October 15, 2018 | Monday
Architecture, public space in particular, is one of the best attributes that depicts how a city breathes. Public space not only improves citizen’s lives, but successful public spaces have been known to even influence and lure investments in places no one ever thought about investing in. Furthermore, in the heart of every successful public space are people who are using, enjoying and caring about what is truly theirs.
Badly designed and maintained public spaces are often unwelcoming, and when this is the case, people will unavoidably stop using them. When this starts to happen in a city-wide level, it sparks a chain reaction of businesses closing because people simply aren’t going out and spending time and money outside. Economic effects aside, the lack of public spaces can also affect people’s health due to lack of activities, their mood as well as social life. Many similar cases can be found in cities around Kosovo.
The problem with public spaces in Kosovo is not an insufficient number of users, because most commute using these spaces as a transit path, however, they are unwilling to spend a minute more than they have to in these spaces, because of the state they are in.
Some of the causes of this phenomenon have roots in times prior to 1999. This is a time when Kosovars were excluded from all processes of designing and conceiving public space, especially since new public spaces where conceived from a top-down approach. This is a time when everything public was owned by the state and virtually no accountability was given to the citizens. This form of exclusion led to people losing their sense of belonging which later morphed into them despising anything that is public, because they didn’t feel in any way connected with it.
Years after, and even with changing generations, echoes of this type of mentality can still be noticed today. Very often, the space that is a common or public is perceived as a no man’s land, where anything goes, towards which citizens don’t feel any sense of commitment or obligation. In many cases public space is just there to be used when absolutely necessary.
As good as raising awareness about this problem is, there are still a few ways that public officials, mayors and other stakeholders can address this problem. What we need is a more transparent, inclusive and democratic way of designing spaces through community based and participatory design methods.
The community needs to be included and more involved in the designing process of public spaces since this will help with enhancing the sense of belonging and ownership of the community. When people have a strong sense of ownership about their public spaces, they tend to take care and protect it from any kind of intruder. With better and more transparent design, public spaces can become livelier and people will start to use them more often and for longer periods, always continuing to attract more and more people.
There is however a positive shift in this regard, especially in the major cities of Kosovo, where people have started to become more aware about their human rights to public space, but this is something that is being pushed mainly by NGOs and the citizens themselves. Nevertheless, the level of citizen’s awareness about public space is still very low, and a lot of work is yet to be done.
Even though public spaces have been around ever since the dawn of civilizations, they still remain one of the most challenging things humans research, understand and produce.
Architecture for Humans
Rron Beqiri is an architect from Prishtina, member of the research-based design studio Architecture for Humans. Previously Rron has been engaged with various architectural practices as well as NGO’s. Besides the work with the studio, Rron is also engaged as a teaching assistant in the Department of Architecture, in University of Prishtina and is also a doctoral candidate in spatial planning in Technical University in Vienna.