How-to Guide – POdLEZNO (Sofia)

POdLEZNO is a voluntary organization which deals with the quality of the urban underpasses in the city of Sofia; lots of them being in a terrible condition with lack of light during night. In the last two years the team has been dedicated to improve the physical quality of these underpasses by also adding additional cultural value. In this way they manifest their motto “Do not be kept in the dark”, which can be interpreted both literally and figuratively- art, music, interactive installations and historical galleries that fill the underground urban spaces. This concept aims not only to make the underpasses safer and more pleasing to the eye but also to get the average passer involved in the process of change which the Bulgarian society so desperately needs.

Despite the short period since the organisation have ben founded it succeeded to revitalise three underpasses in Sofia. These projects were realised through different frameworks including multiple actors during the processes. Although each project developed through its individual path the team of POdLEZNO managed to synthesise practical how-to recommendations based on its own experiences, which they share on the Workshop at Sofia (31st October – 1st November).

Results from POdLEZNO’s Projects

The nature of their projects is through collaboratively bottom-up perspective to include simultaneously the structural body of the city’s administration and the citizens considering a scarcity of resources. An effective way to this is to work extensively for the institutional support and try your best to gather volunteers by diverse means for the actual intervention.

Working with Institutions

The administrative body and legal frameworks can be extremely difficult to deal with, especially when we speak for a city such as Sofia where there are tremendous amount of departments responsible for different elements within the urban environment. According to POdLEZNO it is decisive to equip yourself with patience and energy to go through the rather slow process. However, the institutions seem to be the only partners in respect to certain aspects of the urban interventions. They represent the only actor which is absolutely necessary to involve in any public space transformation. Before approaching any institution it is essential to understand its structure and who is responsible for what – knowledge that can ease the process.

Working with Volunteers

When you work with limited financial budget one of the crucial challenges is to actually execute the physical intervention(s). Depending on the project this can demand a serious amount of physical work and people involved. A method that POdLEZNO utilised to overcome this challenge is to make substantial efforts of inspiring citizens and volunteers to support them. From their experiences they have relied on five means to collect voluntary workforce:

  • Crazy friends and relatives;
  • Social media including Facebook, Google+ etc.;
  • Online platforms for volunteering such as;
  • Institutions offering voluntary support such as Bulgarian Youth Red Cross;
  • Involving local citizens.

In the long term the team of POdLEZNO believe that incorporating volunteers does not have only have financial benefits by saving money but also enhances the relationship between urban environment and its users i.e. the citizens.

Projects’ Description

Looking in more details back on their work POdLEZNO outlined two practical aspects which they found crucial while trying to proceed with their own projects – secure funding and deal with paperwork.