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How Slovenia Turned an Urban Squat into a Cultural Attraction

Squatter settlements aren't always the first thing that comes to mind when discussing successful urban development; the widely heralded example of Denmark's Freetown Christiania, an anarchist settlement on a former military base, has had its utopian reputation spoiled by occasional incidences of violence and drug-running by biker gangs. But in Slovenia's quaint capital of Ljubljana, with a medieval town center clustered around a meandering river, the squatter's settlement of Metelkova Mesto has become an integral part of the city's cultural scene. An article in The Guardian, the 12,500-square-meter (134,548-square-foot) array of buildings, formerly a collection of century-old army barracks that has been used by armies from the Austro-Hungarians to the Yugoslavians, has proved to be an ideal case study of integration.

One of the main reasons it's been so successful, according to the article, is that the city sought to preserve, not reform, the area's special character, and allow the artists working there free rein. More than 1,500 events are held annually inside a patchwork of alternative performance spaces and towering urban artwork, but the artists coalition that oversees the space is dedicated to upkeep and organization, enough so that the city has proven a collaborative partner, even declaring it a national cultural heritage site in 2006 despite the fact that it pays no taxes. By taking the stance that the activity it generates and reputation it's built has a more positive influence on the community than anything property developers could bring to the table, Ljubljana appear to be taking a more permanent position on Metelkova's semi-legal status.

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