July 2, 2023 “They’re going to cut the playground in half and move it. They’re going to cut back the pines next to it and make a fitness playground. They dug up the foundation of the tree next to the playground and it will fall down. Maybe tomorrow they will come. We’re ready…”
July 3, 2023 “They came. They walked around the playground quite a bit and looked at the situation. They seemed to agree with us. They were soft. They felt there was going to be fighting and aggression. Our Janko showed up – shouting, swearing. And Kiro threatened them…”
The situation is not the beginning of a thriller, but messages between neighbors in the Levski neighborhood of Varna. The reason for exchanging such information is the start of renovation of the inter-block space. “The “coming soft” are from the municipal administration in Varna and from the contractor of the site.
The season of renovations in Varna occurs once every 4 years. Millions are poured into the improvement of inter-block spaces, sidewalks, playgrounds, playgrounds. The money for the massive redevelopment cannot be secured only from own funds, so the local treasury resorts to loans, which burden the investment with interest. Of course, no one consults the citizens of Varna, neither how and where to invest their money, nor how the garden and gazebo in front of their block should look like. The municipality decides according to unclear criteria which inter-block spaces will be renovated, assigns the design to one company and the implementation to another. It has been the same company for years, and the scheme is also unchanged. That is why, after the inter-neighbourly announcement on 2 July and the excavator that was stopped with a live chain and undermined the foundations of a tree, the renovation in the 23rd micro-district has been stopped. In the box between ul. “For a month and a half now, deep trenches and ditches have been yawning next to the playground fence, cables are sticking out of them, dilapidated tiles have been piled up, and the sidewalks on the north side of block 14 of Vasil Petleshkov St. have been torn up. The streets on the north side of the street 14 “Studentska” are like after a bombing.
It is unclear why the local government imagined that the residents living next door would be happy to see a renovated sports field, reduced from 330 to 250 square meters. That they would welcome a soft-surfaced but reduced by 40% playground. That they will welcome fitness equipment and new lighting, at the expense of less tree cover.
“A smaller playground means fewer people”, “We don’t want trees removed”, “Can’t you make a substandard playground at the insistence of the citizens of Varna?”, “We’d rather nothing be done to the playground, it should stay as it is”, “You could put in a few benches”…
The captured replicas are of the residents of ul. “Studentskaya” during an impromptu meeting in early July with the director of the Directorate of “Engineering Infrastructure and Public Works” Petar Garbuzov, representatives of the “Primorsky” district and “Engstroyengineering” – the contractor.
People’s fears are provoked by the reduction of the playground in order to free up private property allocated for development. This is happening despite the fact that back in 2014. The expert council on spatial planning decided that it should be allocated for landscaping. Nearly 10 years the decision has not been implemented by the city government, which is unchanged.
Dissatisfaction with the renovations also arises in the area of “Summer Cinema Trakia”. In the editorial office of Ecovarna we received a signal about tree trunks filled with concrete mixtures on the street. “Strahil Voyvoda” in its section with the intersection with Blvd. “Slivnitsa”. The contractor of the project “Inter-block space in the scope of the carriage of ul. “Otets Paisii”, “Slivnik” Str. “Oborishte” Blvd. “Slivnitsa” Blvd. “Vladislav Varnenchik” is again “Engstroiengineering”. The amount of the renovation amounts to BGN 1.428 million excluding VAT, secured through a bank loan. The municipality is adamant that there are “no violations” in the process of construction works, which are still ongoing. The inspection was carried out by experts from the Directorate of Engineering Infrastructure and Public Works – the same one that promised the people of ul. “Studentska” to revise the plan for the repair according to their requirements, but for more than a month there has been no development and work on the site. In one case we have concrete trees and in the other we have undermined trees.
“The specialists of Varna Municipality have hardly heard of the concept of Placemaking. According to this concept, placemaking should be a joint process between citizens, experts and managers, through which we can maximize the use of public spaces”, said Ilian Iliev from the Public Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. If this concept had been applied before the design of the development sites, conflicts with citizens would have been avoided or at least minimised, Iliev is adamant. Moreover, the renovations, be they election ones, are paid for out of the citizens’ pockets. Varna Municipality’s debts at the end of last year exceeded BGN 135 million. The amount represents more than 1/5 of the budget of the seaside town. 12.6 million were withdrawn this year only for the completion of the improvement of inter-block spaces in the district of Varna. “Apricot Garden”.
The implementation of the model for the development of public spaces with the participation of the citizens would justify the spending of millions of leva for public works.
Because it will lead to the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health and well-being.Unfortunately, the current planning processes in our municipalities are so institutionalised that community stakeholders rarely have the chance to express their own ideas.Municipal leaders certainly don’t have all the answers, even though they hold all the responsibility for the decisions that are made.Our experience shows that when rulers apply this kind of active citizen participation, they save themselves a lot of headaches – from streets with high traffic, to little-used parks, to ill-intentioned projects whose sole purpose is to absorb public funds, said Ilian Iliev.