Sustainable urban oases a green point of Vračar

Architect Ana Zelenovic work in the Department for Building and Urban planning in the municipality of Vračar in Serbia. Vračar is one of seventeen municipalities of Serbia`s capital city Belgrade.
She is back home again after visiting Sweden and Borås to study urban planning.
“My colleague and I applied for this ICLD-programme to learn and understand the way public spaces are being treated in youth municipalities”, she says.
Vracar Municipality and Association have started an initiative to preserve and develop the municipality, they want to form what they call “urban pockets”. The goal is to shape a sort of oases in the urban tissue of the city.
“In a period from 2010 to 2016, in the municipality of Vračar, several urban pockets were set up”, she says.

What challenges, and opportunities, do you face?
“In view of the big shortage of green spaces in our municipality and in all others central municipalities of Belgrade, it is necessary to continue creating new mini-parks as well as their connection into a network of green points on the city and municipality map”.
She says that in continuing shaping these public areas, the areas must become more coherent with citizens needs as well as sustainable as far as maintenance and energy saving goes.
“In the past, the main issue was how to engage involved citizens in to a continuous action. It is tricky to involve them in creating appropriate activity-parks and maintaining existing pocket-parks”.

Do you involve your local youth in the planning process?
“Unlike elderly citizens, the younger population is eager to be involved, to be a part of planning and maintaining, and they offer their ideas about the activities they want to see in a certain area”.
What was the most important thing you learned from the three days in Borås?
“Borås was an interesting experience. What surprised us the most was the different ways citizens where participating in making decisions regarding the comprehensive plan and more detailed plans. The way the people in different departments in the municipality worked together and enabled meetings with citizens. And also, the way citizens got involved and participated was positively surprising”.

What did you find most interesting?
“The building and reconstructing of public spaces and that local business-owners were interested in co-financing projects regarding public spaces around their business.
And the bold move of Borås to build and to transform streets into pedestrian areas is quite refreshing and nice positive thinking”.
Ana Zelenovic also found the street art of Borås “lively and interesting”.
“The street art-festivals financed by the municipality is a big plus for the citizens…and also for the tourists”, she says.

How did you find the discussions with the team from Sweden?
“Agnes Sandstedt, city planner in Borås and her colleagues were very easy to understand when they explained the sustainable urban development. In spite of the fact that the system in Serbia is centralized from a high political level, and the system in your country is more decentralized with a wide range of jurisdictions on the municipalities, the plans (comprehensive plan, detail plans, building permits) are similar in both of our countries. Of course, citizen-participation is on a higher level in Sweden.

Can you give an example?
“When Agnes explained the way the children in kindergartens in Borås voted for the playground they wanted built in the city centre, we were amazed and surprised that the solution that got the most votes was the one that was built”.

Did you bring any useful ideas back home?
“We are bringing back home the participation of any and every kind of social group of people in making decision regarding every-day life issues and bigger plans”.