Historic urban transformation from Nov 26 tragedy ruins

Kombinat, a south-western suburb of Tirana, is one of the worst-hit residential areas by the devastating Nov 26 earthquake Albania, will soon be transformed into one of the most attractive poles in the Albanian capital.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, together with the Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, unveiled post-earthquake reconstruction plan and the development project for Kombinat, one of the areas set to host an ambitious post-disaster recovery and development plan, designed to set a new standard in the urban development of mew polycentric centres.

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at presentation of development area “KombinArt”:

Hello everyone!

Greetings to Marco Casamonti from distance!

We have come together today for a very ambitious project. More than a reconstruction project, it is a vision for the next generation Tirana, much like, I believe, the whole pack of projects already underway, or about to be launched soon, are a vision for the community life and the family quality of life in the wake of a disaster that created both a huge void, as well as a tremendous opportunity.

Every crisis is also a great opportunity. For those passionate enough and ready to resists, turning crisis into great opportunities is the only option. However, every crisis could also become the very hotspot of a chain of mean and bad things if not properly addressed.

I believe we have by now sufficient data to confidently state that we are turning the grave crisis of Nov 26 last year into a great transformation opportunity for the worst-affected communities and households  that lost their homes, as well as for the hardest-hit areas themselves, namely Tirana, Durres, Kurbin,  Kavaje, Vore,  Kruje, Fushe-Kruje, Lezhe and Mirdita.

If we are to look at the projects in our hands today, their implementation will definitely bring about significant transformations and will take forward a process of quick urban recovery of many areas, which would otherwise remain as such, who knows how long. I would like to illustrate it with the town of Laç, a striking example of a newly-built town. Everyone knows the history of Laç, a post-liberation industrial zone, built by the dictatorship, while during the post-dictatorship era it remained there a poor and consistently degrading area, with its former glory of an important centre of industrial production of that time when thousands of people were employed,

Today, we are ready to begin work and embark on a project designed to give the area a fresh impetus, considering also the fact that the area is blessed with one of the most important pilgrimage sites, the Saint Anthony (Shna Ndou) Church that brings together more than 1 million visitors a year. Yet, these more than one million visitors, who visit the site each year during the pilgrimage weeks, never stop in the town of Laç. They just park their cars and walk up the hill, perform the due ritual and leave, because they are offered no opportunity to stay and visit the town. But, with the new project due to be implemented there, not only the quake-affected families will be provided decent housing, not only new much better living conditions will be provided for the children, young boys and girls, who attend the pre-university education school in the small town, associated with the project to upgrade the existing infrastructure leading to the Shna Ndou Church, proper conditions will be certainly created to attract visitors stay longer in the town. This would translate into stronger local economy, an increased number of consumers, more business activities, new jobs and employment, offering more reasons not merely to visit the town, but also to move and live there, just like it may well become the case with the village of Thumane.    Thumane was the epicentre of the tragedy, where the earthquake hit harder than anywhere else. Indeed, it was a completely secluded and isolated spot and an area where local residents struggled to survive, yet didn’t abandon their hometown. However, it was not an area of choice for the people we are born and grow up there. However, with the new intervention, with its dense forest and the adjacent lake, Thumane will certainly turn into another important stopover along the route of attractions that connect both domestic and foreign visitors with Kruja, or with Laç too. This is also the case with other affected areas, where we are provided a great opportunity to bring about a historic transformation, but, certainly, starting first with housing of those who lost their homes, who will definitely move into their new, much better and safer homes and, above all, not surrounded by the jungle of chaotic buildings, as it was the case in Thumane until yesterday, or by ruined buildings over the years, just like it is the case in Kombinat neighbourhood, but inside an urban living system and a brand new co-existence approach.

There is no doubt that while we make utmost efforts in order to speed up procedures and this huge and challenging volume of reconstruction work, each day may seem to last forever for those who have become homeless due to the earthquake. For days now, we are experiencing soaring air temperatures and, frankly speaking, there is not a single day when I don’t think that temperatures are going up in our own homes there are still many families living in tents, there are families that although currently living in much better conditions than a tent can offer, they still are not in their own homes, as they live in rented houses and are impatiently waiting for the day when they will move into their own new homes. I understand their stress and impatience. I do also sometimes understand the frustration of some others, whose houses are intact, yet they are residing in “Facebook” and from there they speak up and raise their voice for the rights of the suffering people.

However, what needs to be understood is that in order to move into the new house it takes a whole process and this is the case when we want to emerge much better and much stronger than we used to be in all the territories hit hard by the devastating earthquake.

It is a whole process of planning, which involves a series of issues that have to do with the territory, that have to do not merely with the property we need to expropriate in every affected area in a process that takes its time too, but they also have to do with the geology of each area. For instance, based on the  geological study, we need to carry out a very complex intervention in Thumane, because it is an area featuring a kind of soil content that needs reinforcement because the site that will host construction projects used to be a marshland in the past. The same goes for Spitalla in Durres, where a huge residential area is set to be built. That, too, is a swamp area and it requires a series of interventions to turn it into a solid ground so that it can host the construction site.

In addition to designing, we also must carry out the competition and tender procedures, which have already completed for a number of projects and are underway for some other projects and will be launched soon for a number of other projects, just like it is the recovery and development plan for the Kombinat area for which the competition and tender procedures have yet to be launched. I am very pleased that a large number of construction companies have taken part in the competition procedures that have concluded so far and they will be awarded construction contracts, will employ a significant number of people and will play a significant role in the entire chain of the country’s economy. The implementation projects will also take their time. But, what I can openly state is that despite the fact we experienced to major blows within such a short space of time- namely the earthquake and the Covid-19 pandemic, temporarily affected the activity of many people and broke the chain of the process, causing delays in the procedures to launch tenders, but, on the other hand, it also created a huge gap in relation to the financial capacities to support whole this mass reconstruction plan. We did whatever we could and I believe we stood with dignity, although it is never enough, by all of those who needed not to be left alone during the period when they were unable to go to work due to the epidemic and around a quarter of a million Albanian citizens have been directly affected by the pandemic, while thousands of other people wait for their new houses to be built.

We are not like Germany, not like France and America. We have limited financial capacities, but, on the other hand, I am confident that within the limits of our capacities we have done what nobody else has ever tried to do in the past.

We have been affected by way too small disasters, mainly flooding, which have certainly been serious ones for those affected, yet they are incomparable with the earthquake effects. The true fact is that when took office, we inherited huge debts the government owed to the families and individuals who had sustained damages due to the floods, but who were never paid any compensation grant by those who claim they would give “gold spoons” to Albanians and all it would take is that Albanians be deceived and agree: “Ok, let’s see whether you will really give us that spoon,” just to remain then with the empty spoon in their mouth.

Through this overall panorama, without seeking to compare with the previous government, I think we can compare with other much bigger and stronger countries than us. Many families in the neighbouring Italy are still homeless for 15 years, 12 or ten years now and they are still living in cabins waiting for their new homes to be built following a series of earthquakes that have hit the country. There are of course fantastic success stories in the neighbouring Italy, like the region of Friuli, where, precisely because of an earthquake, authorities made use of the opportunity for a major urban, social and economic transformation, which we want and will certainly implement here, yet there are still other areas where the quake-affected families live in cabins. Just like there are other much more developed countries, where affected people have not received even a single penny in government’s compensation grants. They will certainly receive compensation, yet the processes last too long.

Returning to the development plan in Kombinat, I think this project indicates a lot about we are seeking and planning to do and I am grateful to Marko, just as I am grateful to Stefano Boeri, or  Mario Cucinella, for the Spitalla project, because these are really massive projects even for the largest cities in Europe, they are really massive and complex interventions, which would allow us to accommodate and provide housing to the quake affected families, whose number is significantly high, and in the meantime allow us build new infrastructure, as well as expand our perspective about the country’s two largest cities, Tirana and Durres, to create new poles of development, new reference points, not just a decent neighbourhood for the local residents of Kombinat, but also a destination for the nightlife events, a destination for many other business activities, a destination for tourists, thanks to all the projected interventions that certainly are part of the Albania 2030 vision, and are not just part of a housing program to accommodate quake-affected families.

We will start with people first and work to construct the initial individual homes in many areas will begin soon, in a matter of weeks, and not only in the areas where the related infrastructure is being developed, because they are new centralized residential neighbourhoods in Fushe Kruje, Thumane, Bubq, or Vaqarr, or in other areas inside and outside Tirana. In the meantime, work to construct all damaged school buildings in Tirana suburbs is already underway and it is set to begin soon inside Tirana. A considerable number of schools will open their doors to their students and pupils on Nov 26, providing completely new conditions and standards and everything else these schools have been lacking over the years and could have continued to lack for many years to come if it was not for “the earthquake” to remind and pose the challenge for the children in Bubq, Ishem, the children in the Tirana suburbs, or Durres and other urban centres.

I know patience has always been a rare commodity in our homeland and that for 1001 reasons. I understand people who ask and want more and more and want it now, and of course 30 years is a long time, but on the other hand, there is no other option but to work ceaselessly. We are not resting a single day and night, we are doing whatever we can and we would have wished a lot more if we could, but it takes patience and it is for sure that all these impressive 3D images will become a reality sooner rather than later. This is especially for my “Facebook” friends, who will certainly write on their comments “these 3Ds are ruining us …”, yet the truth is that all 3Ds we are showcasing are part of the projects, because a house, a road, a bridge, a school, hospital or whatever else we build doesn’t begin at the groundbreaking moment, but it begins we dream and sit down do design it, then find the due funding, and continues with the project implementation  which should first undergo a competition and then a contract should be signed to give way to the construction work on the ground.

If there is an essential thing that distinguishes us from those who claim that they have done a lot, yet they didn’t complete a single road project is the fact that we give the required time to design the project and work in the construction site doesn’t begin without addressing these elements first.

Individuals and families can be forgiven about what has happened in Albania in ‘90s and in the later years, yet a government and a state cannot be forgiven for operating like an illegal builder just to take over the Prime Minister’s office and then rush to inaugurate incomplete roads with designs that would have failed anyone who has drawn those lines and in other countries would have ended behind bars for crimes against the environment, for crimes against the state, for crimes against humanity.

Many thanks Marko again!

Thank you very much everyone for the great job and I hope we won’t waste a single moment in the process! Let’s start work on these construction sites as soon as possible!

Thank you!