Financial instruments for land development are used extensively by cities all around the world to raise funds to build infrastructure. But just because they are internationally recognized doesn’t mean they are easy to apply. They require ongoing commitment from a municipality, considerable knowledge and skill on the part of municipal staff and, at times, significant investment of staff time and public money.
Over the past two and a half years, the reaction of local urban planners to my handful of widely-spaced presentations on financial instruments has changed from a dismissive, “This is not possible in Albania,” to a softer, “This is difficult, but not impossible,” to, most recently, a noticeably more receptive, “How can we do this?”
I’d like to think that the change in perspective is due to my abilities as an educator, a resource, and a facilitator, but the truth is the change is happening because the individual planners see the value in doing so.
General Local Territorial Plans (GLTP) gave municipalities a say in shaping the kind of city they want to see. My sense is that GLTPs, along with other reforms and initiatives, are raising expectations. Many people are ready for action; they want to see the GLTPs become reality and are willing to put things in place in order to change. And I sense that many planners feel a pressure to create economic opportunities. As Fiona Mali from the National Territorial Planning Agency (NTPA) told me about the urgency to move GLTP projects from concept to reality, “Now it’s for real.”
I was lucky to join USAID in Albania at the right time. Co-PLAN Institute for Habitat Development and Polis University introduced financial instruments and internationally recognized planning methods to their curriculum years ago. This is creating a new generation of planners who can convincingly influence and inspire others. It also paved the way for today’s discussions on financial instruments. For its part, the USAID Planning and Local Governance Project focuses on what seem to me the fundamentals of a good life: stable public institutions, local economic development, and connected and empowered people. Fortunately, USAID also recognized urban planning as a key ingredient of economic growth and a good life (and decided to hire me as an urban planner). And the commitment of the Government of Albania to EU membership opens a space for new ideas.
Albanian cities are quite remarkable. Tirana, Korça, Shkodra, and others have much to teach American cities about connecting people and creating an urban character. It’s even more remarkable when one considers how much has been done in the past 25 years. Roads, homes, schools—just about everything—were needed quickly and in large numbers. Perhaps the quality of some of what was built in the last 25 years wasn’t the best, but that’s changing rapidly.
I sense, too, that the necessity for quick results is changing to a focus on process. There’s a realization that fair and consistent processes are needed to achieve and sustain good results. Projects with fair processes take longer to implement, but they are worth it, because fair processes create the most winners.
No one can crystal ball the future, but I tell everyone who will listen that Albania is a treasure chest waiting to be discovered. If the changes of the past 25 years seem remarkable, they are nothing compared to the changes that will happen when the rest of the world discovers Albania.
And Albanian planners will be ready. They are cautiously adapting international best practices to the realities of Albania, learning how best to comply with a dizzying array of new laws, and developing and sharing their own impressive and unique case studies. Most important, they are following their instincts, and their instincts are good, reflecting a dedication to the well-being of their municipalities and all of their residents.
Personal View is an occasional series in which individuals share their experiences of working with the USAID Planning and Local Governance Project. Since 2015, Tony Favro has spent 14 months in Albania as an international urban planning expert for PLGP. He works closely with the Co-PLAN Institute for Habitat Development, an Albanian NGO and the USAID Project contractor dedicated to practical sustainable development. Many Co-PLAN staff teach at Polis University, bringing their hands-on planning and development experience, as well as international best practices promoted by the USAID Project, to the classroom. The USAID Project works collaboratively with local and national governments to encourage sustainable planning and development. Fiona Mali is the Director of Local Planning for Albania’s National Territorial Planning Agency.