“Collapse or communication: urbanism of conflicting interests” was the first to be held in a series of discussions about the state and the problems of the planning system in Serbia, directed primarily at establishing a public arena for open dialogue in which all interested parties participate. The diversity of the positions of values and interests from which they act, which are at the root of existing conflicts in relation to the directions and the solutions in urban development, requires a development of a new culture of communication and space for dialogue. The basic preconditions for achieving open and constructive discussions rely on several principles:
- Being informed about the topic of discussion
- Necessary knowledge for understanding the problem
- Equality in opportunities for expressing opinions
- Acknowledging a different opinion
Establishing a public arena in which the above mentioned principles are acknowledged, is certainly a long-term but inevitable process, if the end goal is urban development in the interest of all.
After the first open discussion between the representatives of the public and civil sector, several aspects are set apart, which open topics or raise questions for further discussion and also represent directions for contemplating the possibilities of enhancing the planning system in Serbia:
Competence and responsibility:
- Empowering institutions of urban development on all levels
- Positioning experts/urbanists within different sectors included in the urban development
- Strengthening institutions of urban development at the local level
- Establishing a more intense collaboration between different institutions of urban development
- Transparency and comprehensibleness of information for all participants of urban development
- Empowering citizens for participation in issues of urban development
- Collaboration between interested parties in decision-making processes about urban development
- Connecting urban development and societal values
- Strategic contemplation as a basis for decision-making about urban development
- Conflict anticipation in planned solutions
- Considering the financial viability of planned solutions
- A framework of values as a starting document for creating planned solutions
- Priority goals as a result of social consensus
- Implementation plans as direct results of strategic documents
Within this project we analyze five case studies of planning processes and development in Belgrade which the wider and professional public considers debatable on different accounts, and which instigated numerous and some ongoing protests of different modalities and intensities. Interested parties with different motivations, types and levels of interest, as well as competences and levels of power for influencing the process, have promoted their perspectives and versions of the case in the media. Different interpretations of the solution, numerous documents, arguments and opinions for and against, of actors not only from different but also the same sectors, have indicated a need for their deeper research, based on previously collected, chronologically sorted and reliable information.
Our institutional system, additionally shaky and unstable due to transition, has not been able to deal with the complex nature of these problems. Without a consensus within these institutions, but at the level of society as a whole, the system has exhibited a weakness regarding basic values and strategic development. Without mediation, the conflicts have escalated.
Each of the researched cases sheds light on at least one specific important topic for managing the development of the city (Belgrade), but cases have confirmed some weaknesses of the system:
The case studies “Friendship Park – Ušće” and “Makiš” illustrate the process of planning and development of mutually different but very significant spatial wholes which are under special protection programs. The first case relates to one of the most important public green spaces in Belgrade, under special protection as part of the Riverbank zone of New Belgrade. The second case relates to an area under a special protection program for preserving water springs, as one of the most elements of Belgrade’s water supply. Their importance has required that the processes of their planning and development be carefully designed – with an emphasis on transparency, inclusiveness, openness, as well as being in accordance with the latest knowledge about climate change, environmental protection etc. However, it is precisely the opposite case, the case of the “Friendship Park – Ušće” illustrates the belatedness of planned procedures for development processes, making plans for even central and most important and protected city zones a tool for legalization and pro forma documents, and the case of “Makiš” illustrates the collision of two opposing developmental positions – narrowing the zone of sanitary protection and intensive urbanization of that area, as opposed to intensifying relying on this water spring and the rise of investments in plants for processing water.
The case studies “Friendship Park” and “Vinča” illustrate the introduction of new, informal instruments formulated in non-transparent and parallel with planned procedures, and as such far from the reach and the influence of the public. The first case is about the process of establishing a formal planned solution on a spatial development strategy of the “People’s Park” at Ušće, developed by the architectural bureau GEHL form Copenhagen. Non-transparent procedures for electing architects are also unclear, as well as, more importantly, the content, authors and the method of formulating programs based on which the team developed a solution. In the second case, the choice of technological solutions for handling and discarding of communal waste was, in the process of establishing a public-private partnership, left to potential private partners, in spite of the existence of official strategic documents and valid urbanist plans which prescribe the application of other, cleaner technologies. This has given the private partner, who in a parallel and regular procedure received the status of privileged energy producer, an additional position at the expense of public health, the environment and environmental protection.
The case studies “Voždove kapije” and “Stepa Stepanović” represent an illustration of the consequences of inconsistencies and introducing changes during the development of residential buildings, and their influence on the quality of life and the values of real estate of existing occupants. Both studies call for the reconsideration of the way acquired and contractual rights of the newly built apartments should be interpreted, because the current interpretation of their legal (in)security has produced different types of conflicts between opposing parties, form protests and the use of force, to ending up in court. Apart from that, the “Voždove kapije” study is an illustration of residential development as an effective mechanism of reproduction and expansion of capital, and the introduction of the concept of a condominium, as an open model for utilization, ownership, governance, and maintaining residential complexes. On the other hand, “Stepa Stepanović” illustrates the rehabilitation of the role of the public sector in the construction of large residential complexes, which are completely or partially financed from public funds (in this case the state budget) with the introduction of various instruments for subsidizing purchases with the aim of making housing more affordable.
All case studies indicate the problems of rapid and mutually uncoordinated changes of different laws and their by-laws, but also city regulations and planned documents; a parallel implementation of several mutually independent governance and planning processes; an existence of a large number of institutions of unclear of overlapping jurisdictions; a rise in non-transparency and a lack of opportunities for accessing relevant documents, important for understanding the case.