Ukrainians and Belarusians Share their Experiences about Access to Urban Planning Documentation and their Desires to Protect Green Spaces from Illegal Construction
Last week, the company Zelenaya Network organized the presentation “The Right to the City in Ukraine" at the facilities of the Youth Social Services in Minsk. During the event, journalists, architects, young social activists, and lawyers from Minsk and Grodno met to discuss the problems that Ukraine has with protecting its citizens and their cities from illegal building.
The Ukrainian experience about illegal construction and public access to urban planning documentation was represented by Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, the Head of the Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives. He shared stories of public opposition by activists and developers in Luhansk, Ukraine, and talked about the successful campaign to gain access to master planning documentation in cities throughout Ukraine. The Belarusian participants talked about examples of socially active citizens engaging in conflict about construction projects which would destroy green spaces and lead to a destruction of cultural heritage.
"When hearing of the activities of socially active Belarusians, I felt that their stories also captured what many Ukrainian citizens have done. They actively confronted developers and have broken fences and filled in trenches at construction sites. Citizens are not afraid to engage in violent confrontation. Unfortunately, in Ukraine, these methods are sometimes really necessary, but we must admit that they do not solve the problem comprehensively. In a violent confrontation, things can be halted, but the problem is not fixed," said Volodymyr Shcherbachenko.
For both countries there remains an urgent problem of lack of public access to urban planning documents. In Belarus and Ukraine, city master plans are available for most citizens, but access is limited to only the parts that do not contain detailed information and that are not stamped "For Official Use Only."
"It is important that citizens are always included in the process of decision-making about the future of their city or area. When citizens are familiar with the contents of city master plans and are involved in creating these plans, they can advance and protect their legitimate interests. In those cases where these documents are stamped "For Official Use Only" and citizens are deprived of the information about the fate of their property, they are powerless to protect their interests. Citizens have the right to access this information both in Ukraine and in Belarus,"continued Shcherbachenko.
During the meeting Scherbachenko presented a new internet project being created by the Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives. This computer program is similar to the once popular SimCity program. It gives citizens the opportunity to create alternatives for the spatial development of areas that are under construction. It also provides ways for citizens to discuss the project with others and present visualizations of their ideas. The new computer program generated much discussion among the participants and some even decided to join the pilot testing program in Belarusian cities.
Photos: Christine Chernyavska, Zelenaya Network