Home Business: In Rovinj, Croatia, a Peek at What’s Possible

20220520 192252

Now this informal restaurant did not take credit cards, and I was all out of cash. So somewhere around 10 p.m., as dinner wrapped up, I had to ascend the narrow staircase and walk almost a kilometer to an ATM out on the town square. While I was out getting the cash, my wife talked more with the owner.

She was originally from Zagreb, now the capital of Croatia. She moved to Rovinj, then fell in love and moved to Belgrade with her husband. After the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Croatian War of Independence, she had to move back to Rovinj, as the government would seize unclaimed property. She’d been in Rovinj ever since then, alone for many of those years as her husband had passed away some time ago. She didn’t care for the heavy tourism in the country’s south, and thought it was losing some of its soul. She enjoyed her informal business, and the less traveled, more traditional nature of her region.

When I got back, I asked her if she knew how old her building was. “1700s. 1750? Around there,” she said. She paused. “It’s the new part of the city.”

This is not a cathedral or a palace. It’s an ordinary residential structure, basically a rowhouse. It was built well enough to be outfitted with plumbing and electricity. It’s been sitting there on that street for longer than my country has existed. And it probably didn’t cost much back in the 1980s. A place like this was just an ordinary place. It’s remarkable to realize that it’s unremarkable here.

America isn’t bereft of good urbanism, and Europe has its suburban sprawl, too. But I shudder to think of how many potential North Ends or Old Town Alexandrias this country has razed and rammed expressways through. (Even Old Town Alexandria and Historic Annapolis barely avoided the wrecking ball in the era of urban renewal.) How many people, usually poor and/or Black, that we displaced, how many businesses we bankrupted, and how many imperfect but functional neighborhoods we treated as blank slates instead of real places to invest in and improve.

I believe we can make our places better, more inclusive, more devoted to human flourishing. At this point, our job is less to preserve our traditional urbanism than it is to rebuild it. In this pursuit, it can be wistful, but also encouraging, to visit places that have had it, and kept it, all along.

You May Also Like