Lakeside picnic: A stroll through the ”Between the Lakes” area in Cluj-Napoca

What does a Jane's Walk planned for Cluj-Napoca, Romania have in common with a Tarkovsky film? The walk organizer explains

Sebastian Ionescu, April 26, 2015

Photos of the "Between the Lakes" area by Tiberiu Ciolacu.

Two weeks ago, during a coffee break, I was reading a Romanian architecture magazine, and I found out about the Jane's Walk festival. Since I'm tackling the idea of translating her book The Death and Life of American Cities into Romanian, I thought to myself that this event could act as a kind of preface to the Romanian version of the book.  And, since the city of Cluj is becoming more and more civic minded, I decided to talk to some friends—not only architects and urban plannersto organize the first edition of Jane's Walk in Cluj.

The city of Cluj-Napoca is a mid-sized city in Romania, and is the largest city in the province of Transylvania. (Yes, Transylvania does exist!) Historically, Cluj started as a Roman fortress and municipium (Napoca). After the collapse of the Empire there is little known data, and the city is not mentioned again until sometime around the year 1200. It was occupied and owned by the Hungarians, later becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since 1918, it has been part of Romania. Although there is still a large Hungarian minority, the nationalist-communist regime tried to make it more Romanian by adding the Roman name “Napoca,” making it today’s Cluj-Napoca. Otherwise, it is a cosmopolitan city. It displays architecture, urban typologies and landscapes from all periods and societies, ranging from buried Roman ruins to Baroque city-blocks in the historical center; from Classicist palaces and Jugendstil villas, to large socialist neighborhoods and collective housing estates; from slums on the landfill to typical Romanian sprawl.

Because it has a valuable historical heritage, the city is visited by more and more tourists every year. But the target of our first walk in Cluj won't be in the center of the city. The walking area is situated in the proximity of one of the shopping malls, in the neighborhood of Gheorgheni. Nearby there are large socialist housing estates, peripheral housing sprawl and brand new real-estate developments.

The Jane’s Walk will take place in the area between three lakes and the connecting watersheds. The main idea is to highlight the importance of having green spaces in the city. The “Between the Lakes” zone is in danger of being divided and sold to voracious real-estate developers, even though this is at odds with the city’s General Masterplan, and despite the fact that the Mayor has promised to clarify the property status around the lakes as a first step towards the forming of a public park. The area is heterogeneous, ranging from a central urban park-type space near the mall, to an almost-natural, barely touched wild habitat.

The title of the walk, “Lakeside Picnic,” is a paraphrase of the title of the book that gave birth to the movie Stalker by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. The book is called Roadside Picnic: The Tale of the Troika and was written by the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. It follows the journey of three protagonists into the “Zone”—a zone that has regained its natural state after being the site of a clash of universal civilizations. So, our trip will be from “mall-ification” to “re-naturalisation.” After we have passed a tree nursery, fishing spots, countryside paths and so on, we will have this common picnic in the wild zone. Then we will end our stroll in a beautifully planned socialist park relic, viewed as a model of what a park could be, where an open air amphitheater will be the focus of discussions and plans for the future.

The main purpose of the walk is to connect the different entities that determine city making. Of course, the group will consist mainly of the average citizens who, in Jane Jacobs' terms, anonymously create the city. Everybody is welcome to join, but we especially welcome those citizens who have organized themselves into associations in order to protect their districts from urban-planning abuses. The residents from the “Between the Lakes” zone must understand the intrinsic value of their green spaces, and the danger of being fully urbanized by “brick and mortar.”

The future of the “Between the Lakes” zone will also be examined in a workshop with students from five countries, organized by AstA (Association of Architectural Students Cluj-Napoca), and guided by the architecture and urban planning office Planwerk, who are in charge of the city’s recently approved General Masterplan. Other voices of the community are SOS (Sustainable Organized Society), an NGO led by activist and historian Adrian Dohotaru, and the “La terenuri” (At the playgrounds) initiative, an NGO led by anthropologist Laura Panait. We will also be accompanied by landscape designer Valentin Dan, and all the social media we can gather.

So, the “Lakeside Picnic” walk in Cluj Napoca will aim to connect residents of the city with different perspectives, and to raise awareness of the role of green space (even wild habitat, which is better left untouched) in the structure and economy of the city. We hope that the stroll through the “Between the Lakes” zone (as the journey through “the Zone” in Tarkovsky’s movie ultimately fails to do) will change mentalities regarding built and natural environments alike, by showing people that in addition to green space’s obvious ecological importance, it has social and symbolical value.

Gheorgheni Neighborhood, Between the Lakes Zone 1.jpg

Interested in attending this Jane's Walk? Details on the Cluj-Napoca City Page!

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