A strained crossroads of social, ecological, economic and cultural ideas, positivist views on a more efficient, flexible, and competitive society, inconsistent and unsustainable policies, and the lack of any kind of long-term vision for the development of society – all of these factors have led to the situation we now face in Slovenia: an economic, financial, energy, environmental and food crisis. Since Slovenia´s position is not enviable in comparison to the other European countries, the Urban Furrows programme was established so that, besides keeping the public informed, it first and foremost also develops concrete examples of good practice in terms of alternative and autonomous production, specifically in those aspects of life which are a prerequisite for a tolerant, mutually cooperative, and creative society. On one hand, we have focused on strengthening a culture of cohabitation, on the other, we have aimed to preserve our cultural heritage which, in our opinion, inevitably includes biotic diversity.
In January, 2011, without any pompous announcements, we launched a two-year program: in cooperation with local and district communities, educational and social institutions, and, most importantly, with dedicated creators from Maribor, we will establish examples of good practice to empower communities. In less than half a year, with the intense cooperation of five research groups, we have expanded our activities to include cooperation with over a thousand children, parents, various ethnic groups, experts, youth, farmers, workers, homeless people, Roma, handicapped people, and those who feel they have no future. The affirmation of the oppressed and dehumanised, or those who, despite their capabilities and competency, are unable to make a living, takes place through attempts to construct new kinds of subjectivities, which we establish through emancipatory processes, such as the creation communities, cooperation, mutuality, solidarity, and dignity.
The Urban Furrows programme is composed of an active and highly qualified research team of expert researchers in the fields of sociology, anthropology, social work, ecology, agronomy, law, traffic sciences, and the visual arts. We base our perspective on the theory of social ecology, which explains why environmental questions cannot be analysed or solved without first confronting the fundamental contradictions in the mechanisms behind modern society. It is these mechanisms which are ripping apart the fabric of society and, consequentially, destroying our natural environment. In our work, we use the method of militant research, which characteristically takes on a creative, affirmative and dynamic role. This typical for potencia (creative power) and it is the reason we work “with” people and not “for” them. These are principles which strive towards greater heterogeneity, totality, horizontality, autonomy, spontaneity, and intuition.
In comparison with the rest of Europe, Slovenia has the lowest level of fruit and vegetable self-sufficiency. This is compounded by the fact that for the last twenty years smaller traditional farms have been steadily dying out and there has been a significant reduction in biotic diversity. What´s more, every year Slovenia loses seven hectares of arable land, and all of these problems are contributing to an exponential increase in the number of health risks. Urban Furrows´ answer to all of this is to establish the project Sustainable Local Supply in cooperation with educational and social institutions in the district community of Tezno, and with communities of small traditional farmers from the outskirts of Maribor. With concrete ties between the local community and the city, we wish to shorten the distance from the farm to the fork, lower medical costs associated with inexpensive food, which currently comes from the cheapest European mega-markets, and to empower communities which, until now, have been ignored. Concurrently, we are putting together a seed library to collect, breed and increase the variety of autochthonous species, but most of all to establish distribution systems and help seasonal food with high biotic value to find its way back onto our plates. Using the many European success stories as examples, we will set up alternative community gardens in Borova Vas, immediately next to a large concentration of apartment blocks. In schools and kindergartens we will create permaculture, butterfly, and fruit gardens to enrich the learning process and re-establish contact with the natural environment.
As for the highest level of unemployment in Slovenia´s history, the majority of Maribor´s construction companies filing for bankruptcy, and the abuse of migrant workers, the Rizom Group, a research team of experts and construction workers, is looking for answers and alternatives by uncovering cases systemic discrimination. With various projects (such as Free PC, or 0 $ laptop) they seek to establish a new subjectivity for African migrants, so that they can promote their own culture and become a creative part of the city. The Street Counselling Cafe consists of a team of social workers that provide counselling and representation in the field and in person as an answer to the problem of concealed homelessness. They are also looking for additional and systemic solutions for youth exposed to domestic violence, alcoholism, or drugs.
While doing research with the Roma community three directions were established: first, literary work was to shed light on arranged weddings and the role of young girls and women in Roma families from the time of their migration to Maribor up to the present day; second, with the preparation of a Roma dictionary Roma language classes would be held so that it would be used by youth and children; finally, in the apartment blocks of Poljane, where there is a high concentration of Roma families dealing with social problems, the Ethnomobile project will provide special programs to empower young girls and women, educational workshops for children, and music therapy. The Teleport project – a cyclist and pedestrian friendly community, with regular weekly bicycle repair shops, Critical Mass, bicycle parades, and plans for social enterprises, is already taking steps to combat “the raging cars” in the city, calling attention to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in the streets.