In the last two weeks, following the approval of the Tirana 2030 Masterplan by the Municipal Council of Tirana, architect and politician Stefano Boeri has launched a veritable campaign in the Italian press. The Corriere della Sera, La Stampa, Huffington Post Italy, and e-flux architecture all report how the former alderman for culture to the Municipality of Milan has revived the “Italian” influence on the Tirana urban landscape, nearly a century after the Italian fascists decided to cut through the Ottoman city center to impose an axis based on the symbol of the fasces.
For example, the e-flux architecture announcement, which is paid content, opens with “Almost a century later, Italians design Tirana again.” Corriere della Sera writes, “In the end, nothing is accidental. The urban reorganization of Tirana end up in the hands of an Italian.” Boeri clearly takes pride in his fascist predecessor. He doesn’t have this from a stranger: his grandfather had been a deputy for the National Fascist Party.
Let us have a look at what Boeri is selling in his country’s newspapers.
One of the main selling points of Boeri’s masterplan is the so-called “orbital forest,” a belt of 2 million trees around the city, which would form a natural barrier to any future expansion of the city. In e-flux, he already exaggerates the number to “3 millions [sic] of new trees.” In the masterplan it is the first of thirteen “strategic projects” that will be implemented until 2030.
Actually implementing this ambitious plan is, of course, expensive, which is the reason the masterplan explicitly counts on “a close communication between the public and private sector” to realize this plan. For those who don’t know the political codes yet: this means public–private partnerships and concessions. What does this mean? That Tirana will be surrounded by a forest to which you’ll pay an entrance fee? Or a forest that is rented out after opening times?
But looking at the planning of this “strategic project,” we immediately see that until 2021, the municipality will spend its time with “beginning.” Only in 2021, the forest will be “developed.” This is also reflected in the budget; until 2020, no money whatsoever has been reserved for the “orbital forest.” And as with any large infrastructural works in the past, the government plans to wait with implementation until a national election year, 2021. Other projects follow the same logic: the “fourth ring,” conservation of twentieth century architecture, and work on the transit between Mother Theresa Airport and the center all will start in 2019, when Veliaj is up for reelection.
The New Boulevard and the World Park/Square
The extension of the main boulevard of the city and the development of a so-called “World Park” (the e-flux announcement calls it “World Square”) that would house all the foreign representations in the city is another “strategic project.” According to the project timeline, this project should start already this year (Rama and Veliaj already placed the first stones), but the planned budget is indicated with simply “XXX.” In other words, no one even knows how much all of this is going to cost.
However, this lack of clarity about the costs of this prestigious urban intervention that con man Boeri sells as “visionary,” are made elsewhere by just punching in a number underneath the header “PPP”: public–private partnerships, the magical solution to all the government’s budgetary problems.
In another part of the report, we do find a figure for the costs of the new boulevard. From 2016 to 2020, the municipality plans to spend 108.5 million (we suppose) lekë on the boulevard, while it expects 7.5 billion lekë to be invested through “other sources of income (for example PPP).” In other words, the Municipality of Tirana plans to cover 1.4% of the total costs of the new boulevard and “World Park” over the next four years, hoping that 98.6% will come from private investors. Other “strategic projects” that rely heavily on PPPs are the development of Kinostudio (76% PPP investments) and Kombinat (81.3% PPP investments). Meanwhile, the municipality counts on zero donations and zero income from its own sources.
In brief, Boeri has started his own campaign in Italy based on projects that are either not funded yet, or which are planned to start only several years into the future. If we look at what Tirana will notice from this masterplan directly, it will be the new public–private schools promised by Veliaj already last year, some new roads in different neighborhoods, and unclear stimuli to the hardly existing “creative economy.” So perhaps we’ll see a few more “fun” paintings on electricity cabins. Nothing of this has any relation to the “grand” visions expounded to by the visionaries in charge – and nothing “strategic” in the plan actually relates to the regular lives of Tirana citizens.
With an arrogance that Boeri has in common with his client, he told his fellow Italians that “Albania is ahead of us. We have to learn.” To those neighbors scandalized by these words I can only say, do you now understand what we have to suffer every day?