Lipscani, the historic quarter of Bucharest (“centrul istoric” in Romanian) is in a state of near ruin, situation made worse by the mismanaged regeneration project implemented by the Spanish company Sedesa, contracted at great expense in 2006 by the mayoralty. The area with its peculiar oriental and La Belle Époque atmosphere and architecture would have been a huge international tourist magnet and a veritable gold mine for the city coffers. Now that is a lost opportunity, Lipscani is looking like a toxic combination between a Victorian slum, carpet bombed town and messy socialist era construction project. That was achieved in a bit over two years, after spending millions of Euro (the contract specifies 27 million Euro): money from an EBRD loan that has to be covered by the Romanian taxpayer, a contribution form a Dutch government that was clearly taken for a ride with the regeneration project, and city hall funds that again came from Bucharesters’ pocket. I guess that there are not many places in the European Union where such a disaster in the heart of a great city can be achieved in that short while, after spending so much money.
Ziarul Financiar reports today that the mayor of Bucharest intends, at last, to break the contract with the ill famed Sedesa, the main perpetrator of the mess in Lipscani. This developer has just proven itself to be a vehicle for unscrupulous Spanish property and construction speculators operating in this new EU member country, fleecing the local customers and public budgets.
However, Sedesa would not have made that mess alone; it needed the concourse of incompetent and even corrupt city hall officials and also that of an important number from among the property owners and commercial operators with interests in the area. That situation is symptomatic for people who do not value their city’s heritage and identity and are simply on the lookout for a quick gain. The property bubble in which they basked for the last four years, is now bursting, although many still refuse to acknowledge its existence. The few notable property and business owners from the historic quarter that maintain a high standard and are genuinely caring for Lipscani’s heritage are unfortunately a lone voice, hardly listen to by the city hall.
In the conditions of the actual financial crisis, there is going to be difficult for the mayor to find fresh funding and select a competent construction company in order to finalise the regeneration works. A recent visit to Prague (see my previous post on the subject) revealed that mayor Oprescu puts high hope in the EU funds, and for a change the authorities are willing to listen to genuine regeneration specialists such as those of Prague, but that is only a partial answer to Lipscani project’s mounting problems. The historic quarter of Bucharest and an important European heritage site is thus set to continue suffering critical damage for the foreseeable future. ©Valentin Mandache