Sofia, Bulgaria, 2017 - 2021
Between July 2017 and November 2021 I was director of Sofproekt-OGP, later renamed into Sofiaplan. This is the municipal enterprise responsible for the spatial and strategic planning of Sofia Municipality.
I won this position by submitting a Development concept (in Bulgarian) at a competition, organised in the summer of 2017. Back in 2017 Sofproekt-OGP was a hibernating organisation with a great past, but unclear present and even less clear future. Sofproekt-OGP was the author of a number of strategic documents such as the General Urban Plan of Sofia Municipality (2009) and the Municipal Development Plan (2014). Unfortunately with time its role and position had become less clear - it was tasked with architectural and landscaping projects, instead of urban analysis and planning; its team had become increasingly incapsulated and of age; and it was a name that was known in some expert circles only.
In the course of the 4 years that I led Sofproekt-Sofiaplan I reorganised the team, the tasks, the image and even the position of the organisation within the municipality. First and foremost I started gathering highly motivated experts, predominantly of younger age. The multidisciplinary team became the engine of re-inventing what urban planning in Sofia (and possibly in Europe) might mean nowadays. With time we established Sofiaplan as a progressive, forward-looking, open and reliable partner, both within Sofia Municipality, as well as for the various stakeholder outside of it.
The work that we did is readily visible on Sofiaplan's website. Key projects that the team worked on are:
- Vision Sofia 2050 - a long-term development strategy for Sofia and it's metropolitan area;
- Program for Sofia - a short-term integrated development plan, base on the Vision and required for access to EU funding in the 2021-2027 time-frame;
- Sofia's Plan - the preparation of the renewal of Sofia's General Urban Plan
- New Heritage - study and argumentation for the listing of a number of post WW2 buildings as cultural heritage
- Sofia does sport - a strategy for supporting sport and general physical activity;
- Sofia plays - a strategy for the playgrounds in the municipality;
- Transport model concept - a frame-work and roadmap for the creation of a transportation model for Sofia;
- the Green ring - a comprehensive cycling-pedestrian-green infrastructure that would for a ring, connecting various areas of Sofia
- Energy analysis and forecast - a study of the current and expected energy use by households for each municipal Urban entity (neighbourhood, town, village)
... and many more.
My time at Sofiaplan ended abruptly in 2021 after the chief architect and the mayor of Sofia proposed the enlarge the responsibilities of Sofiaplan with the coordination of the implementation of all municipal plans, strategies and key-projects. Together with Sofiaplan's team I explained that this is an extremely unrealistic proposal due to the fact that Sofiaplan posses no powers to enforce the implementation of anything, to channel municipal funds, as well as no administrative powers to give orders, hire or dismiss members of the municipal administration. We were to be given responsibilities, but no tools. The objections were not taken into account and this led to my resignation, as well as the resignation of most of Sofiaplan's team.
The case of the misunderstood responsibilities was rather the occasion for my resignation. The cause was deeper. Much of the knowledge and advice that was being produced by Sofiaplan continuously met deaf years in the mayor's team. Ever worse - often the actions were contradictory to what we concluded as best policy. This, coupled with my judgement of the city's governance as chaotic, unreasoned and counter-progressive led me to leave my post as Sofiaplan's director in November 2019.