A city’s development is inseparable from the life of the people inhabiting it and the aspirations to differently arrange that life. Alongside with the micro adjustments of the environment to the personal needs of the citizens, great ideas are born on how to reorganize or improve the entire society. Somewhere thereabout, between (grand) visions of a future society and ordinary life, lie realities of the city – its people, its ideologies, its construction sites, abandoned industries, luxurious buildings, suburbs without infrastructures, new facades and old habits. Today, that gap is a place of both a neoliberal expansion and a variety of resistance practices and social alternatives. A modern city bears witness to the new geopolitical constellations, the expansion of large capital interests, freedom of action, citizens’ association and the attempts to establish more equitable social relations.

The conference Between Big Ideas and Life’s Realities will present Belgrade as an “urban collage”, created through an interplay of large, formal development narratives (from a never embellished capital and a victim of unfinished modernization, to a newly proclaimed commercial center of South-East Europe) and the informal practice of housing development, cultural creativity and social activism.
Only in the last 50 years, changes in the paradigm of development went from a socialist, centralized model of management and planning, via the chaotic illegal construction and its legalization, only to end with surrendering to market-driven development rules. Different examples of housing policies and construction, cultural politics and practice and social activism graphically represent the intricate relationship between the formal paradigm and the informal practices.

Belgrade of course is not an isolated example of such urban transformation. The collapse of the socialist system, the accompanying universal mantra about privatization and foreign investments as the only way out, and the politics of creating new identities characterize the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia.

At the conference, we will examine a variety of development cases and some attempts to oppose the dominant paradigm typical to the entire region, and open up a wider debate on possible new development strategies.