Parks and Trees – Collateral Damage in the Make-Over of Downtown Skopje
The green public space has no owner. It belongs to everyone. Until, that is, it no longer is a green public space.
In Skopje a heated debate is being waged about who the parks belong to. On one side is the Government which believes that it is the rightful owner, and on the other is a citizens’ group “ParkDefenders” and the Association of Architects who believe that parks belong to the people.
This clash of opinions culminated in the early morning of Sunday August 4 at a time when the city was almost completely deserted due to the Ilinden holiday and the summer vacation, when, protected by police squads, workers cut down all the trees in the small park across from the hotel Bristol. Residents of the buildings overlooking the park screamed their outrage and protest, but were powerless to stop the vandalism. The trees were felled, and the mini Gezi park protests of Skopje had no effect whatsover.
The trees are now gone and the distinctive Phoenix sculpture will soon follow them.
The whole area has turned into a construction site.
Advocates of urban development would probably say that construction is good because it brings profits to the construction industry, jobs to the builders, plus a new business center with room for new business and new employment.
Yet think again ! The trees were cut down and the park was ruined solely to give the state-run Broadcasting Council its own building. As if there was no other place in the city for them?!?
Across from the park is yet another construction site for yet another government building taking the place of yet another green space.
This determined onslaught against green spaces in downtown Skopje started a few years ago. Spaces once occupied by trees are now replaced by the church of Sts. Constantine and Helen, the Memorial House of Mother Theresa, parking lots, a new hotel, and one new public building after the other. The people of Skopje have got used to living in a city which is a continual construction site.
Yet only some of these new developments make an actual contribution to economic development, so the debate about Growth and Sustainability can hardly apply in the case of downtown Skopje. Sustainability is all about the responsible use of available resources from an economic, social and environmental standpoint. In downtown Skopje it is blatantly obvious that the green spaces have not been used responsibly. Analysis by the Freedom Square Association (Плоштад Слобода) highlights the lack of foresight, the lack of long-term plans, and the failure of central and local institutions to protect and conserve the city’s greenery. The display put up by the mayor of Skopje measuring the air quality on Macedonia Street has been long forgotten. It should be a matter of major concern that downtown Skopje threatens to turn into an urban heat island – as the city already is compared to the rest of the country.
Greenery gives people welcome respite from the relentless grey of the city asphalt surrounding them. Unfortunately, this is a luxury that the residents of downtown Skopje can no longer enjoy.
Tags: construction, ENVIRONMENT, Gezi park, green space, protest, Skopje, trees, urban heat island