This column originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian.
Promises, promises — Prishtina’s mayoral candidates are full of them. The nice thing about televised municipal debates in Kosovo is that they tend to last about two hours. Boring? Yes. But you get a chance to really listen to a fascinating amount of half-truths, nonsense and occasional hilarity (particularly in the case of Visar Arifaj, who provides all three every time he appears on television).
Prishtina’s residents don’t want all that much: A cleaner, more pleasant and more efficient city would make everybody happy. The solutions to Prishtina’s problems don’t need to to come from any particular part of the political spectrum; after all, and let’s be frank, Kosovo doesn’t have a political spectrum. We only have personalities. In this country, liberals, social democrats and democrats-who-are-actually-conservatives can, in the end, only come up with the same solutions: better infrastructure and respect for the law. The promises of all of the current candidates are the same — only the packaging is different. So what do we expect of the next mayor?
1. Running water 24/7. Prishtina’s problems with water have been going on for the past 14 years, and they represent one of the most misunderstood issues in this election. The provision of 24-hour water in Prishtina is not up to the municipality. The regional water authority controls the water supply and infrastructure, and luckily for us, a project sponsored by the German Bank for Development is currently underway to completely renovate the existing system. Regardless of who is in power in Prishtina, this project will ensure that there will be 24-hour water within a few years. In that sense, electoral candidates promising water are making an empty promise. But what the future mayor can do is ensure that Prishtina’s pipes are clean, modern, and do not pose a health hazard (ask any Prishtina resident if they prefer tap water over bottled).
2. Sidewalks without cars. Prishtina’s post-war population explosion has made cars into a particularly tough problem for the capital. The city was not built to handle its current population, nor its present amount of cars. It’s a challenge, but not an insurmountable one: A city as small as Prishtina does not need so many people on the roads. Despite the lack of adequate parking spaces, it’s become normal for Prishtina residents to drive wherever they need to go, and to park wherever is most convenient. Tough fines for cars who park on our sidewalks can be implemented — if the mayor makes it a priority.
3. Green spaces. Prishtina’s green spaces are: Germia (a national park), and Prishtina’s city parks in the center and in Taukbashqe. Otherwise, the rest of the city consists of concrete, big buildings, no sidewalks, and lots of cars. It’s no exaggeration to say that it is mentally stressful to take a “pleasant stroll” in Prishtina. With a more thoughtful and organized approach, though, every neighborhood could be a joy to walk through. All it would take are more pedestrian areas, more trees and more playgrounds.
4. Air quality. A recent news story announced that Prishtina’s air pollution is worse than London’s, and World Bank reports have documented that overall, there is a greater ocurrence of respiratory problems in residents who live in and around Obiliq’s lignite-based power plants. This is a big problem that cannot be solved by the mayor’s office alone, but it would make sense for municipalities affected by air pollution to come up with a strategy to keep air pollution at tolerable levels.
5. Proper urban planning (building giant buildings on tiny streets). Enforcing urban planning is a dangerous undertaking in Prishtina. The worst offenders in terms of public planning tend to be wealthy, greedy and willing to use violent force if someone tries to prevent them from building their ugly, gargantuan apartment buildings. Many of them are not structurally sound, and none of them add any aesthetic value to the city. Addressing this issue will take a mayor with courage. Not the “may-God-deal-with-you-if-you-don’t-vote-for-me” rhetoric of Isa Mustafa, but the kind of courage represented by true leader who will place their personal safety on the line for the greater good.
6. Clean, reliable public transportation. How many times have you boarded a bus and been… well, assaulted by the smell? When is it ever desirable to wait for an incredibly slow bus during rush hour, and then be crushed against its window by countless arms and elbows? Dedicated routes; cleanliness-standards; and clear, easily accessible bus schedules would make using public transportation a much more pleasant experience.
7. Maintenance for collective housing (lights, garbage, broken windows, etc.). The majority of Prishtina’s residents live in apartment buildings. It’s difficult to find a home in the city that isn’t kept immaculately clean by its residents — but what about the hallways, elevators and windows? This is a different story. Many of Prishtina’s older buildings look like scenes from horror movies at night, and the newer buildings aren’t much better. A fund or special tax could easily be set aside to ensure that every building is clean, properly lit and in good repair.
8. Protection of cultural heritage. Cultural heritage in Prishtina means much more than the mere existence of an Ethnological Museum. Cultural heritage also means that old houses will not be left to decay, or be converted into mini-markets. It means graveyards will not be left unattended, and centuries-old mosques will not be demolished without any protest. This has to stop, and there needs to be real consequences for those who treat our past like a collective dumping-ground.
9. More public spaces. Sometimes Prishtina residents are at a loss as to what to do in the city without spending any money. The default activity of most Prishtina residents on weekends is going out for coffee (again), or running away to Rugova, Prevalla or other green spaces like this. Imagine a Prishtina that had a public library you could visit and enjoy spending time in, or a recreational center where you could sign up for an art class, or a (public) indoor swimming pool where you could do laps. Prishtina needs more than cafes.
10. More works of public art. Sometimes this city is so desperately dreary, so painful to look at, that it makes one want to stay indoors forever. Graffiti, murals, installations, street performances — these are all things that make a city come alive. Prishtina is the heart of Kosovo’s creative community, and the efforts of this community can be harnessed to make the city a living work of art.