From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Tirana Transformation Zones, Privatization of the City

Even though the new masterplan for Tirana was only approved by the end of December 2016, the government has assumed its implementation for a long time, and acted accordingly.

Public–private schools

An example is the public–private partnerships announced by Municipality of Tirana on December 21 regarding the development of 17 new schools. As Exit explained before, this particular financial construction is needlessly expensive for the tax payers, and an artificial way to make government’s debt seem lower. They are a financial façade behind which the Albanian population pays the bill. Moreover, the construction company building these new schools will be able to exploit them after official teaching hours, turning what should be public property into private profit machines.

The network of new schools is indeed a part of the Tirana Masterplan, even though it wasn’t officially approved yet at the moment that the municipality announced it. It is in fact one of the thirteen “strategic projects” that will be undertaken by the municipality in the context of the Tirana Masterplan.

Proposed model for the new network of schools. TR030, p. 66.
Fig. 1. Proposed model for the new network of schools. TR030, p. 66.

A chart (fig. 1) inside the main report shows how these new schools are supposed to be financed and built. This involves four steps.

  1. The expropriation and destruction of private property. The Albanian state has been brought to the European Court of Human Rights based on its illegal expropriations and insufficient compensation of the owners. The construction of this new network of schools will no doubt bring more of such cases to court, costing the state significant amounts of money;
  2. Now that there is “space,” the government can tender out a public–private partnership (PPP) to construct the new school. This is an economically inefficient way of construction public property, which moreover will not be public most of the time;
  3. Besides the construction of the school, the government will hand out building permits for additional floors on surrounding buildings. As most buildings are structurally not equipped to support additional floors (which is the reason they are illegal), this implies the destruction of the buildings surrounding the schools as well, in order to make way for new high-rise buildings.
  4. The space that is thus liberated will be used for green space and public buildings at the service of the public. As Exit has shown before, the municipality’s policy to destroy buildings to create new green spaces has mostly failed so far. What has happened instead is the occupation of those spaces by different private actors.

Transformation Zones

The five areas connected to the “green ring” in the left part of the fig. 1 one are the so-called “transformation zones”:

With 573 ha [1,400 acres] the transformation zones are the engines of the renovation of all urban spaces.

They represent nodes of the new polycentric structure that will go beyond the center–periphery dichotomy and the hierarchical distribution of market values.

Fig. 2. Scheme of the "urban transformation zone." TR030, p. 61.
Fig. 2. Scheme of the “urban transformation zone.” TR030, p. 61.


What this precisely means is unclear, but as is clear from fig. 2, the underlying logic is the same as for the new schools: destruction of existing property and construction of high rises and commercial centers and “green space.”

These ideas were not generated by the municipality, but come out of the practice of architect Stefano Boeri in Milan, a city which in terms of its urban structure is incomparable with Tirana. In particular, we have to inspect here the redevelopment of Porta Nuova district in Milan. Real estate developer Hines Italy wanted to transform the former industrial 71-acre site into a new business district, following a logic very close to the one described in figure 2. Boeri was in fact the main designer of the project, which included his landmark “Vertical Forest” skyscrapers.

Even though advertised as groundbreaking “sustainable” architecture, the buildings still need expensive irrigation systems using tap water, in absence of a sufficient rain collection system. Moreover, owing to the limited growing space, trees will eventually die from malnourishment and present serious hazard to those living in and around the building.

What is much less commented upon, is that Boeri’s luxury towers were met with consistent resistance from the residents of the adjacent working-class neighborhood Isola, in part because Boeri destroyed a former industrial site that had been transformed into a local art center. A documentary about this art center by Bert Theis is currently still on display in the Onufri XXII exhibition. Although the foreign press may cheer on Boeri’s efforts, the people living in and around the area he “transformed” feel very different.

The top–down gentrification implemented in Porta Nuova has led to a displacement of local inhabitants in the midst of social tensions, the destruction of bottom–up initiatives, the creation of expensive façades, and massive profit for big investors, construction companies, and architects with political aspirations. A similar example in a regional context is the redevelopment of the Belgrade Waterfront, funded by Gulf State investors. Again it is grassroots cultural initiatives and local inhabitants that will have to make way for skyscraper apartments no ordinary citizen can afford, because they are not meant to be lived in; they are investment objects.

That the Municipality of Tirana is planning to follow the example of Milan is clear from the recently leaked draft law concerning new concession models. This draft law will oversee the creation of “Business Improvement Districts,” whose renovation and requalification will be tendered out wholesale by the local government to private actors, basically privatizing entire neighborhoods at the same time. And with the absence of crucial municipal oversight mechanisms, the results will be for all to fear.