia in the mountains around Brezoi – there are about 900 of them – are family-owned and they are several hundred years old. In the present, most of them are run-down and only a few are still in use.

The idea from the side of FCDL would be to start working with a few of these still working odaia located 8 to 10 Km from Brezoi and to imagine possible future developments for them. For this reason, the last day of the workshop was dedicated to sketching out first ideas of how the pastoral economy of these places could be revived – potentially being integrated with a soft and culturally involved tourism. The group’s ideas where especially concerned with how this process of revival could benefit the whole community of Brezoi and not only a restricted number of odaia-owners. Hence, the workshop participants considered what kind of communication could be thought of to go with this endeavour, in order to keep the project open and accessible for everyone in the local community.

In summer 2012 a summer camp will take place in Brezoi in order to start working on the first concrete steps towards the revival of a sustainable local economy.

Thanks to Alex, Erini and Sam for the beautiful photos