Following the example of lively, café-lined Bartók Béla út in south Buda, a plan is being devised to breathe new life into Margit körút. This section of the Grand Boulevard leading from Margaret Bridge towards Széll Kálmán tér is to be revived, a joint initiative between the local council and private investors. The Margaret Quarter project would mainly involve making use of municipal properties left vacant over time, with more wide-ranging cultural and community activities on the drawing board.
Everyone agrees that the walk past empty shop windows along the Grand Boulevard from the Buda end of Margaret Bridge to Széll Kálmán tér is pretty grim, particularly the stretch between Mechwart liget and the bridge, where businesses have long been overlooked.
The opening of Mammut mall two decades ago usurped smaller service providers, and the rise in property prices made street-level shops less attractive.
Yet the area, along Margit körút and surrounding streets, features exceptional architecture, thanks to the urban development of the 1930s that quickly brought high-quality shops, restaurants and nightclubs. There’s still a lot of potential here that the local council would like to make best use of.
Concrete steps were taken in the autumn of 2020: the concept of the Margaret Quarter Cultural and Community District was introduced. The council agreed upon the aim of creating a long-term, sustainable, cultural, civic and entrepreneurial community in the area, one that would develop independently.
A request for professional partners and collaborative organisations was published, as well as tenders for several vacant, municipally owned rental properties along Margit körút. The premises would be rented at a discounted rate – of course, the openings have to wait for the pandemic to pass.
According to district magazine Buda Polgár, local government can draw up a contract with three applicants in the first round. One of them is the Habitat for Humanity Hungary Foundation, which undertook to help develop an effective district housing policy and strengthen social solidarity; another is Kelet Galéria, which will establish a cultural centre; the third is KÉPEZŐ Culture, keen on establishing a fine arts studio, educational activities and a talent management team in partnership with teachers in the district.
The Margaret Quarter project is overseen by a panel of nine, chaired by Deputy Mayor Dániel Berg. Its members include award-winning architect and interior designer Tamás Dévényi, actress Andrea Osvárt and Dániel Ongjerth from the cultural foundation Eleven Blokk.
The four outlined
their plans in a recent online Q&A session. According to Dániel Berg,
there are two directions of urban development, top-down and organic, and they
try to strike a balance between the two.
Finding new tenants is an important milestone with the next round of tenders expected in mid-March. Among the criteria for the discounted rent is that the given service provider generates footfall and engages in community and cultural activities. The first phase will run until the end of July, after which they will plan out the following quarter.
Also according to Berg, private investors have already expressed interest, and they receive enquiries on a daily basis. The focus is very much daytime, creative and cultural, not nightlife. As he puts it, “Margit körút will not be the next party district”.
Ongjerth cited Varsányi Irén utca, parallel to Margaret Boulevard, as a good location
for quality service providers – although with fewer passers-by. Andrea Osvárt was
already imagining decorative street lights for Christmas 2021, while Tamás
Dévényi suggested that it would be good to re-introduce a tram stop at St
Stephen’s Parish Church on Margit körút.
The permanently busy 4/6 tram stopped here until the 1950s, since when it has trundled past, the section between Margaret Bridge and Mechwart liget the longest of the whole line. Traffic reduction, of course is beyond their remit, with few alternative routes to relieve the congestion.
Bartók Béla út, which has undergone spectacular re-development in recent years, might seem the role model for all this, but it has different characteristics. Here, an organic development has already started, thanks to the Jurányi House cultural and community centre, the Atrium Film Theatre, the Bem cinema and the attractive services along Frankel Leó út. One of the best pizzerias in the city, IGEN, has long had its base on Margit körút.
In terms of cultural and community activity, of course, there is still room for expansion. A Margaret Quarter website and social-media pages will be launched this month, providing information about discounted locations, the conditions for application and deadlines.