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Public Space - City Grace
City/Region : City of Tirana , Albania

The reallocation of existing public spaces and the development of new ones, is one of the main objectives for making Tirana a more sustainable and healthy city. Such actions aim to strengthen the social functions of the city space allowing the development of the right community dynamics that in the end contribute to societal sustainability. The requalification of Skanderbeg Square as a pedestrian, recreational space available to the public especially aims to stimulate a cultural shift in our society where we are more concerned about wellbeing rather than wealth.

Agendas addressed
Urban mobilityPublic spaceSocial inclusion and integration
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
Context
Afternoons

Over the last 28 years, Albania's difficult socio-economic context wrongfully prioritized economic growth while not taking into consideration the social or environmental aspects that make this growth sustainable over time. Rapid population increase coupled with lack of urban strategies and policies brought uncontrolled urbanization in the name of economic growth. At the same time, the construction sector became a gold mine and buildings used for housing or commercial purposes were considered much more profitable than open public recreational spaces. After years of continuing down this path, it seemed that the citizens of Tirana had embedded this mentality into their everyday life, also feeling powerless towards change. That is until now. Through a series of urban interventions for the re-acquisition of public spaces, topped with the renovation of Skanderbeg Square, which symbolise this new wave of change, we aim to give the city back to our citizens.

In Action
Beach volley in the city centre

Renovated with multi-coloured paving made with stones from different parts of the country, the requalification of Skanderbeg Square bears a lot of symbolic importance, as it brings together all of Albania in one single space. In addition to it, the name of the square “Skanderbeg”, which is the nickname of the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, increases the symbolic value of the project for the country as a whole, thus creating a stronger “butterfly effect” in the way we think about public space all over the country.

Moreover, being the central and biggest square in the city, but almost never fully available to its citizens, it seemed that this was the place to start real change. The initial concept for this square was created in 2000, when the current prime minister of Albania was the Mayor of Tirana, but due to political changes and lack of funds the project only came to life now. The square is comprised of more than ten hectares exclusively for pedestrian use while in the centre there is a clear promenade, which is almost 40,000 square metres.

It offers a combination of a large public space with smaller intimate spaces, such as the oasis with vegetation around them. Apart from a team of 51 architects involved in its design, a series of workshops were also implemented with the public and the people working in the adjacent buildings in order to determine the functions of the square and its surrounding area. Since the beginning of the project, people have been the main focus of the whole design and played an important role in the decision making process.

Although it is now internationally valued for its architectural beauty and practicality, the biggest value in this renovation project is not architecture per se, but rather the messages it tries to send.

Results
Sport activities

Over 90 events have been held in the square since its renovation in June 2017. There has also been an increase in demand from organisations, businesses and citizens to use the space for recreational, educational and promotional activities.

This means that the city now offers more opportunities for interaction and exposure to all its actors.  Moreover, the square has had increased international exposure which is also helping to promote the city and the country to foreign investors and tourists. The project has been praised internationally for its design and impact in various international competitions and events. Among the most important achievements we can mention: It was considered ‘one of the most unique projects with biggest impact’ in the ‘Chicago Architecture Biennial’ in September 2017 and won the prestigious “European Prize for Urban Public Space 2018” in June of this year.

Last but not least, coupled together with other infrastructural improvements and monumental reconstruction, the renovated square has considerably improved the whole image and functionality of the central area of the city, giving it the decent features of a European city.

Impact

Even though the reallocation of public spaces to the citizens has not started or stopped with Skanderbeg Square, this project is considered to be the most important one in fostering a cultural shift in the way we think about our life in a metropolitan city. Since its inauguration, the square has hosted over 90 activities ranging from cultural events, to sports competitions, Christmas and Easter markets, religious gatherings, business promotion events, etc. Despite the large number of events, which are expected to increase more in the years to come, the renovation has had more social than economic impacts, such as:

  • It has brought back the desire of citizens to strengthen their societal boundaries and bring back the city’s tradition of the “evening promenade”.
  • Through the large number of activities and their free accessibility it has offered an opportunity for all the citizens, regardless of their age, economic or social status to enjoy.
  • It is encouraging the youth to be more active and provides them with a new meeting point for social interaction
  • It has become a new space for school and recreational activities
  • It has given a decent space to street artists to perform and be recognized
  • It has created a smog free zone in a largely populated area
  • It has increased the city’s touristic offer

Public opinion polls, number of events and activities held together with the number of participants per event have helped to measure such impacts. The economic impact will be measured at the end of Summer 2018, when the last remaining parts of the renovation project are expected to end.

Challenges and lessons learned
Concert night

Although now the square has gained large public approval, it was not spared from public and political criticism during the process of its development. Because of it being the first time that such a large space (40,000 m2) would be totally empty from other structures, it was perceived sometimes to lack creativity and to be a waste of space. However after the first months it opened to the public the enthusiasm of the citizens, with the younger generations in particular, was evident and that was the most important thing, because it meant that the project had fulfilled its objective.

Vegetation
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Contact

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

Leopoldring 3
79098 Freiburg
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19

E-mail: info@sustainablecities.eu
Website: www.sustainablecities.eu

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