When construction of Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) began in 1948, the area designed for the future urban expansion was divided in 72 blocks. Not having any specific name like most other parts of the newly built Novi Beograd, over time, this area became colloquially known simply as Blokovi (The Blocks).
The population of the local communities which mainly form the neighborhood was 89561, including the neighborhood of Dr Ivan Ribar. But the boundaries of the Blokovi neighborhood are very informal and roughly can be divided into two sections separated by the Yuri Gagarin Street: the north part or, so called Bežanijski blokovi (Bežanija blocks) with a population of 44505 and the south part or Savski blokovi (Sava blocks) with a population of 45056 counted in 2002.
The Bežanijski blocks are build on the southernmost uninhabited area of the former Bežanija village, thus the name. However, it is completely urbanized and even though different architecturally from the southern section, it also features a series of residential skyscrapers in two parallel rows, stretching through the blocks 61, 62, 63 and the western section of 64. There are over 50 skyscrapers altogether. The Blocks are also known as “Oficirski blokovi” (The Officers’ blocks), since a large portion of the apartments in the buildings were owned by the old Yugoslav army, which housed its personnel there. Consequently, a large portion of the inhabitants of the Bežanijski blokovi are the families of the retired army officers who bought out their apartments from the Army.
The Southern border marks the Jurija Gagarina street while the northern, separating it from Bežanija is the Vojvođanska street. In between, the Dušana Vukasovića street divides Blocks 61 and 62, the Nehruova street Blocks 62 and 63 and the Gandijeva street divides Blocks 63 and 64.
Overall the inhabitants of the blocks represent the cross-section of the Serbian population. Because most people in Blokovi received their apartments through government-funded social programs, the population is very socio-economically mixed: it is not uncommon to have a bus driver living next door to a neurosurgeon in the same apartment block. The blocks near the Sava river were inhabited by a large number of artists and intellectuals in the 1970s. The neighbourhood is ideal for young children, with many playgrounds and a popular boardwalk built along Sava’s left bank. It is also considered as a healthy and a quiet place to live in as it has a lot of green areas, sports terrains and also a bicycle trail alongside the river.
While all this sounds great and it seems like a city plan which went right, the real image is something different. Because not much attention was paid to detail and subtlety when New Belgrade was being built during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The objective was clearly to put up as many buildings, as fast as possible, in order to accommodate a displaced and growing post World War II population that was in the middle of a baby boom.
This across-the-board brutalist architectural approach led to many apartment buildings and even entire residential blocks looking monumental in an awkward way. Although the problem has been alleviated to certain extent in recent decades by addition of some modern expansion, i.e. Delta City shopping mall, plans for Aquapark and Tennis courts near Block 45 have doubled the value of real estate in this area, at the time when New Belgrade with numerous development plans becomes one of the more desirable parts of the city. Many still complain about what they see as New Belgrade‘s “grayness” and “drabness” and have earned Blokovi the reputation of some sort of urban ghetto during the 90s. They often use the derisive term “spavaonica” (dormitory) to underscore their view as a place that does not inspire creative living nor encourage healthy human interaction and is only good for overnight sleep at the end of the hard day’s work.
This opinion has found its way into Serbian pop culture as well. In an early 1980s track called ‘Neću da živim u Bloku 65’, popular Serbian band Riblja čorba sings about a depressed individual who hates the world because he’s surrounded by the concrete of New Belgrade, while a more recent local cinematic trend sees New Belgrade presented somewhat clumsily as the Serbian version of New York ghettos like those found in Harlem, Brooklyn and The Bronx. The most obvious example of the latter would be 2002 movie “1 na 1”, which portrays a bunch of Serbian teenagers who rap, shoot guns, play street basketball and seem to blame many of their woes on living in New Belgrade.