OPPORTUNITYSince escaping communism 30 years ago, Romania has constantly battled a political machine fraught with corruption. One of the fraudulent methods used is to take public land and rezone it for commercial purposes to benefit accomplices. This is what happened in a neighbourhood in Bucharest, where residents woke up to find that a planned park had been reassigned overnight as land for apartment buildings. Our purpose was straightforward: to correct this injustice and get back the promised park. The neighbourhood NGO filed an action in court and we also turned to the court of public opinion. But in order to protest against the abuse at the height of pandemic restrictions, we needed to approach this issue creatively. We had one chance: to use the local elections for district mayor to bring people together and draw attention to the issue to put pressure on lawmakers at their most vulnerable moment.
RESEARCHGreen spaces in Romanian cities are increasingly threatened due to their destruction as a result of the negative impact of the development of economic and social activities. According to the World Health Organization, the norm of green space for one inhabitant must be 50 square meters. At the level of the European Union, where the urban environment represents the habitat for about 75% of the population, the standard in terms of green spaces is a minimum of 26 sqm/inhabitant. According to the ”Sinteza Peisagistică” report, published by the Court of Accounts, each inhabitant of Bucharest has on average less than 10 square meters of green space (almost three times less than the European norm of 26 square meters/inhabitant and seven times less compared to the norm recommended by the World Health Organization of 50 sqm/inhabitant). The residents of Sector 6 benefit from 213 hectares of green space, respectively 10% of the total green space in the Capital, compared to sector 3 which registers a share of 19%. On a simple visit to the ANL Constantin Brâncusi neighborhood, whose area is 115,000 m2, anyone can notice that there is only one small park in the area with a population of approx. 4000 people.
PLANNINGThe creative idea solved the difficult challenge of protesting injustice when large gatherings were heavily restricted (due to pandemic situation), and gave the neighbourhood a strong voice while keeping everyone safe and healthy. It put the legal fight into human perspective and brought attention to the abuse, so we could win a small battle for one of our planet’s last crucial resources: trees and green areas. The campaign was an interplay between a real-life event and online amplification. With our small budget, we aimed to draw attention to the issue and use this attention to pressure politicians into action, to repair the abuse. Toys were the main characters in this proxy protest and also the protagonists of an emotional online video where a bear leads the resistance against aggressive construction machinery, to show the city that even a gentle toy can bring about change when it becomes a symbol of passion and determination. The insight was simple and deeply rooted in the minds of our target, parents who live in the neighbourhood: if a toy protects a child from the monsters under the bed, maybe an army of toys will protect them from the ‘monsters’ in real life, corrupt politicians who want to steal their park. Under the “Everything for the park, everything for victory” rallying cry, the oxymoronic concept of Army of Toys spoke to the hearts of all the parents in our neighbourhood. And Bucharest. And Romania. The campaign was designed with a generational impact in mind. Our aim has always been to win this battle and have the park built so that the descendants of the residents would enjoy it in the neighbourhood for decades to come.
EXECUTIONA week before elections we launched our campaign and mobilized district residents to fight by asking them to bring a toy to the site of the stolen park, to have it stand in protest instead of people. To draw residents in, we had a neighbourhood kid direct our campaign video https://youtu.be/W09drl7eWgY and we gave him the funds and the support to get it produced. We circulated the video online to draw attention to the upcoming protest-event, which spanned an entire day, Sep 20 2020. When people stopped by to drop off a toy, they signed a physical petition that was also available online for people who couldn’t come. Our aim was to raise as many signatures as the small neighbourhood allowed, so that our influence on the mayor candidates would be large enough to get them to notice. When the event was over we donated the toys to children in need.
We targeted our campaign at the local community directly affected by the issue. With this, we applied pressure to the district mayoral election. The results surpassed our expectations:
We raised and donated 700+ toys;
>1000 petition signatures;
Thousands of reactions on social media;
Influencers got involved pro bono in the campaign, contributing to rallying the community around the cause (Ioana Chicet Macoveiciuc, Cristian China Birta, Mihai Vasilescu, Ștefana Teodoroiu).
Our aim was local, but the campaign enjoyed major exposure by having national television pick up the story organically and covering it for national evening news.
After the broadcast of the news on PRO TV in the evening news, the number of online signatures increased by 50%. National radio also invited the NGO to speak on air.
Aprox. 50 press materials were published and we had almost 3 million opportunities to see.
Most importantly, we reached the district mayor candidate who later won the election, who surprised everyone with this direct quote on the day of the event “The people of #District6 are trying to protect the only green area they have left. It’s a story about kids, about green spaces, about play areas. People want air to breathe. We talked, we’ve gotten to know each other, we’re in this together.”
The “Salvati Zona Verde Domnișoara Pogany” association won the process of cancelling the coordinating PUZ of sector 6, so that no real estate developer can for now build buildings on the land on which a park should have been originally designed.