28 Jan 13

Street Life

Elizabeth Gowing

I love Kosovo’s street life – the fact that things happen in the cities’ shared public spaces here.

Pristina  is still mainly a pedestrian city and walking from home to work or from one part of town to another is not merely the hyphen in A-B; it’s a chance to see old friends, to buy a battery- operated small barking dog, or to feast on roasted chestnuts served up in recycled paper cones (is it just my experience, or have others also found that it’s the minutes of obscure ministry meetings that have somehow found their way to the nut sellers to wrap your purchase? It makes eating the chestnuts a bit like having a fortune cookie, being served unexpected or unintelligible wisdom with your food).

On Pristina’s streets you can also have your shoes cleaned. The Ideas Partnership has a project where  unemployed men have been equipped and trained as shoeshiners – you’ll see them on Mother Teresa, or you can contact us for a shoeshiner to visit your home or office.

As of last month, there’s another new street opportunity. Borrowing from the 40 street magazines around the world (think The Big Issue  to support the homeless in the UK, Street News in New York, Aluma in Sweden) the magazine Ball’ Për Ball’ (‘face to face’) has launched in Kosovo. As with other street magazines, the sellers are from marginalised communities – the magazine is working with Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian groups and with Down Syndrome Kosova - and take 50 percent of the cover price as their livelihood.

The magazine’s content is a refreshing celebration of models of social change. Articles deal with  vegetarianism, the Freecycle initiative, the role of art in developing society, a travel piece about Pakistan, and gender stereotyping and children’s toys, and are accompanied by haunting landscape photographs of Kosovo. The current edition is the first, and they’re promising 5 to 6 issues a year.

I dream of even more possibilities for Pristina’s streets, though, and since it’s a time for resolutions, I’ve decided this month to do something about my dream. I’m launching a “Pavements are for People” initiative to try to make it easier – for everyone - to walk around the city’s streets safely. In order for parents to push their babies in pushchairs, for the elderly to get around safely, for runners to use the sidewalks, or indeed for all of us to walk comfortably, and without risk, away from the threat of cars, we have to be certain that pavements are for people.

That means that pavements can’t be for cars. It means that Pristina’s drivers will have to take the trouble to look for a parking lot rather than  abandoning their vehicles illegally where people want to walk. It may mean that they have to pay a euro for their parking.

Goodness, it may even mean that they can’t jump out of the car exactly at their destination, but have to walk for a minute or so at the end of their journey. In other countries I’ve seen “Pavements are for People” stickers which are placed by pedestrians in an irritatingly central place on the windscreens of cars which are illegally parked on pavements. Maybe people will be inspired to do something similar here. For pavements to truly be for people, the police will have to be better at fining those that break the law by leaving their cars there.

It should also mean that the municipality will have to provide more parking space around the city. It could even (January is a time for dreaming) mean a ‘park and ride’ service so that cars could be left cheaply outside the city with buses to bring their drivers into the centre of town.

We plan to talk to all those agencies to see if they will help with ensuring that Pristina’s Pavements are for People, but ultimately nothing can be achieved if individual drivers don’t commit to the idea – of a more beautiful Pristina, a city where the old and the infirm are helped to get around, and a city where having a car doesn’t give you the right to prevent the freedom of movement of less wealthy/less lazy citizens.

Get in touch if you’d like to be part of an initiative to enable us all to stroll around the city, availing  yourself of all the opportunities that a human-sized city should have: meeting friends, eating chestnuts, shining your shoes, buying the Ball’ Për Ball’ magazine, all as you walk your town leaving no carbon footprint behind you.

Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of “Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo” (Signal Books, 2011). She can be reached on theideaspartnership@ gmail.com

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