Everyone’s backyard

When I came to Przedmieście Oławskie neighbourhood in Wroclaw, nicknamed the Triangle, and talked to its residents, the majority preferred a renovated backyard over an artistic project. The space in question was in a really miserable condition. I had different means and qualifications, but I tried to make use of them in order to meet the request. I decided to keep an open mind, spontaneously respond to residents’ suggestions and watch how the situation develops.


I designed an eight-meter-long hedgehog consisting of separate spikes which would come together only through cooperation. In August 2015, I regularly brought the hedgehog in various nooks and crannies of the yard and observed how the residents get used to the animal and how they came up with different interactions with it. Sometimes we would take him ‘out for a walk’ around the area, and in the end, the hedgehog symbolically settled in one of the tenement houses.
Af the official ending of the project, both the residents and I wanted to continue the activities. We exchanged letters, we chatted on Fecebook, until finally we decided to collect money together on the polakpotrafi.pl crowdfunding site – in order to take the hedgehog and kids living in the houses around our yard for a week-long vacation at the Hedgehog Rehabilitation Center in Kłodzko. It was possible thanks to the involvement of families, friends and fellow artists. The kids who are growing up in a place which makes it very hard to believe that everything is possible, suddenly regained their agency.


Exactly a year after our first meeting in the yard we set off for a holiday with the hedgehog. During the week we spent in Kłodzko, the kids had the opportunity to help Mr. Jerzy, the founder of the Hedgehog Rehabilitation Center, and look after actual, ill hedgehogs. They also walked around the city, with spikes on their back, and introduced the inflatable hedgehog to the newly met children, mainly from the Kłodzko orphanage. On the last day of the event, just outside the gate of the Hedgehog Rehabilitation Center, the inflatable hedgehog was ripped apart under the weight of all the kids that wanted to hug it. An artist could not dream up a better end of the project – I thought right there and then.


After returning from the vacation with kids in good health, I gained much more trust from the residents of the Triangle. People began to talk to me directly about their ideas for action. I decided to make use of the financial resources of the European Capital of Culture and organised a competition for residents, which would allow them to freely express themselves. Once again I went from door to door, asking what useful action would they undertake for their neighbours. For about a month, participants recorded their ideas in a container placed between the puddles and mud in the yard. Then we displayed their ideas on the big screen and everyone could vote for their favourite proposal. While watching the recordings, we realised that many people still do not know each other despite living in the same building.
A suggestion to build a sports and recreation site won the most votes, but its implementation by the end of 2016 turned out to be impossible. Neighbours decided to combine their ideas and organise a festival during which we made holiday decorations and decorated the Christmas tree on the yard. The most active participants encouraged others to submit the project – not only for the recreation and sports site, but for the entire yard – to the participatory budget initiative. On the day of the festival, a nickname for the yard was coined: the “All Residents’ Backyard”.


I helped the residents to draw up the redevelopment design for the yard. In February 2017 they submitted it in the city office under the “All Residents’ Backyard” title. Together, we have campaigned for votes in the civic budget. The residents involvement was great, I was lost for words. Despite over 2.5 thousand votes, we finished second, thus were not granted funds for redevelopment. However, the strong mobilisation of the community did not go unnoticed and the representatives of Wrocławska Rewitalizacja initiative declared they want to create a professional redevelopment project of the yard in the following year.


The whole third phase was recorded by a camera. I first showed the resulting documentary film “Podwórko im. All Residents Backyard’, telling the story of the integration of the small community, to the residents, in the New Horizons Cinema in Wrocław. Then I went on a tour with the film in order to inspire people across Poland to take on similar challenges. Each screening sparked a discussion about revitalization activities.


Some of the residents involved in collecting votes for the Wrocław participatory budget regarded the second place as a failure and lost their motivation for taking further actions. The rest, still eager to participate in the project, together with Wrocławska Rewitalizacja and my interdisciplinary team, began to develop guidelines for the construction design. We held a series of meetings in flats and in the yard, recording the residents’ suggestions which will be the starting point for the architect to create a construction design of the backyard.
At the same time the group of habitants participated in Wrocław participatory budget for the second time and they won the money to rebuild the backyard.