A Letter from the Founder

I'm an urban designer. It's my job to understand how and why a city is vital to its inhabitants. So I recognized the systematic destruction of the ancient, multicultural Bosnian city of Sarajevo for what it was: an act of "ethnic cleansing" equally as reprehensible as mass murder.

Instinct told me not to get involved, but like any good citizen I was compelled to help the victims of this crime that was taking place before my eyes. And it wasn't long before I found out what form that help could take.

While searching for a Yugoslavian photo collection, I learned that the Agha Khan program at Harvard and M.I.T. had organized an international workshop to plan the rebuilding of the historic Bosnian town of Mostar. The renowned architect Amir Pasic was leading the design project that would be held in Istanbul from July 26, 1994 to August 26, 1994. The project was named "Mostar 2004" because it looks a decade into the future.

But there was no such rebuilding scheme for Sarajevo. So I decided to initiate one, with the guidance of Amir Pasic. I would go to Sarajevo to photograph architecture and collect maps and necessary site information. But how would I get there? All routes were blocked, the city was surrounded, and commercial air service had long since been discontinued.

Then heaven intervened. My good friend Jim Douglas, a Catholic theologian who had been in Sarajevo working to bring Pope John Paul II there for a council of reconciliation with Orthodox and Muslim leaders, suggested that since I had journalistic experience I might be able to obtain a United Nations press pass. He was right. And as a member of the press, I would be allowed to fly into Sarajevo on a plane carrying humanitarian relief.

But how would I use the resources I hoped to obtain in Sarajevo? What good would they be unless I could get them into the hands of those with the know-how to put them to productive use. That would take organization, a commitment of time and effort from others.

Immediately I began to form the Birmingham Bosnia Task Force (eventually to become the Global Network for Rebuilding), and enlisted the help of one local leader from each major religion represented in Bosnia: one rabbi, one Orthodox priest, one Catholic priest, and one Moslem imam. The Greater Birmingham Ministries offered their support, as did the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. These local endorsements infused me with optimism.

I contacted several universities, to arrange future class work featuring the materials I hoped to procure. LSU, Georgia, and Auburn expressed interest. A scholastic network was beginning to grow.

One week before my planned departure, my phone began ringing nonstop. Refugees who had heard about the trip were calling to send money and letters to family and friends. Even the Bosnian Embassy in Washington, D.C. called to offer assistance.

As my embarkation date grew near, I disregarded the chill feeling that perhaps I was getting in over my head. I tried to ignore the persistent reports of mayhem and terror visited upon the innocent population of Sarajevo that I would soon be joining, and concentrated instead on visas, baggage, tickets, etc. Before I knew it, I was on my way to Zagreb to obtain the press pass, then on to Ancona, Italy, to catch a flight into Sarajevo.

It would be the last UN plane from Ancona that did not take ground fire. The next flight incurred casualties, and subsequent ones were canceled for nearly a month. So, a planned ten-day visit lasted more than four weeks. It was stressful and frustrating to be unable to escape Sarajevo, but the delay helped make my trip a success. It enabled me to get to know many young designers and artisans, people who risk their lives every day to carry out tasks many of us take for granted. Shopping, getting to school, taking a walk with a girlfriend or boyfriend--all can prove deadly under the snipers' guns in Sarajevo.

After several abortive and harrowing attempts to smuggle the resource materials past Serbian troops surrounding the airport, I was finally able to leave Sarajevo. I went to Istanbul, to attend Amir Pasic's architectural workshop. But my heart was with the Sarajevans, and I longed to return home with my site data and begin the process of nurturing the network.

I arrived back in Birmingham two weeks after leaving Sarajevo, with materials to support an array of land planning studies (described in the "Classes and Workshops" page) involving reconstruction of areas selected because of their importance to Sarajevo's urban fabric and their adaptability to student work. Within the month, I had made presentations to upper-level classes at LSU and Georgia. And now, two years later, our work has borne fruit (see the studio page for a sample of our students' work).

Our goal is to provide plans for a city where people of diverse cultures can live together in harmony. We have enlisted the aid of many of the finest minds in corporate and academic land planning in America. Please join us in this effort.


Jay Craig

September 1, 1996

Return to The Bosnia Network Home Page

Or See:

A Prayer for the Balkans
The Newsletter, Winter 1995
The Newsletter, Spring1995
The Newsletter, Fall 95 / Winter 96
The Newsletter, Fall 1996
The Studio
A Note from Sarajevo
Classes and Workshops
A Letter from the Founder
A Peaceful Mobilization
An Endorsement from the ASLA President
Sarajevo Survival Guide
Additional Resources
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