Book review: Prishtina is Everywhere

Prishtina is about hope. And therein lies the curse to its urbanism.

Prishtina is all over the place, but Prishtina is Everywhere is about the many global Prishtinas. So many hopes were placed on post-war Prishtina, and yet it got so little attention failing to belong to any of the neat categories of post-conflict interventionionists.

When one million Kosovars returned at the conflict’s conclusion, they hoped for a new beginning. The Serbs had burned 120,000 homes and the rural areas were not attractive anymore. Others who had seeked asylum in Western European countries were forced to return. Armies of international aid workers descended on Prishtina to help with law and order and capacity building, often renting illegally built office space and housing. And Kosovo once again had a central government in its capital, with ministries in private buildings. Within months, the population of Prishtina increased to 300,000 according to the author’s estimates or half a million according to others’.

And since there are no slums in Prishtina, an array of outbuilding, overbuilding and crowding happened. Virtually all of it illegal. Local government tasked to deal with the issue at one time employed only two people. It suited them, say the local urbanists.

Stylistically, Prishtina is Victorian-neoclassical-oriental-American free-style architecture, on top of the old brutalist grey communist layer.  And it does not harbor respect for public space.

It did not have to be this way. Temporary solutions could have been found to take the pressure off and meet the great needs at the time. International workers could have taken the pressure away from Prishtina by locating in other towns (memo to EULEX). And the government of Kosovo and international agencies should have insisted not to locate in illegal buildings. Although with no final urban plan, areas could have been identified for the construction of high-density buildings, instead of destroying a bit of the whole city.

But Prishtina takes up only part of Prishtina is Everywhere. The rest goes into the generalization of reasons why this happened. It is a highly theoretical treatment, and the shortcoming of the book. We hear about the neo-liberal (Anglo-American) governance, and Prishtina as an example of the threat of those policies for Western Europe, or the ever-popular clannish nature of the Albanian society in Kosovo. The methods devised to deal with the problem are straight from the community participatory textbooks, in contrast to the top-down, unimplementable policies of the city planners with communist legacies. The voices of the young Kosovar architects and planners, not burdened by any of the two philosophies above, however, are much simpler.

The book comes as a result of the work of Archis Interventions, an organization set up to deal with situations like post-war Prishtina, Beirut and Kabul. As a manual for those situations, it is great. It should have focused strictly on that purpose though.

Prishtina is happy, energetic and hopeful. It is the city with no river. It is the city with destroyed history. Everyone wants to be in Prishtina, ruining it on the way.

Prishtina is Everywhere. By Kai Vöckler with Archis Interventions. Archis Publishers, Amsterdam. € 24,50.

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