Some cities have most of the spatial and social pre-conditions to be walkable. Tirana is one of them.
Tirana’s centre is densely populated and socio-economically diverse. The middle-cases have not moved to the suburbs due to the lack of infrastructure, and the poor have not been pushed out (yet), because they bought their former state-owned homes at a nominal cost (Pojani 2011, p.100). There is also a high density of businesses of all types (the most common of which seem to be betting shops…).
The boulevards radiating from the central square have recently been lined with trees and had their pavements widened (sometimes at the expense of the demolition of homes). The main transversal boulevard will be extended and occupy the area of the dismantled railway line.
[Open Street Map]
Social aspects are important. A popular past time in Albania is the xhiro, an untranslatable word describing the activity of “walking around town to wind up the day, usually in the company of others”.
The city is also becoming more inclusive. The improvement in pavements, lighting, and street landscaping allowed women, children, and older people to reclaim the space that once belonged mostly to “men in leather jackets smoking slim cigarettes.”
The existence of many outdoor cafés facilitates the social role of the streets and promotes walking, because people vary their destinations every day, as the cafés are all unique, unlike the soul-destroying uniformity of those chain shops belonging to tax-dodging corporations.
Small parks and courtyards were renovated and became places where people spend time.
But all these factors are now under threat:
There are signs of increased segregation. The Bllok area, once exclusive to the political elite, is becoming off-limits to some people again, but now for economic reasons, given the prices of properties and services there (Kusiak 2011).
Big multinationals are also coming in force and pushing for suburban retail development. Shopping centres now dot the road linking Tirana with Durres (the second city of Albania), in areas with no walking access. The free shuttle buses to these shopping centres are more frequent, more comfortable, and depart from a more convenient location in the centre than the normal buses serving residential areas…
Finally, walking is losing popularity. Pojani (2011, p.101-102) says that Tirana is becoming status-conscious and a sentiment is surfacing that “walking (other than recreational walking), cycling, and public transportation are lower-image modes.” In another paper she says that shopping centres are a lure for the public because of the “status associated with car-borne shopping in high-end stores” (Pojani 2010, p.842). Things are changing.
Kusiak, J. (2011) Tyranny in Tirana: Political utopia and its urban afterlife., in J L Pollock and M Schwegmann (eds.) Espacios Ambivalentes. Ediciones Callejón, Viejo San Juan., pp.76-93.
Pojani, D. (2010) Urban and suburban retail development in Albania’s capital after socialism. Land Use Policy 28(4), 836-845.
Pojani, D. (2011) Mobility, equality and sustainability today in Tirana. Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment. 4(2), 99-109.