A New Dubai in Heart of Balkans

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In early 2019, I have been in Belgrade to study a long-discussed urban transformation project. The attention of investors around the world, especially in Europe, is on this city. This city housed the Sava River and was in an idle state that needed to be transformed by the river. It has been said for a long time that this city needs renovation. As a country, Serbia is located in an area where Europe is strategically important as a location. Among the Balkan countries, it is one of the two countries closest to the European Union membership. (Another is Montenegro). For these reasons, the investment potential in the country has increased significantly in the last decade.

The Belgrade Waterfront  project, which started in 2015 and led to protests by local residents, is being implemented by Eagle Hills, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The project is called the urban regeneration project by the Serbian government and will completely transform the Sava River and the dormant area. Instead of derelict buildings, there will be a luxury complex, skyscrapers, five-star hotels and restaurants, apartments and numerous shopping centers. So, Will Dubai be created in the heart of the Balkans?…

Within the scope of the project, which will be implemented in an area of ​​approximately 2 million square meters in Belgrade, next to the Sava River; numerous luxury apartments, parks, hotels, shopping centers, educational and health centers, walking areas and 180 meters high Belgrade Tower will be built.

The majority of the population opposes this project. The first problem stems from the selected location of the project. Belgrade’s river sides are under municipal ownership, so the public is not authorized to grant this authority to a foreign firm. Normally, before most projects are started, the country undergoes a referendum. There was no such implementation for the Belgrade Waterfront project, and the public’s response continued to increase. For these reasons, local people think that the region is given to foreign investors for the sake of income. High-rise buildings and a mixed project built by the river are not thought to be related to the texture and spirit of Belgrade. There will be a gentrification project rather than urban transformation and a rich investor will come to the region and the local people will unfortunately be displaced.

Wherever the world is, the capitalist order has taken over the understanding of urbanism. We betray our own future, future generationsand nature with the thought of how much we earn rather than living humanly.

The project promises beyond the hotel, residential and shopping center areas; new public spaces, priority areas for pedestrians and the cultural and social life of Belgrade. Europe’s the largest urban regeneration project, which started in 2015, is currently underway. And even from 200,000 to 350,000 euros, the sessions have already begun.

Regardless of what you call urban renewal, regeneration, gentrification and development, the first question that should be asked by those who manage these projects should be; can we find something from us, our essence in these projects? Can we preserve our traditional habits or culture?

Unfortunately no…

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