The J.U.S.T. (Jamming Underused Socialist Treasures) is a long-term research project whose primary motivation is the notion that the heritage of the socialist modernist built environment is a key and complex factor in conditioning the paths of development of urban spaces in Eastern Europe. Through an ongoing, multi-level exploration of different aspects of this heritage, the project aims to bring to light new potential for understanding emergent urban forms in this region, and thus to act as a crucible for new modes of activism and intervention.
Socialist modernism in Eastern Europe was itself the resolution of tensions emerging from the encounter between the utopian designs of socialism (socio-spatial justice), the practical conditions of organizing urban life (housing, transport, entertainment, work) and the expression of state power (within the conditions of soviet imperialism). Thus, it was in the engagement with urban forms that emerged the contradictory relationship between the citizen and the modern socialist state. The fall of communism can be diagnosed as the failure of this mode of urbanism, and the associated mode of industrial production, in the conditions of economic globalization of the 1980s. What is less clear is how this failed built environment can be reprogrammed under the local conditions of international capitalism dominant in the 2010s.
It is our notion that this reprogramming represents a variety of challenges for a range of different agents: for the state (at various levels and in various instances), for local and international developers, for providers of infrastructure and international development programs, for architects, urban planners and cultural entrepreneurs, for artists and activists on both local and international levels, as well as for those who work, live and play in these environments, as well as those who migrate to work or study there, or travel to have fun or go shopping in them. Investigating the potential and obstacles to the reprogramming of the post-socialist built environment requires an exploration of the multivalent socio-spatial relations that constitute each given case. The effects emerging from often mutually contradictory attempts at reprogramming are fundamental to understanding and acting in post-socialist societies.
The J.U.S.T. project is thus an ongoing experimental research and activist project exploring multiple facets of specific examples of the socialist modernist heritage in urban spaces of Eastern Europe. We understand this heritage widely, ranging from now abandoned socialist modernist treasures, to the issues raised by the often-deteriorating infrastructure of block housing or socialist era shopping estates. It is also our contention that this heritage is being reprogrammed differently in different regions (e.g. EU and non-EU), in different countries (e.g. Germany, Lithuania, Belarus), in different towns and in different districts (e.g. central areas, outlying neighborhoods), etc. In each case, we contend that a complex investigation of the specific case opens the possibility for the production of new ideas and modes of action that can be applicable in wider contexts.
At the heart of the project is a concern for the issue of spatial justice in the specific conditions of the emergent urban forms of today’s Eastern Europe. Our aim through the project is to argue that understanding what this might mean and opening up avenues for achieving it is possible only through the long-term analysis of the built environment proposed in this project.