How Zagreb’s Socialist Experiment Finally Matured Long After Socialism

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How Zagreb’s Socialist Experiment Finally Matured Long After Socialism
New Zagreb, 1960

Ambitious New Zagreb has radically changed over the past 60 years, but always remained a desirable place to live

For decades New Zagreb was pejoratively called Zagreb’s dormitory. According to critics, the monumentality of its socialist architecture and lack of any facilities destined it to become a ‘dehumanized’ suburb. Consequently, New Zagreb was never seen as part of Zagreb or its one-thousand-year-old history, but always a ‘new’ city on the ‘wrong’ side of the Sava, a blank spot on Zagreb’s map.

However, 60 years after the first steps were made to the Sava’s southern bank, New Zagreb’s modernist image is profoundly changing. Nowadays the city south of the Sava is truly coming to life, stemming from office buildings, a museum, sports hall and shopping centers being built throughout New Zagreb. Its planning legacy produced new concepts of urban living which are nowadays being recognised, making its estates and their open, public spaces increasingly desirable places to live.

Plans to urbanise areas across the Sava are rooted in Zagreb’s continuous development from the turn of the 20th century. Industrial growth contributed to urban expansion, as industrial zones sprung up along the railway attracting a growing number of workers. Eventually this became Zagreb’s working-class district, called Trnje. Master plans from the 1930s foresaw the revitalisation of these areas, but the Second World War prevented them from being realised.

The postwar Socialist state provided a new, more economical framework of expanding Zagreb. Instead of revitalising slum-like Trnje and other neighborhoods in Zagreb, building a new town south of the Sava on what had been agricultural land was seen as an easier option to modernise the cityscape, with Zagreb Fair as the flagship project. One of the greatest advocates of expanding Zagreb to the Sava’s southern banks was Većeslav Holjevac, Zagreb’s mayor from 1952 to 1963. It was during his governance and with endorsement from Yugoslavia’s president Tito that a millennium long era of building the city north of the Sava was finished. […]

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