Shkodra multiplies the construction area, but lags behind when it comes to green spaces

Like many cities in the ongoing transition to democracy, Shkodra has also been a victim of unregulated construction. However, while many cities are now revitalizing green spaces and increasing their surface area, Shkodra has fallen behind and is only investing in the remaining spaces. When asked by ACQJ how many square meters of green space the city has added in recent years, the Municipality of Shkodra refuses to answer.

Author: Syrjan Rahova

During a stroll in the early years of democracy in Shkodra, you would not only enjoy the magnificent pedestrian street, Shkodra’s culture, subtle humor, and bike rides, but also the greenery that was present in every part of the city. However, the former greenery has now been replaced by concrete, including Shkodra in the list of cities where rapid development and construction have led to a lack of green spaces for its citizens.

Pjeter Pali, an old resident of Shkodra, remembers well the time when greenery was an important part of the entire city, stating that from a green oasis, Shkodra has transformed into concrete blocks after the advent of democracy.

“They have turned Shkodra into nothing but concrete. There used to be a garden near the ‘Institute’ where pensioners played dominos, surrounded from all sides. Another one near the ‘Shatervani,’ where people usually gather in a small alley, has also been destroyed,” he says, adding that irregular constructions have caused damage to these spaces.

“Construction is done haphazardly, and I don’t know how these builders manage to get construction permits. After democracy, there is no order in anything,” he says, not hiding his disappointment.

Indeed, the reduction of green spaces in the city center affects all residents. Jetmira Balaja, a mother of a child with disabilities, considers the availability of green spaces in cities as a necessity.

“I don’t have any gardens near my home. There should be parks, gardens, and playgrounds for children because I have a son with disabilities, and they have a great need for them,” she expresses.

On the other hand, for Egla, a young woman from Shkodra, the lack of green spaces in cities has influenced her lifestyle.

“These unfavorable conditions have affected the quality of life, making it slow and unfavorable for each of us,” she says. She adds that regardless of the situation faced by the citizens of Shkodra, there is a need for institutions to exercise control over unregulated constructions taking place in the city.

“They are constantly diminishing the quality and polluting the air we breathe every day.” she concludes.

The law on territorial planning has been “forgotten” by the institutions in Shkodra.

Shkodra, also known as the northern capital, has a population of 204,954 residents, with 55% of this population concentrated in urban areas. According to the law on territorial planning and its subordinate legislation, which includes green spaces, the greenery standard for inhabited centers with over 10,000 residents should be 9 m² per inhabitant. On the other hand, the standard for public spaces is 28.1 m² per inhabitant. However, in the entire municipality of Shkodra, there are only 111,631 m² of green spaces, which practically translates to 0.5 m² per inhabitant.

According to a report by Green CoPlan in Shkodra, air pollution is mainly caused by traffic and residential activities such as heating and cooking. The level of particulate matter PM2.5 has exceeded the Albanian and European standards, based on measurements taken on the “Jeronim De Rada” road, “Skenderbej Boulevard,” the “Parruce” roundabout, and the “Bexhisteni” neighborhood.

According to this report, as well as various environmental experts, one of the ways to overcome this situation is to invest in green public spaces. However, such an initiative is largely neglected by the municipality. For the years 2020-2022, the Municipality of Shkodra has spent a total amount of 41,062,789 Lek, which is the same as the budget allocated for 2023.

ACQJ has managed to secure the investments made by the Municipality of Shkodra for 2022 in the city’s green spaces. In total, the improvement and maintenance of greenery in streets and city parks cover an area of 102,331 m². This includes 64 parks with a total area of 85,331 m² in the city of Shkodra and a 17,000 m² park in Velipoja, as well as roadside greening, where 6,343 tree saplings have been planted throughout the city.

“The continuity of greenery maintenance service is in the process of a three-year procurement procedure,” the Municipality of Shkodra informed ACQJ in a response.

In three years, 90,938 m² of construction was added, but not a single square meter of greenery.

In the past year, according to INSTAT, the Municipality of Shkodra issued 38 construction permits, with a total area of 35,649 m². Meanwhile, in 2021, the municipality approved 33 permits for new constructions, totaling 30,082 square meters. On the other hand, in 2020, the number of construction permits issued was 35, with a total construction area of 25,207 square meters.

While construction has increased by 90,938 square meters over the course of three years, the same cannot be said for the increase in green spaces in the city. Over the past three years, not a single square meter of greenery has been added in Shkodra, according to data from the Municipality of Shkodra.

Geographer Ervis Kymbi states that local general plans for increasing green spaces in the city of Shkodra exist, but they remain only on paper, as they have not been implemented on the ground.

“This phenomenon is not only in Shkodra but throughout Albania. The plans exist, the colorful maps exist, the ideas exist, and all of these need to be implemented by those in power. Here comes the coordination of local authorities, which is where I stand, to ensure that these plans are realized because taxpayers have already paid for them,” he says, emphasizing that these plans should not be left on the shelf.

He points out that Shkodra has a plan regarding environmental issues, including green spaces, but it has not been implemented in Shkodra, describing it as an indifference that the local authorities often have towards the territory for certain reasons.

“Has degradation occurred due to the capacity and human resources of the Municipality of Shkodra to control the territory?” he asks, pointing out the large area that the Municipality of Shkodra acquired through the 2015 reform. “This reform, which was very necessary, also brought its weaknesses, specifically the lack of human resources, which translates into a lack of financial resources,” he expresses, making an appeal to protect areas like “Shiroka” or “Zogaj,” which have turned into recreational centers, potentially making them susceptible to concrete development and commercialization.

Urbanist Imeld Sokoli states that as a result of transition and low-level territorial management, Albanian cities have experienced densification of constructions, primarily in central areas, directly reducing green and public spaces in these residential zones. Shkodra is no exception to this trend.

Local authorities should at least respect the General Local Plans and fulfill the minimum standards presented in them through the coefficients of land use for public spaces”, according to him. He adds that in practice, this does not happen because municipalities primarily view these instruments as tools for developing a territory rather than balancing its overall development. This occurs because this aspect is not effectively monitored by central-level institutions in practice.

Public spaces have been encroached upon by illegal constructions over the course of the 30-year transition period, resulting in their degradation. New public spaces are very rare, and the construction of new public spaces is also infrequent. This leads to a low standard of public spaces within the city,” says Mr. Sokoli. He adds that these green spaces are often neglected and poorly maintained, which hinders their accessibility and effective utilization.

“These spaces in the city of Shkodra are very scarce and often neglected, as is the case with the former Pazar Park at the city’s entrance. Shkodra is a city surrounded by natural resources, but unfortunately, decision-makers have not made an effort to harness this fact in the public’s interest,” says the urban expert, emphasizing that Shkodra still lacks a proper city park, which could have been developed along the eastern shore of the lake, along the newly completed bypass.

He further adds that competent institutions have allowed infrastructure construction and development in these areas, which is detrimental to the public interest of the city as well as its natural spaces.

“An action plan needs to be drafted for the development of green infrastructure and public spaces in order to significantly reduce air pollution, noise levels, and smog in cities,” Mr. Sokoli concludes, adding that donations from the European Union should be seen as the main potential for this, as the EU has taken concrete steps in this direction and is willing to support countries that want to make progress in implementing the European green agenda.


*This article is part of the project Investigative Journalism Lab that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.
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