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From squatter settlement to suburb: The transformation of Bathore in Albania

The Bathore squatter settlement, which was formed in the early 1990s, is one of the largest in Albania. It is located near, and overseen by, the town of Kamza, a satellite of the capital. The area occupied by squatters, mostly from Northern Albania, the most impoverished region in the country, lacked any electric, water and sewer, and transportation networks.

Bathore, Albania.

In mid-2000s, the Albanian government started taking steps to legalize squatter housing throughout Albania, and, subsequently, to equip the Bathore area with infrastructure. Now, Bathore is starting to resemble a middle class-style suburb. It has paved roads, young street trees, and a public transportation line that connects the area to the capital. Bathore represents a remarkable case of successful squatter settlement upgrading, at least in terms of physical development. However, a number of factors, including timing, national and local political actors, and size, make Bathore unique.

Although the Bathore squatters were cash-poor, they built substantial houses, often multi-storey, which not only provide simple shelter, but also constitute a valuable asset that has already started to be commercialized. Most squatters had access to income from remittances from abroad. Public rather than private land was occupied thereby avoiding extreme opposition to the legalization of their properties from the rest of the population.

One of the substantial houses in Bathore.

The fact that houses were surrounded by land made it possible to provide the area with road, water, and sewer infrastructure. Owner-occupied squatter homes were easier to deal with from the legalization point of view than the subdivided rental units of informal settlements in other parts of the world.

A committed local NGO, CoPlan, acted as a catalyst for change by providing good leadership and securing financing from international organizations in the early stages of the process. The Bathore settlement was large and homogenous enough to attain community cohesion and political leverage at both the local and national levels. The central government was interested and willing to legalize squatter housing and the local government was collaborative rather than hostile during the upgrading process. Another factor, which cannot be measured in objective standards, may have been that the social distance between the squatters and the power structure was not so great in a nation in which the whole population was repressed and in a dire economic situation only twenty years earlier.

But, notwithstanding achievements to date, the economic circumstances of the area residents remain grim, especially for women. This reflects the generally weak employment market in Tirana. In addition, the public discourse related to informal settlement dwellers in Tirana is dominated by the idea of “otherness”. The current challenge is to bring about the full economic and social integration of Bathore’s formerly rural and traditional community.

By Dorina Pojani
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Epoka University, Tirana, Albania

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