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Bucharest. Old ways, new ways, and sarcasm by Alexandru Ghita (Romania)

EMI introduces something new: a blog written by citizens of European cities. EMI offers individual inhabitants a platform to give their personal views and to share their knowledge on urban topics. Policy makers and researchers can gain insights into what really matters to the inhabitants of a city. Our first ´Talking Cityzen´ is Alexandru Ghita, urban planner in Bucharest. He gives his personal view on the development of Bucharest over the past 20 years.

Alexandru Ghita: Once called Little Paris, in the previous century Bucharest evolved from a romantic inter-wars city with elegant architectural lines to a concrete communist statement of authority. Now, after more than 20 years since the communist regimes of Europe fell, the Romanian capital still plays catch up with the glass filled Western metropolises, in terms of both urban development and policy.

60 years: from socialism to capitalism
The 1947-1989 communist period of Romania focused on urban social housing and industrialization which required a top-down centralised decision-making system.  Bucharest was envisioned as a socialist jewel of urbanization that exemplified the positive results of the communist regime. In order to do this, planning principles were unilaterally altered in the interest of the socialist nation. The early 1990s required re-imagining Bucharest as a capitalist city. The migration from socialism to capitalism was abrupt and allowed uncontrolled growth. In a special edition, the Romanian magazine Urbanismul - Serie Noua describes the last 20 years of Romanian urban planning, and especially in Bucharest, as a period in which legislation was drafted as a panacea to urban developmental problems, rather than as a preventive method, and was always subject to alterations.

Urban planning, the professional and the citizen
Constant legislative modifications created a plethora of master plans and zonal and detailed plans altering the decisions of these plans in favour of the developers. As a result, professionals are trapped between the interests of the developers that pay their fees and the public interest that happens to be in their way. From the perspective of the citizen: how can there be a difference between this democratic way of deciding on urban development and the pre-1990 socialist way?

The urban planning faculty was reinstated in the mid-1990s, so for the first decade of post-socialist urban development the professional market was, and at some extent still is today, populated by the same professionals that were both legislators and private practitioners. Also, the public servant role that urban planning inspires has had little appeal for the young practitioners which saw private practice as a more secure way of ensuring a constant income. The resulting situation transformed Bucharest in a city in which the deficient and untrained public administration, and the opportunistic developers, thought everything was possible.

Future perspectives and old ways
In previous years the public administration drafted a strategy for the future of Bucharest with a horizon of 25 years. While this  is an admirable intention that allows a strategic perspective towards urban development and a more efficient way of drafting policy, the strategic concept still suffers from the same methodological deficiencies:

  • authors are the same as in the case of previous drafted documents, so no new vision is being developed; 
  • the public is not informed well and public consultations are very rare;
  • documents opened for public consultation are filled with technical and complicated terms that intimidate any citizen with limited planning knowledge.

It can be presumed that the result will be, a document drafted behind closed doors, thought out by professionals for professionals.

Final thoughts
It is without a doubt that urban planning and policy have evolved in Bucharest in the last 20  years, it is however also clear that old habits die hard. The isolation of the professionals from the citizen is still involuntary accepted as standard, and the communication is minimized and disregards any technological advancement whatsoever. In an era of social networking and digital communication public administration initiatives are still unknown to the citizens until the practical implementation. Also, because of the constant representation  of the same professionals that make decisions behind closed doors, the citizens lose all confidence that their interests are even considered, thus making the public administration lose all legitimacy.

Like to get in contact with our ´Talking Cityzen´ Alexandru Ghita? Please send him an
e-mail directly. 

Want to become a ´Talking Cityzen´?
Would you like to get more exposure among European researchers, network institutes and city policy makers? Writing a blog for the EMI Insider is a good way to get that exposure. If you are interested in writing a blog (just once or more often: that is up to you), please send an e-mail to  with your name and your idea for a topic.

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