By Ledio Allkja dhe Rudina Toto –
Territorial planning has evolved in Albania in recent years to make a qualitative leap forward towards integrated spatial development. Planning is now seen as a valuable tool and process enabling sustainable development.
An important change in legislation was the shift from plot-based to area-based planning and development, which addresses the inclusion of various public and private interests in efficient and fair land development. Area-based planning and development guarantees that principles of equity, proportionality, and inclusivity are respected throughout the process. Together with efforts and initiatives for drafting comprehensive territorial plans, the area-based development approach is a step towards institutionalizing a new planning and development culture in Albania. PLGP has provided a direct contribution in this regard through assisting 5 partner municipalities in the preparation of their General Local Territorial Plans (GLTPs), preparing toolkits for planning and development, and through training and coaching at the municipal level. In cooperation with the government of Albania, PLGP has also extended its knowledge and work-model to other planning and development initiatives in Albania.
Nevertheless, the challenge for planning in Albanian lies in its implementation, with local detailed plans (LDPs) as one of the key instruments to implement the area-based development approach. LDPs are applied at smaller territorial scales, for urban (neighbourhood) redevelopment and/or community planning. Efforts are currently being made to bring LDPs from a fairly narrow perspective of use and distribution of socio-economic activities in space to instruments that offer a large potential in promoting local economic development and facilitate access to financial sources for public infrastructure and interests.
For access to funding, LDPs should incorporate financial calculations and feasibility assessments that are open and transparent to the public at large. While private developers and/or landowners carry out such assessments, municipalities, as representatives of public interests and guarantors of community benefits, should also be involved in assessing financial opportunities. In addition to making sure communities receive benefits that exceed costs in land development, municipalities also guarantee that economic development is proportionately spread across the territory.
In the absence of previous experiences in Albania, PLGP experts built a model for feasibility assessments for LDPs that was implemented in cooperation with partner municipalities of Elbasan, Fier, and Tirana. In the case of Fier, a range of options were explored and financially assessed for enabling the development of a sports center as part of a wider riverfront regeneration plan. The Municipality of Elbasan is aiming to develop a multi-modal terminal. Their feasibility study provided short and long-term development solutions, while facilitating the municipality’s decision-making and communication with citizens regarding this future public investment. The Municipality of Tirana plans to complete one of the city’s interior ring roads, while reducing (at least) expropriation costs and (in the best scenario) capturing a portion of the increased value of land. The LDP’s feasibility study has proposed various options to reach the most optimal and feasible result for all stakeholders, including the community at large.
These are three complex studies that connect strategic public projects with urban redevelopment and private investment. Such studies offer comprehensive solutions to the municipalities, as well as greater transparency in communication with the community, landowners and private developers. However, there are also simpler cases of LDPs where such studies are not always necessary. Regardless of whether financial calculations are needed or not, two key aspects should always be considered in order to facilitate the development process: land ownership and local capacities. The latter reminds us of the necessity to address land development and local economic development as two closely interlinked processes where new job opportunities and a better business climate are created. PLGP’s roundtables on LDP approaches and practices have consistently emphasised how land development leads to economic development along with providing hands-on knowledge for capacity-building of municipal functions in handling this resulting economic influx. As a result of the cooperation with the National Territory Planning Agency, these round tables have benefited not only PLGP partner municipalities, but all 61 municipalities in Albania.
Photo by Erald Lamja