The preparation of the Strategy of Sustainable and Integral Urban Development of Serbia until 2030 formally started in January 2018 with a decision by the Government of Serbia. However, almost a year earlier, we were working on the preparation of the project task, that is, everything needed in order to reach the decision. The work on such a document is the result of all the previous phases of the GIZ project "Strengthening Municipal Land Management in Serbia", carried out by the consortium AMBERO-ICON and realized since 2010. The third, final phase is currently in progress.
This is how Ratka Colic, the national expert of the project "Strengthening Municipal Land Management in Serbia", explains the progress of the preparation of the document which should upgrade the urban development of Serbia, but also set standards which will contribute to an acceleration of the harmonization with the EU norms. The Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure has decided for the preparation of the National Strategy of Integral Urban Development to start, with the support of the GIZ project. This is a novelty in Europe, which shows that the country is keeping up to date with global modern tendencies.
As she says in her interview with eKapija, made during the Summer School of Urban Planning, organized from May 31 till June 2 at the ethno-village of Stanisici near Bijeljina (B&H) by the Serbian Society of Urban Planners and the Republic Geodetic Authority, in line with the previously tested instruments of planning on a local level and a proof of positive results, the project team has managed to raise certain things to a national level.
– After the adoption of the strategies of integral urban development in Kragujevac in 2012, Uzice in 2013 and Kraljevo in 2014, we tested new European instruments of urban development planning practically for the first time in Serbia. They are interesting because they connect planning with real sources of finance and because they are oriented to the defining of the priorities of urban development. So far, we have completed a third of the job of the preparation of the Strategy of Sustainable and Integral Urban Development of Serbia until 2030, and everything should be completed by the end of the year – eKapija's interviewee points out.
eKapija: How do the new European instruments of urban development planning operate?
– A pronounced participative approach is characteristic of them, entailing involvement of the public and relevant participants in the local community, from all three sectors – public, commercial and non-governmental. These are serious processes, but that's how legitimacy is secured and it is practically demanded by the European Union. That's why the towns I've mentioned will now be able to apply for EU funds for support to urban development very easily.
eKapija: Do you model yourselves after anyone in preparing the Strategy? What are other countries' experiences?
– The Germans have their own national strategy and their experiences are very important to us. Poland also adopted its strategy several years ago, after joining the EU, because there had been criticism that, due to the lack of the strategy and the low level of absorption capacities, it was not able to fully use the EU funds.
The aim of our project is precisely to develop capacities for new modern instruments of urban development planning, in order to enable our municipalities and towns to follow modern tendencies when it comes to the orientation to the market conditions of planning. This is a new feature here, as concepts, instruments and procedures are changing, but the system of plans itself will not change considerably. These are in fact additional instruments pertaining to the directing of the development.
eKapija: Who is taking part in the preparation of the Strategy and what can Serbia expect from EU funds after its adoption?
– We have the so-called three pillars – the Work Group, which features representatives of ministries and competent institutions on the national level, as well as on the level of local self-governments, the core technical team, in which the Institute of Architecture and Urban and Spatial Planning of Serbia and its experts are involved, and the third, expanded work group consisting of our colleagues, experts from various urban planning national and local institutions, but also those active in local economic development planning, from local economic development offices, regional development agencies and representatives of the civil sector.
As for the effects of the adoption of the Strategy, we will be recognized as a serious partner, as we will display a serious political will to recognize certain things and define them as priorities on the national level. The planning is not a new feature here, but this approach, in which planning is connected to real sources of finance, is and it provides a serious basis for talks with international donors, European institutions, development banks, the local banking sector, but also the local private sector, as it is well known that they are likely to join when they see that there's a serious political will and defined priorities. Also, the decisions you present to the public gain legitimacy.
eKapija: Urban planners will also have to adapt to new instruments and a new approach to their job. What have the initial reactions been?
– Our local areas are already carrying out various project through funds currently available to Serbia. It's another matter that urban planners have not been involved in these kinds of projects for years and that they haven't had the knowledge to implement the instruments that way. This is not a traditional approach. One also needs to understand the demands of the market, new environmental policies, to check all this with experts...
However, it should be emphasized that we are faced with entirely contradictory demands and challenges. On the one hand, the market requires quick decision-making, opening for investments, inciting employment, shortening of procedures and raising our position on the Doing Business list in terms of the issuance of permits. On the other hand, democratic processes, transparency, checks and analyses are required as well. In other words, the shortening and the acceleration of processes are working against urban planning. For example, in Germany, the average time of the preparation of a detailed regulation plan today is 2.5 years, whereas here you can't even mention something like that.
eKapija: Why else are European policies important for us?
– I believe that they are important for Serbia, as here we focus on stimulating local economic development and investments. This is fine and we need this, as local self-governments are growing poorer. What's important for us is for European policies of urban development to be based on the concept of sustainable development. Which means that, while we are developing the economy, we must at the same time consider the ecological and the social aspects.
eKapija: What other results has the GIZ project achieved so far in the sector pertaining to the Strategy of Sustainable and Integral Urban Development of Serbia until 2030?
– We have managed to test certain instruments and they've proven quite successful in Serbia, without jeopardizing the current system. For example, we've tested how to implement feasibility studies, how to enhance the strategic environmental impact assessment so that it is closer to EU standards. We have also prepared manuals, publications of the classification of purposes and the implementation of planning symbols – a standardization of purposes in planning, in the preparation of planning documents, and this is the field in which we are truly approaching modern tendencies.
Traditionally, we have this in practice, but it hasn't been systematized, so it's good that it has now been collected in a single place, primarily because of investors, who now have a clear picture of what is being planned and what is behind each symbol. We can also improve the court practice.
eKapija: To what extent is the Serbian system of urban development harmonized with EU standards and directives today?
– When it comes to planning procedures, our system is very similar to the European and the German systems. We've made a step forward by implementing an early public review and two-stage participation, as we've thereby achieved full harmonization with EU procedures. It was hard, but we managed to incorporate this in the Law on Planning and Construction in 2014.
The local practice is traditionally quite attuned to modern trends, challenges and new documents and is always striving to improve. Our urban planners have always been recognizable and I've had an opportunity to hear from foreign colleagues that the Yugoslav practice of planning has always been recognized internationally. Our approach, our concept and the quality the old Yugoslav planning school have always been interesting in a way.
On the other hand, we have been going through a transitional period for over 20 years now, and there are also modern challenges, from globalization, through European integration, to the worldwide challenges, climate change, demographic aging, migration issues...
eKapija: What do you expect from the National Strategy?
– This National Strategy can help us look into the priorities on the national level, in terms of both the problems and the potentials that can be utilized. The strategy itself will thereby have both corrective and developmental measures, but a testing ground for innovations needs to be provided as well. This is its task anyway.