Tirana is getting a designer revamp.
The capital of Albania joins the BreatheLife network armed with detailed urban transformation plans that tackle some of the most pressing concerns of cities— traffic congestion, urban sprawl, air pollution— and are changing how it grows and moves, with co-benefits for air quality and climate.
Tirana is no stranger to rapid growth: massive domestic migration post-1990 towards urban areas, especially Tirana, led to unplanned settlements and a host of pressures— in fact, while it has an official population of 850,000, the city estimates that this figure is actually closer to 1 million, one-third of the country’s population.
The 2016 General Local Plan, TIRANA2030 (English summary here), includes a plan for landscape recovery based on a “polycentric system” that balances urban, agricultural and natural spheres to support a healthy city— which, in its books, includes reaching WHO annual guidelines for fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) concentrations of 10μg/m3 by 2030.
Furthermore, Tirana’s Green City Action Plan, prepared in cooperation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, apart from being supplementary to the General Local Plan, provides an outline on the priority areas of the city, which consist of: transport, green and blue infrastructure, resource management, water, energy and resilience.
One of the city’s tenets is reclaiming public spaces for citizens. In 2017, Tirana made its central city square— once a roundabout for cars— into the largest pedestrian area in the region, serving as a venue for community gatherings.
It has also doubled the number of “pocket parks” to 70, altogether a total of 200 square metres (or 8 to 10 per cent of the locally-administered area) and 36 new playgrounds scattered throughout the city, including the city’s biggest recreational space, the Grand Lake Park and Playground.
To naturally hinder urban sprawl and reap other co-benefits, the Orbital Forest, a continual ring of two million trees, will surround the metropolis by 2030, and will include parks, protected nature reserves that are expected to support and boost biodiversity. It’s already begun to take shape: from autumn of 2017 to spring of 2018, 122, 000 trees were planted as part of the city’s massive afforestation campaign.
“The General Local Plan, for the first time ever, has provided the city with a blueprint for development that recognizes the importance of sustainability and environmentally-friendly policies,” said Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj.
“Indeed, we view them as crucial to the creation of a sustainable municipal environment which will stimulate the capital’s economic growth and improve living conditions for our citizens,” he said.
But serving more citizens in the same compact space meant changing the way that space was used, and for this, Tirana stuck to its theme of taking back city space for people.
It added 36 kilometres of bike lanes in the last three years, with another 11 kilometres planned by mid-2019; and, in June 2018, became the first city in the Balkans to launch the app-based bike sharing system, Mobike.
Tirana’s citizens play a crucial role in the city’s transformation. Apart from contributing to building their Orbital Forest, volunteers participate in the “Let’s clean Tirana” gathering and cleaning municipal solid waste in certain areas in the city or in their immediate living surrounds— their version of the growing “plogging” trend and Kigali’s “umuganda” movement.
They also support the promotional events Tirana organizes on the city’s periphery that aim to foster local food production, cutting the city’s “food miles”.
Tirana also has a framework of banning plastic bags use, under which it has agreed with a number of markets to price plastic bags and also offer cloth bags as an alternative.
In February 2016, the city launched the “MyTirana” mobile app, offering instant access to real-time information related to the city’s traffic volume, urban transport networks, touristic attractions, citizen complaint report forms, online parking fee payment service and city-related information.
And Tirana is banking on the next generation to sustain the city’s transformation.
“One of the city’s priorities in the last three years has been the implementation of child-friendly policies, as we believe that given that children are quick to embrace new ideas, they are the best allies one can have in trying to build a greener, more humane and more sustainable city,” said Mayor Veliaj.
By becoming part of the BreatheLife initiative, the city of Tirana aims to join other cities in highlighting the importance of clean air to public health, exchange insights with other cities, share best practices and learn from others’ experience, while raising awareness among citizens that the betterment of the quality of life in their community is a shared responsibility and effort.
Follow Tirana’s clean air journey here.
Banner photo by Patrice Wangen/CC BY-NC 2.0.