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New Urban Topologies in Mostar

On 7–9 November 2012 Färgfabriken in conjunction with its Bosnian and Herzegovinian partners the City of Mostar, University Džemal Bijedić of Mostar, Association of Local Democracy Agencies Mostar and the Sweden Embassy to Bosnia Herzegovina carried out an extensive program on urban topologies in Mostar for city hall representatives, architects, urban planners, academics, students and other interested participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Macedonia, Latvia, the Netherlands, Egypt, and Sweden.

The main focus of the project New Urban Topologies Mostar was District, a centrally located urban area that presently lacks a master plan. The City of Mostar wanted ideas on this former division line from the participants, and a report was also sent to the City in December 2012.

With the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Agreement, which was signed in 1995, the city of Mostar was divided into six municipalities and District. Three municipalities had mainly a Bosnian Muslim population, three mainly Bosnian Croat population. District served as the division line during the war and was thus the urban quarter where the unification was expected to start. Today, all municipalities but District have master plans which makes the integration of this central narrow urban area into the rest of the city critical. The City of Mostar is now preparing a new master plan for the area to transform it to the new city center for all citizens of Mostar.


The Mostar Case
New Urban Topologies in Mostar had a slightly different structure compared to former project-cities. In relation to the new master plan The City of Mostar asked Färgfabriken and the New Urban Topologies participants to focus on this area. The project has a symbolic value in the sense that it is not only about physical reconstruction but also unification. District has the potential to be a gathering point for all, which could give new meaning to the area and revive the city as a whole. The City named the project ReCode District – Urban DNA for 21st Century and set out five major themes on before hand to highlight different perspectives and needs, formulated as follows:

1) Integration of the District Into the Already Existing Urban Tissue That Surrounds It. As almost all areas surrounding District already have developed master plans it is important to embed and connect District to these.

2) Traffic at the Bulevar Narodne Revolucije. The most frequent road in the city is also an obstacle for District. It would be interesting to see if there can be an alternative solutions for it.

3) Green Transverse. District area is surrounded by a major city park on one side and the Neretva river bank on the other. But in District there are no designed green spots or public spaces, except of the Spanish Square at its border.

4) Social Aspect of District. Twenty years ago this area was a division line between two war sides. Despite all efforts that have been invested into this process there are still traces of the wounds made by war. It would be interesting to hear proposals from someone who comes from abroad. New approaches, new visions and new perspectives for this city area are needed.

5) Local People – What Do They Think About? It would be of a high importance to hear the public opinion, to draw the poll with questions so that during the workshop we can realize what people generally think about District. One of the important elements in our law is to have public hearings during the planning process. Within the workshop it would be important to present the importance of public hearings as well as methods of participatory planning.

Excursion by bus
The starting point of the New Urban Topologies project in Mostar was a dinner in the Old Town where all invited participants got the opportunity to meet and discuss the city of Mostar and share experiences in an informal way. The following day, a bus tour was organized to a number of areas, places and monuments throughout the city and its outskirts in order to generate new thoughts within the group. The aim was to show a wide spectrum of what Mostar is like today but also to inform the participants about the city’s past. 


The first stop of the tour was Podvelezje Hill, a viewpoint at one of the mountainsides overlooking the city. Here the guides told the history of the city and presented its recent urban plans, both pre and post war. They explained how the present political system works in the city, with double governmental institutions on almost every level. The group also discussed the increase of informal settlements the later years and its reasons. Then the participants got to see the university campus, the new sports stadium and a large shopping mall in construction at the border of District.


The guides explained how illegal buildings are legalized in new master plans, and said that in Mostar politics seem to come before planning. The next stop was Bakijina Luka residential area in the outskirts of the city. Here the group discussed potential strategies for having more tourism as well as the present divisions in the city and the aims for unification during postwar times. At the end of the tour the participants got to see the countryside, ending up in the historical village of Blagaj where the discussions continued.

Public seminar
In the afternoon, a public seminar was held with a larger audience of officials, activists and other actors within in the urban field. The session was held at University Džemal Bijedić, in the amphitheater of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. New Urban Topologies project director Thomas Lundh gave an introduction to the program and explained its goal as initiating discussions on urban planning and participation in cities that lacks transparency.

The first speaker was Ljubo Bešlić, mayor of Mostar, who underlined what a complex task urban development is but stated that he has faith in the future and wanted closer collaboration with Europe, which he said the New Urban Topologies project was a proof of.

Bosse Hedberg, Ambassador of Sweden to Bosnia and Herzegovina who stressed the importance of transparency and participation within the planning process and encouraged the audience to enter the New Urban Topologies project with openness and curiosity, even though the political landscape in Mostar is difficult.

Joachim Granit, creative director of Färgfabriken presented some key projects from the center, as I Will Never Talk About the War Again – dealing with the Balkan wars – and Stockholm on the Move – focusing the importance of communication over professional borders and neighboring municipalities within the field of infrastructure.

Bojan Boric, architect and head of the Urban Studio at the Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm lectured on urban development, comparing cities like Hong Kong, Chisinau, London and Stockholm and underlined the importance of public spaces for a democratic society.

Ulrika Egerö, ecologist at the Stockholm City Planning Office presented the strategic plan of Stockholm and discussed its key focus areas, as environmental awareness, social integration and participation within the planning process.

Pelle Persson, urban planner and counsellor at the Embassy of Sweden in Sarajevo presented the Swedish governmental project SymbioCity which is a conceptual framework for sustainable urban development.

Marina Deronjić, head of the Urban planning department of the City of Mostar presented the structure of the department and some of its present challenges as the new plan of District. Salem Bubalo, director of the Institute for Urban Planning of the City of Mostar thereafter showed how the City maps Mostar in an advanced way with computer programs and shares the data with the citizens. Dženana Dedić, representative of Association of Local Democracy Agencies Mostar, explained how the organization supports local democracy, with training programs and meetings where politicians meet the civil society. The aim is to strengthen communication and to enhance transparency and participation. 

Excursion by foot through the district
The second day, the participants took part in an excursion by foot through District, designed to complement the bus tour. The aim was to introduce the participants to Mostar and District in an unconventional way. The participants were divided into groups of three to five, both Bosnians and foreign participants, and were asked to focus on the themes set out by the City (described earlier in this report).


The five teams also got maps but without much explanations on them so that they could come up with new ideas for the area without being influenced by present plans. The groups walked around for three hours, made planning analyses, conducted interviews with locals, took photos and mapped both well visited and abandoned parts of the area.

Workshop presentation
In the afternoon, the participants gathered in the premises of University Džemal Bijedić of Mostar. Each group was designated to discuss the theme they had focused on during the walking excursion, develop it the way they find appropriate and thereafter come up with concrete suggestions for the future of District and the city of Mostar.

The group that presented Integration of District Into the City stressed that District has been and is still in many ways a barrier in the city of Mostar. However, the area has great potential to become the unifying core. In this process, a substantial effort has to be made to transform it to an integrated part of the surrounding city. It is also important that any changes made are implemented with the citizen’s fully support. District already has many existing meeting points where people socialize, which is a great asset. 

The participants that discussed Bulevar Narodne Revolucije had investigated the future potentials of this historically important road and concluded that it not only has a functional quality that serves automobile traffic or is an infrastructure connection but also could be an integral part of public life. They called their proposal Boulevard of Dreams stating that by making the boulevard more pedestrian friendly and by focusing on the quality of public space, the boulevard could become a stage for social and cultural activities. New nodes, paths and crossings over the boulevard would make it easier to walk from one site or neighborhood to another. By performing these multiple interventions one would create a web of spaces that link public activities throughout the city. The road should be perceived as a connective tissue for future possibilities for the young generation.

The participants that got the topic Green Transverse called their proposal A Green Mindset. They stressed that the vacant plots in District, many fenced in, form barriers. These plots cut off movement patterns and are painful reminders of the past for many of Mostar’s citizens according to the group. But unexploited spaces in such a central location are also a great assets. The same goes for the riverbank – a barrier today but with the potential to be an accessible highly appreciated green space for inhabitants and visitors. In order to gather people from the whole city to District one could initiate a community center for different groups to meet with contemporary art, a theater or similar cultural activities, the team thought. 


The participants that focused on the social aspect of District called their presentation Meeting Points Strategies said that the character of the future public spaces must relate to the needs of people. Starting on a smaller scale, perhaps offering empty lots temporarily to cultural organizations and youth groups, for such things as art pavilions or community gardens, District could become a thriving and highly popular area. In Mostar there is a dynamic street life, and District is no exception. People do want to meet; they just lack enough spaces for it. They advised to transform the large empty areas around District into popular well-designed open spaces used by all citizens of Mostar with the Spanish Square as a model.


The team that had investigated what local people thought of District named their proposal Propeller of Creativity. They declared that a democratic platform for urban development starts with people – individuals, families and local cultural institutions, what we call the civil society. If given the chance, people will find solutions to community problems, they will demand policy changes, raise public awareness and increase participation and in the end create social harmony and a thriving democratic society. Thus, the starting point should be to think small – capture people’s creativity, invest in people, not big development projects that are many times corrupted or stop due to bureaucratic gridlock or lack of funding.


On a micro level, people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds do get along in the city. How can we create a critical mass on a macro scale? The team suggested to use the infrastructure the city already has, the cultural spots that already exist. Small projects are doable, cost less and the civil society can initiate and run them more effectively. In this way, people would take charge of their own destiny; a larger number of people would be involved in forming the future of their city. Once you have this running, new investments will come automatically. And new cultural institutions and events will in turn attract capital and subsequently the propeller will start to move, they concluded.

Conclusions - Think small!
Many participants in NUT-Mostar raised the question of extending, redesigning and creating new public spaces in the city in order to facilitate the interaction between the inhabitants of the city. Here the slogan Think Small! that was coined during the workshop would be a appropriate conclusion as all participants agreed on that Mostar would gain in starting on a smaller scale in order to get things to happen.


Another important subject matter was the way history is present in the city and the urban development. The foreign participants saw a need to strengthen the presence of the pre-war history of the city, and by doing so create a counterweight to the painful history of the war, which still hunts the citizens of Mostar and have a great influence over politics until this day.

Participants and contributors in Mostar:

Bosnia-Herzegovina: City of Mostar ; City of Mostar, Urban Planning Department; City of Mostar, the Institute of Urban Planning; Herzegovina Neretva Canton, the Institute of Urban Planning; Association of Local Democracy Agencies Mostar; University Džemal Bijedić of Mostar, Faculty of Civil Engineering; University Džemal Bijedić of Mostar; University of Sarajevo, Faculty of Architecture; Abart, Youth Cultural Centre Abrašević; Mostar Youth Council; Mostar TV Group.

Sweden: Färgfabriken; The Embassy of Sweden in Sarajevo; The Swedish Institute Baltic Sea Cooperation; The City Planning Office in Stockholm; The Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm.

Egypt: Gudran for Art and Development, Alexandria.

Macedonia: University St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Faculty of Architecture.

Moldova: Center for Contemporary Art in Chisinau.

Latvia: Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration, Faculty of Architecture and Design.

The Netherlands: Delft University of Technology, Department of Urbanism.


The text is an shortened, and partly re-written, version of the report "New Urban Topologies Mostar" by Rebecka Gordan.