UN-HABITAT has extended its post-conflict activities in the Western Balkans to the city of Mostar, where it will introduce a new, inclusive urban planning programme aimed at helping regenerate the city and further reconciling its once divided communities.
A UN-HABITAT team visited Mostar in February for talks with the newly elected Mayor, Mr. Ljubo Beslic, to discuss a new unified urban plan aimed at giving direction to future urban growth and helping reconcile ethnic divisions. The new era of reconciliation in the formerly divided city was symbolized by the rebuilding in July last year of the city’s historic bridge. The original bridge was destroyed on 9 November 1993, during bitter fighting between Mostar's Muslim and Croat communities.
More than US$13 million has been spent on rebuilding the 16th century bridge and surrounding buildings. Traditional methods have been used working with stone been taken from the same quarry dug nearly 500 years ago.
“All eyes are on Mostar today, but we will strive to make it an example for other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to follow as the reconciliation gains momentum,” Mr. Beslic told the UN-HABITAT team led by Mr. Paul Taylor, Chief of the agency’s Urban Development Branch. Mr. Beslic said he considered the collaboration with UN-HABITAT “a very important step forward” for Mostar in fostering peace and growth.
The new urban plan will give the unified city the legal basis to take action on future illegal constructions, particularly if the issuing of urban permits and enforcement procedures will be strengthened. However, the urban plan is seen as a tool not only to protect public spaces and interests but also to build a sustainable city.
Initially, UN-HABITAT will send a senior urban planner as a special advisor to the Mayor and the Head of the Urbanization Department. This has been made possible through a collaborative approach between UNDP and the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mr. Pablo Barrera, an OHR policy advisor, said city residents hoped a new urban plan would help boost the stalled economy and foster the confidence needed for a lasting peace. Introducing the new urban planner, Mr. Aleksander Stular to the Mayor, Mr. Taylor emphasized that UN-HABITAT was fully committed to support Mostar sustain peace through inclusive urban planning. He said the new urban planning should be seen as a means to help direct investments in a participatory manner that embraces all citizens whatever their ethnic background. UN-HABITAT will apply lessons learned from its successful work in Kosovo over the past five years.
Reaching agreement on a new urban plan will be a major confidence building measure within the municipal leadership and among the councillors, entailing detailed negotiations between all parties.
The project will aim at establishing and promoting links with women’s organizations to solicit their opinions on the key challenges facing Mostar today. A sustainable urban plan supported by a large majority is deemed more likely to be accepted by private investors and international funding institutions, and help build confidence as refugees return home.
In coming months, Mr. Stular and the UN-HABITAT team in Kosovo will prepare a two-year technical support programme for Mostar. It will also plan, in collaboration with OHR and UNDP, to introduce the programme to other towns and cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.