Public space

New symbolism in Western Balkan urban spaces

With Besnik Aliaj I worked on a study called ‘The public in search of identity – new symbolism in urban spaces A study of central squares of Balkan capitals’, published as a chapter in the book The Role of the Public Sector in Local Economic and Territorial development edited by Maris Finka et al. (here). The Central and Eastern European context is very interesting. After the collapse of the socialist systems during the early 1990’s, countries have been engaged in conceiving their new identity. National identities as seen as historical constructions that are constantly being reconstituted according to a presentist agenda, that is viewing the past with a somewhat limited to present-day set of attitudes and beliefs. Building new political and cultural identities was not on top of the political agenda during the early phase of the transition but developed after institutional transitions were made.

We studied how new identities in capitals of four Western Balkan countries (Tirana in Albania, Pristina in Kosovo, Podgorica in Montenegro and Skopje in North Macedonia) are expressed in significant places. The alterations of central squares of capitals, seen as tangible expressions of national identity, have been studied. The study shows that national governments have sought to create expressions of national identity in main squares, in Skopje and Tirana in a dramatic manner and in the cases of Pristina and Podgorica in a more retained but still significant style. It is concluded governments made efforts to wipe out expressions of the recent communist past, have replaced memories of the socialist past with historical and/or modern Western appearances, and have paid limited attention to minorities and public participation.

Urban commons and public spaces (Bulgaria, Poland, Montenegro, Albania)

The picture (right) shows one of the big public spaces of Szczecin, Poland, the Solidarity Square. With Co-PLAN’s Rudina Toto in the lead, Marija Ćaćić (Montenegro), Zvezdina Ivanova (Bulgaria) and Katarzyna Stachowiak-Bongwa (Poland) and I worked on a study dealing with the governance of urban public open spaces. They are seen as 'urban commons'. We explored the ways of collaboration between stakeholders (commoners). These community actors’ groups are counterparts of urban governments. The leading question in the study is whether urban commoning can be complementary to / part of urban governance, which is defined as a framework for making the city liveable.

The underlying issue is how to make the most of open spaces in the city for the city and the people. Hence, what should stakeholders know in order to make use of commons-based modalities in urban governance, particularly for the public space? We observed in four cities 17 public open spaces of different typologies and users’ pool (central, intermediate, neighbourhoods); interviewed people about property rights over each space, the processes, benefits and costs of maintaining them, and values related to those spaces.

In 2022 a major paper will be submitted 'The uncommonness of the urban commons', with case studies of Poland, Russia, Montenegro and Albania. 

photo 3 Tirana Skanderbeg square 2000 15
Photo 2 Szczecin Solidarity square 2000