800,000 More People in Tirana

Today I will continue with my series reading through the Tirana 2030 Masterplan. Previously, I explained how the drafting process of the masterplan has violated the law on public consultation, and how the “transformation zones” that form its backbone are nothing but concealed concessions, which will further burden the Albanian tax payers for the next decade and a half and which will no doubt lead to a number of messy expropriations.

Today we will have a look at some of the underlying numbers, insofar as these are present. Because for a project this size and ambition, there is very little actual data that went into it. Most of the proposals are based on nothing more than an (educated) guess, while most of the actual data presented do a bad job communicating anything.

Population growth

Population size and growth is an important, if not the most important factor underlying urban planning. Only with a reasonable expectation of the number of people living in a certain area it is possible to make decisions about, for example, how many new buildings and public services such as schools need to be constructed.

Tirana 2030 Masterplan, p. 94.
TR030, p. 94.

According to the Tirana 2030 Masterplan, there will be 1.6 million people living in Tirana in 2031. In other words, the authors assume a doubling of the population size in the next 16 years. This means that they have drafted a masterplan that can accommodate an additional 800,000 inhabitants – meaning more, much more construction works.

However, the number of 1.6 million assumes a population growth rate that is not grounded in reality. According to National Statistics Bureau INSTAT, the Tirana County (which includes the municipalities of Kavaja and Tirana) population grew from 596,704 inhabitants in 2001 to 811,649 in 2016. Figure 1 shows the growth rate of the population over these years.

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Fig. 1

As is clear from fig. 1, the population growth rate in Tirana County has been steadily decreasing, showing even negative growth in 2014. There are a variety of reasons for this, including continuing emigration.

Figure 2 shows the different projections for the population size of Tirana (County or Municipality, this remains unclear from the report) from 2016 to 2031. Let’s continue with the county numbers, for the sake of comparison.

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Fig. 2

The blue line shows a projection of the population size, based on the average population growth from 2001–2016. But as population growth steadily decreased, a projection based on the average of only the last five years seems perhaps more prudent. This is shown by the red line. The yellow line shows the projection of the Tirana 2030 Masterplan (fig. 3).

The generous projection (the blue line) based on the actual growth numbers of the last fifteen years predicts a population size of 1.1 million inhabitants in 2031. That is still 500,000 less than the projection on which the municipality’s building plans are based. This is a difference of 62.5% of the current population of Tirana!

Getting this projected population number so wrong has enormous consequences for the future of the city; think for example about all the living space built for those 500,000 people – empty. Not only will this have disastrous effects on the real estate market, empty and derelict houses are known to be one of the factors related to increases in crime. When a large part of the buildings in a neighborhood are unoccupied, prices go down and insecurity up.

Think also about all these new schools Mayor Veliaj promised to build; it is quite a difference whether you are building them for 300,000 or 800,000 new inhabitants.

Why would this number then be so inflated? My only educated guess is: if what is important is not building for your people, but building as a goal in itself.

Update: It gets stranger. At the very end of the report, the authors suddenly cite INSTAT data regarding the Municipality of Tirana, and not the County. They provide the following data in figure 3:

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Fig. 3. Population growth data according to INSTAT. TR030, p. 414

So it seems that INSTAT is even more conservative than we have been (having obviously more data at their disposal), predicting only a population increase of 100,000 inhabitants. However, the authors of the report suggest a few paragraphs later that the number may be even lower: 700,000 in 2031 (p. 415).

Fig. 4. Population growth according to demographical map PPT 19
Fig. 4. Population growth according to demographical map PPT 19

The confusion doesn’t stop here. the map with demographic data (fig. 4) predicts a 40% population growth of the population in Tirana city (so not municipality) until 2031, with growth numbers between 20–30% in the other population centers. This implies definitely a higher increase than a mere 100,000 (which is 12%).

So what is it? 1,600,000 – 724,167 – 700,000 or something in between? As they say in Albanian, e kanë bërë lëmsh