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an interview with Romea Muryn,
the Program Director


an interview with Romea Muryń, the Program Director
Romea Muryń is an architect, urban planner and educator from Poland. Since 2019, Romea works as a Program Director at the CANactions School. She has eight years of experience in the leading architecture offices, participated in numerous exhibitions and urban development projects. We asked Romea about the new program of the CANactions School "Alternative Models for Living" and learnt a lot about her vision and goals for this program, as well as about her personal motivations.
CANactions School: How was the theme "Alternative Models for Living" born?

Romea: The idea was born during the previous educational program "Creating Homes for Tomorrow", where we traveled to Amsterdam, Zurich, Helsinki, and Kyiv to explore diverse housing policy-making and design strategies. Comparing these four cities, we were introduced to diverse housing models. Each model implies its own combination of stakeholders with different profiles, roles, and power to influence the process. The comparison of such models allowed us to understand their strengths and weaknesses, to see which elements can be adopted in other contexts.

The final stage was Kyiv Workshop, where we were translating those findings into the Ukrainian context. This is when we realized that a much more in-depth analysis of different aspects of housing in a post-socialist context is required in order to develop viable strategies and customized solutions. Ukraine and other post-socialist countries face similar problems and lack analysis and public discussion on housing provision.

This was our point of departure for the current program: to look at the framework conditions of the housing in post-socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe. To cover such a broad and complex topic, institutional collaboration is needed. By bringing together key research and practice institutions from post-socialist states we can exchange the knowledge and resources on an ongoing basis. What is more, this knowledge is emerging from our specific context, which allows to develop more accurate models.
Which housing model did you find the most interesting when studying Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Zurich?

For example, the City of Helsinki owns 80% of the city land, which allows for more strategic land development and higher housing quality. If the land is owned publicly, it provides more tools to regulate the speculative component of the housing market. As an example, the distribution of the land (with residential functions) and its prominent location depends on the housing innovation in terms of sustainability and affordability as the main objective for its distribution, in opposition to the maximization of volume and saleable areas (main assets/drivers of free-market). With this in mind, the City of Helsinki has strong incentives for developers and guides them to provide innovative housing to meet those indicators. For residents, it results in new housing alternatives and examples of how to improve the quality of living in blocks of flats.
What does "alternative model" mean?

It is a strategic proposal on how innovative high-quality housing projects could be implemented given the restrictions and particularities of post-socialist context.

We set it as a goal to challenge the participants to research local framework conditions in-depth, to critically evaluate Western models, and to find alternative solutions that emerge "from the ground".

Why did you choose these sub-themes — governance, ownership, polycentricity, and collaboration? How are they connected?

The sub-themes are the necessary interdependent concepts to be considered in order to design long-term housing strategies, which provide not only affordability, but also inclusiveness, diversity, and sustainability.

For example, there is a properly designed model of ownership that provides affordable housing, where the agents have their roles and responsibilities assigned. However, if the governance framework is not in place, it still will fall apart. Or, if the collaboration between public and private institutions is not properly working, legal frameworks could be worked around.

By splitting the general theme into these four sub-themes, each group can go much deeper in their own topic and develop stronger proposals, which will complement each other.

What will the participants learn to become better urban planners in the Central and Eastern Europe context?

We will teach participants to work through the stages of a policy proposal and design strategy development. It starts with critical thinking: going above and beyond to analyze and compare the cities' contexts; not taking "best practices" for granted, but learning to rethink them; being capable to extract the knowledge from experts, mentors, partners and transforming it into research questions, hypothesis, and strategic design solutions.

Furthermore, they will learn to work multiscalar — to connect the policy with the built environment of different scales, and in multidisciplinary teams, yet achieving coherent strategic design.

Throughout the process, they will be provided with the tools and continuous feedback from the mentors who are the leading specialists at every phase, as well as with the inputs from the acknowledged experts.
What are the expected results and how will they be used?

At the moment, the topics raised by the program are not well-researched and discussed. The first step is developing the conceptual proposals that will start a discussion. Our partner institutions will use them to further advocate and develop sustainable solutions for housing. They will start a chain reaction.
To start this reaction, we will hold exhibitions with the participants' proposals in our four cities, supplemented by public events.
By doing so, we will contribute to the discourse surrounding the theme of housing and regain attention in current social, political, and theoretical debates.
As you come from Poland yourself, did you have any personal motivation to work with this topic?

Indeed, I grew up in a common socialist neighborhood — typical concrete panel housing infill with the social infrastructure (playground, kindergarten, kiosk, cultural house). My region is particularly interesting in terms of socialist architecture and urban planning due to the post-war conditions (West Pomeranian voivodeship — "wojewodztwo zachodnio-pomorskie"). It was a region that was "given" to Poland after the end of the second world war. By default, it received the status of public land and was "experimental" ground for the new society which was representing — Polish People's Republic ("Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa"). It is important to note that Polish citizens were massively relocated to those regions (West, and partially North-West part of Poland) and the people's relation to the territory was not as strong as in the rest of the country. The most prominent socialist neighborhoods can be found in that part of Poland.

Personally, I am seeing enormous potentials in analyzing preliminary ideological principles of social equity and communitarian living (which emerged during the socialist period), thus, the stigmatizing or/and bearing of negative connotation of Soviet Era oppression. The early ideas aimed to prioritize everyday life and creating a network of collective socio-cultural infrastructures as a central part of each settlement. A re-introduction of those explorations on spatial reforms and the associated impact on socio-cultural development supported by land "liberation" from private ownership are still significant in our times. I am intrigued and interested to draw out socio-spatial relationships and their impact on housing/living conditions.
Text: Yuliia Popova
Photo: Dasha Martynova, Vitalii Khrystevych