Urban development of Belgrade: Where we have been and where we are moving

Will Belgrade succeed in resolving numerous, controversial urban issues in the coming decades and become a compact city structure, or will it spontaneously continue its uncontrolled expansion?

The new General Urban Plan of Belgrade is largely being drafted, and the issue of urban development of Belgrade and its needs is increasingly appearing in professional circles. It is an indisputable fact that the city has undergone significant changes of different character in the previous decades, which change the way the inhabitants function to the level of everyday life. It is natural to think about important points in the historical development of Belgrade and their influence on the urbanism of the modern age.

The problem of unequal – unplanned development

We are witnessing the rapid changes that Belgrade has undergone in recent years. On the edge of taste, rapid changes in the structure, at an unenviable level, follow the growth and development of the city, as well as its burning infrastructural needs. Starting from the core to the periphery, the city is increasingly congested – residential complexes, sprouting in the narrower and wider center of the city, provoking the appearance of gentrification. The local urbanism and architecture, 30 years ago, are almost exclusively based on residential-commercial content, putting other points of development in the background.

Urban planning of modern cities, action and development as a consequence, unequivocally rely on priorities, among which, in a place of honor is transport. The growth of Belgrade in terms of the number of inhabitants, and with them the number of housing units, has led to the congestion of the existing infrastructure, the development of which is questionable, located under the shadow of construction projects. On a daily basis, the inhabitants of the city face significant problems in transport, but also other basic needs of modern life.

The obvious need to expand housing capacity should be monitored urban strategies with the organization of constant action. On the contrary, some projects that have been implemented in recent decades have rarely relied on the priorities of the needs and opinions of the profession, and for their implementation “ad hoc” decisions have been made without studious research.

Traffic jam on Branko’s bridge; Photo: Tanjug

The first step towards the urbanization of Belgrade

The urban development of Belgrade, accompanied by planning documents and the process we know today as modern, began in the middle of the 19th century with the “Plan of the Town in the Trench” of the first Belgrade urbanist Emilijan Josimović.

After the official liberation from the Turks and the handing over of the keys to the city to Prince Mihailo Obrenović, it was time for the structure to be reorganized and expanded in order to get the shape of a European city. Given the historical circumstances and the centuries-old influence of Ottoman architecture and urbanism, the central part of the city was characterized by networks of narrow streets of irregular shape without planned connection points.

The goal of the plan was clear – modernization of Belgrade with several key points of development – improvement of hygienic conditions in the city, expansion of existing streets, application of orthogonal street matrix with regular squares that would enable more functional movement of the population, even distribution of land through apartment blocks, also formation of space for content of public and cultural character.

By creating the main routes with the corresponding squares and planned parcelling, Belgrade suddenly gained the potential to become a metropolis.

This is how some of the most important Belgrade buildings and public spaces were created – the conversion of Captain Miša’s building into a cultural center, the formation of the Student Park with the surrounding blocks, the construction of the National Theater, the arrangement of the Sava Quay and other places in the central city zone.

The plan primarily defines the Situational Plan of the current situation, through which, for the first time, the existing morphology of the city is precisely drawn. By Urban planning as a concept appears for the first time, and with it the issue of urban regulation.

By creating the main street routes with the associated squares, wide orthogonally crossed streets and planned parcelling, Belgrade is suddenly gained the potential to become a metropolis, and its inhabitants – citizens of “European Belgrade”. The streets that today form and surround the core of the city, such as Nemanjina, Kneza Miloša, Topličino and Kosančićev venac, were designed with this urban plan. The plan also included connecting the old core with the new “expanded” Belgrade.

However, although modernization was the focus of Belgrade’s development, the idea was not to nullify the city’s long history depicted in its architecture and urbanism, but to magically connects the “old” and the “new”.

Geodetic survey from the plan of 1867;  Photo: AAS
Geodetic survey from the plan of 1867; Photo: AAS
Proposal for regulation from the plan of 1867;  Photo: AAS
Proposal for regulation from the plan of 1867; Photo: AAS

The idea was not to annul the long history of the city, but to magically connect the “old” and the “new”.

Unfortunately, Josimović’s project has not experienced the legal framework, and for the most part it was not realized. In the coming decades, new plans are being issued, on a smaller scale, focusing on the arrangement of expanded parts of the city, such as Vracar and the Danube slope. However, with the adoption of the construction law and regulations for Belgrade, at the end of the 19th century, the rules of construction were defined for the first time.

Accelerated development of the capital of Yugoslavia

After the period of wars that followed in the first half of the 20th century, the formation of the SFRY and the establishment of Belgrade as the capital of a new progressive state required a studious observation of the direction of Belgrade’s development and strategies of action.

During this period, until the 80s, the city developed according to the needs of a new way of life. Thus, already in the early years after the war, 1950, it emerged the first General Urban Plan, while in the following years he headed an architect and a professor Nikola Dobrović developed the Urban Institute of Belgrade, the first institution of this type in our area.

The GUP was initially implemented through reconstruction and construction plans within the central city zone, and soon the focus is on plans to expand Belgrade, starting with the settlements on the right bank of the Sava.

Experimental settlement – block 1, mid 60’s; Photo: Old pictures of New Belgrade

In the new plan, the roof element of the city’s development, an ambitious subway project, replaces the street rail system – the tram.

The rapid expansion of New Belgrade, on the other side of the river, has begun from the block “Fontana”, all the way to block 70 – significantly away from the historic core of the city.

The period of “young” Yugoslavia in the capital is marked megalomaniac urban-building endeavors and express action, which included the adoption of urban plans of all city municipalities within Belgrade and their effective implementation.

The fact that architecture and urbanism were esteemed professions of Yugoslavia testifies to a period of 30 years that marked the development New Belgrade, Third Belgrade better known as the “left bank of the Danube”, the construction of significant infrastructure facilities such as Nikola Tesla Airport, mosta Gazele, the Belgrade – Zagreb highway and many other significant construction projects of larger and smaller scope.

Already at the end of the 60’s, it was certain that Belgrade would become a multimillion city and that the General Urban Plan needed a revision that would be adjusted to the expansion, especially in the context of public city transport.

That’s how it was created in 1972 new GUP of Belgrade which implies a distribution metro system. Over a period of 30 years, significant names in architecture such as Nikola Dobrović, Stanko Mandić, Branko Petričić and others made a great contribution to Belgrade.

However, in the 1980s, on the verge of the disintegration of the former state, the General Urban Plan was revised again. In the new plan, the umbrella element of the city’s development, ambitious subway project, replaces the street rail system – tram.

With the end of the republic, the epoch of urbanism is coming to an end, and the period of decisive urban planning is replaced by a decade. “Wild” construction which is evidenced by the fact that in the late 90’s, the number of unplanned buildings in the city is equated with those legally built. One of the greatest examples is the settlement of Kaludjerica, which even today, 20 years later, has not been completely legally resolved.

Naselje Kaluđerica; Photo: Oliver Bunić, RAS Serbia

An attempt to rehabilitate by entering the new millennium

The solution to the urban catastrophe was reflected in the direct implementation of the GUP and remediation plans, which resulted in the adoption of two strategic documents over a period of several years. In 2003, after a period of turbulence, with the idea of ​​development and a new beginning for the capital, it emerged General Urban Plan 2021.

Although significantly less ambitious than its predecessors, through GUP 2021, for the first time, guidelines for the implementation and expansion of the plan outside the borders of the parts of the city covered by the planning documentation appear. In a few years, plans for highways and public transport will be launched, as well as “new age” projects – business and residential investments.

GUP 2021 is, at least formally, still in force today. However, in the past 20 years, the term has been mentioned more and more often in professional circles. “investor urbanism”Which defines the phenomenon of project development and construction of facilities aimed at making a profit, not fully respecting the planning documents, often to the detriment of the negative impact on the city and city units.

Flats, flats, flats… Photo: Gradnja.rs

Belgrade through urbanism and architecture

Discontinuity of urban development throughout history, results in insufficient urban education of the city population, which almost does not participate in the processes of city development, both due to regulations that insufficiently include them in the processes, and due to the general lack of interest in this topic. The result of incorrect decisions of modern urban activity is a direct consequence of a short urban tradition full of ambitious attempts interrupted by catastrophes and changes in socio-political regimes.

From the liberation from the Turks and the first attempt to systematize the existing fabric of Belgrade and its improvement, through the gigantic endeavors of socialist action, all the way to entering the 21st century with the problem of illegal construction, there are significant interruptions in the development of the city. The establishment of a constant in action was stopped by unfavorable historical circumstances, and Belgrade “semi-finished”With every change in the way of planning that followed.

Judging by the historical facts, there is doubt in the focus, but also in the process of adopting a new urban plan. Will Belgrade succeed in resolving numerous, controversial urban issues in the coming decades and become a compact city structure, or will it spontaneously continue its uncontrolled expansion?

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Source: Gradnja by www.gradnja.rs.

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