Informal Urban Development in
Europe - Experiences from Albania and Greece
Informal development is not a novel issue for Europe. The southern
part of the region has long experience in dealing with this problem.
Rapid economic and political change in the European region during the
last twenty years has resulted in rapid population increase in many
urban centers, mainly due to immigration of rural poor searching for job
opportunities and better living conditions, or of internally displaced
people. Increasing unplanned or informal suburban development has become
an issue of major importance particularly in the transition countries.
Many countries are investing substantial funds to establish or
improve their land tenure systems. The focus is on formalizing the real
estate market and achieving economic growth. Although in most countries
in transition land privatization and first registration projects have
been in operation since the beginning of the 1990s; informal development
and lack of efficient administration already threatens the newly
established legal rights and zoning regulations over land. Squatting on
state and private land occurs in urban and suburban areas, weakening
land tenure security and creating environmental and social problems in
the region. In many cases illegal construction in Europe is well built
and can be considered as “affordable housing” rather than as “slums”.
Overlapping responsibilities and resulting problems show that
countries have not yet managed to coordinate responsible land-related
agencies and relevant projects. Planning is a tool that involves
politics. In many countries, there are several political debates related
to planning and land management aspects. During the period of centrally
controlled economy in Eastern European countries, spatial/urban
development planning was considered to be a task for the government
exclusively, in which citizens had no involvement. After the social and
political changes, there is a significant lack of knowledge and
experience due to that attitude. There is a need to improve relevant
education at all levels, create local expertise, share experience and
raise public awareness about the importance of land management tools
like cadastre, property registration and planning. There is also a need
for stakeholders, local experts, professionals and citizens to realize
that such tools must be applied in coordination with each other.
Experience shows that legalization, penalties and even demolition has
not completely stopped informal development.
FIG and UN-HABITAT recognize that there is a continuing need within
the European region for guidelines and tools to address informal urban/
suburban development and to reduce the phenomenon in the near future.
The study builds upon the research done by FIG and UN-HABITAT. It
includes material from the publication produced by the UNECE WPLA and
CHLM, “Self-made Cities – In search of sustainable solutions for
informal settlements in the United Nations Economic Commission for
Europe region”, in 2009, adds more detailed information and lessons from
experience with the problem of informal urban and suburban development
in Albania and Greece.
Download the report (642 KB)