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The Transformation of Tirana's New Bazaar
City/Region : Municipality of Tirana , Albania

The old Bazaar represented one of Tirana's most iconic symbols of traditional urban life. The area housed some 15 cultural heritage sites protected by law, which were hidden under rundown facades. The space itself contained obsolete infrastructure and generally unappealing commercial spaces.

The New Bazar has been transformed into a pedestrian area, a lively shopping district, an eating and night-life space and a perfect tourist destination, through joint cooperation between private businesses and the Municipality. The New Bazaar's ambitious project saw some $5.5 million of investments from foreign grants and Tirana Municipality's budgets, while private investment by private businesses exceeded $4 million.

Agendas addressed
Public spaceSocial inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
Context
how it was before

Tirana has undergone drastic demographic, urban, economic and social changes in the last 26 years. Since the regime change in 1992, the city's population increased from 215.000 to circa 1.000.000. This rapid and rather uncontrolled population increase brought continuous challenges in terms of provision of municipal services: health, education and social services, control over territory and urban development, traffic management and environment preservation.

Additionally, following the 2015 administrative reform (when the current administration obtained the mandate) Tirana's surface area increased 25-fold, with several new competences transferred to the local authority. The administration started a process of revitalizing city landmarks (historic, cultural and commercial) with the aspiration of improving the quality of life and putting Tirana in the regional/continental tourism map. The New Bazaar project was one of the initial big projects that were envisaged as crucial to Tirana's instatement as a nice city to live in and to visit.

In Action
New Bazaar, Marketplace

The Municipality initiated the project by approaching several donors and financial institutions that would be willing to finance the endeavour. One of the primary obstacles that we faced was that of assessing and ensuring the sustainability of the intervention, considering that one of the negative development patterns in Albania has been that of projects with no durability and resilience, both in terms of financial feasibility and in terms of maintenance of operational and quality standards.

The Municipality approached the Albanian American Development Fund, an institution that has had several good practices in creating business improvement districts and it was agreed that a similar approach was to be used with the New Bazaar project. Following an initial committment from the AADF, the Municipality solicited and obtained budgetary support from the central government, and then committed financial resources of its own.

The AADF was tasked with providing the conceptual business plan and assesment of the financial feasibility of the project, while a Municipality-led joint team with representatives from ministries, tourism, culture and heritage institutions, as well as architects and engineers, were tasked to prepare the design and the detailed project.

The team worked with unprecedented speed and efficiency, and the project was delivered in less than 12 months from the commencement date. The launching of the project was accompanied by the creation of the Tourism Improvement District (TID), an entity comprising representatives from the business community and the public authority, which supervises the management and the functionality of the New Bazaar, collects fees from businesses hosted there and continually ensures cleaning and maintenance services, so that to guarantee durability and sustainability in the long run.

The launching of the New Bazaar was a national event, with extensive coverage by national media, while generating unprecedented coverage by international media outlets. The New Bazaar was an instant hit; locals started inundating the area from the very first day, businesses rushed to purchase the few remaining free slots, while travel agencies inserted the spot as one of the must-see destinations in Tirana and obligatory stops on all touristic tours in the city. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ7xMzM3ShE

Results
New Bazaar, inside Marketplace

Positive change - For many years the marketplace languished as one of Tirana's worst areas. The structures were old and decaying, no quality services were offered to citizens, and the entire area suffered from degradation, bad smells, lack of proper cleaning and lack of possible space for improvement for citizens and businesses alike. The at-the-time market was unsafe for selling agricultural products - dairy and meat - due to the lack of health and safety protocols and proper storage infrastructure. Today it is a symbol of urban life and a commercial and cultural destination. The square fuses old and new architecture and design features, bringing together traditional pastimes of local and fresh shopping and boasts packed gourmet restaurants and coffee shops. It has truly become a "hip market", thus a fixed pitstop for tourists and locals who shop there on a daily basis.

Cultural Heritage fused with modern architecture - Many old town traditional elements were preserved while being refreshed with a modern look. The project design team took special care in integrating traditional elements from the Albanian culture into the entire spirit of the project. Additionaly, Ottoman, Italian and communist-era buildings were restored and at the same time mixed with modern architectural elements; while the new fruit & vegetable markets are housed in an impressive steel & glass roof, providing for an excellent landmark. It has become a micro-cosmos of the full spectrum of architectural styles present in Albania, and equally appreciated by locals and foreigners. It is virtually impossible to find any local or foreign visitor that has not spent quality time in the New Bazaar, which is today one of the proud landmarks of the city that is constantly featured in international media articles and reports.

Impact

The transformation of the New Bazaar has had widespread positive impacts at the micro and macro level. Pazari Ri (New Bazaar) includes 308 businesses and provides 1,007 jobs. The space has provided a steady and reliable platform for farmers of rural Tirana to showcase and sell their products, while maintaining the local flavor.

Additionally, several other services have started operations in the area.  Businesses and public representatives have formed the Tourism Improvement District (TID), an entity which aims to increase turnover, maintain, manage and promote the Bazaar, hosting weekly events. According to TID reports, businesses have declared increases in turnover of up to 40% turnover in the last year, while surrounding property value has increased by 35% in the last 12 months.

The TID also supports businesses operating in the area, and provides them with business advisory services as well as small grants in order to improve their efficiency and make the best use of the new opportunities created. These indicators are expected to rise furthermore following our plans to turn the Bazaar into a 24/7 destination throughout the year. The Bazaar has become a favourite destination for Tirana residents and a must-see site for all tourists who visit the city. Events taking place in the New Bazaar facilities range from large scale concerts and cultural activities to weddings, product promotions, street artist performances, and recording of music clips, just to name a few.

Following the sucess of the New Bazaar in Tirana, several other municipalities in Albania are replicating the same approach in creating similar Tourism Improvement Districts; works for the creation of similar spaces are ongoing in the cities of Gjirokastra, Vlora and Berat, while their representatives continually liaise with Tirana's TID to obtain expertise and know-how that is subsequently applied in their context.

Challenges and lessons learned
New Bazaar, aerial pic

One of the primary challenges of the Municipality and the management of the New Bazaar has been to create the necessary culture of cooperation and joint shareholding within the Tourism Improvement District (TID) structure. It has taken a lot of effort to have businesses and individuals that operate in the New Bazaar be financially responsive towards the fees necessary for the operation, maintenance and cleaning of the area. However, by having businesses involved directly in the TID decision-making process, eventually this hurdle was overcome and now the TID functions perfectly.

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