Why so dense?

The current pandemic, as insane as it is, highlighted problems of dense, large cities, where sharing tight public spaces is the only way of survival. From public transport carriages to lifts in high rises, we cannot escape density and the risks it brings.

On top of that, the race to density, in making housing and facilities ever tighter, and more cost-efficient for their owners has its other dangers, especially in mid- income countries like Serbia, where a lot of building codes are circumvented for profit. Not only do newbuilds magically get a few additional, often ugly, floors, but they can also be built of cheap (and ugly) materials, which can barely withstand the normal urban wear and tear, let alone extreme events like fires and earthquakes. Indeed, during the catastrophic earthquake in Albania in 2019, it was mostly the (often illegal) new builds that collapsed and endangered their residents’ lives.

But besides the safety concerns, as impressive and photogenic many of Belgrade’s blocks are, even the nicest high-rise limits severely limits its owner compared to having a house with a small garden, like the ones that were the norm in pre-WWII Belgrade. A spring stroll through Profesorska Kolonija, Neimar, Crveni Krst, Dedinje and Senjak, shows how low-density areas allow their owners to get creative in the way they live and give them privacy, and give wider community a lot of greenery as well as playful architecture to admire.

Unfortunately, over-development in Belgrade almost destroyed many of these areas, where wonderful villas are torn down to make was for faux-luxury 8-storey blocks which turn elegant green neighbourhoods into drab canyons.

If there is one good thing that will dawn on us after this epidemic, is to value lower density and prioritise quality of life over economics. Maybe we even relaise that Belgarde, with its infrastructure, cannot support even more people and that we should try to make living in a house on a the middle of Šumadija’s green hills more attractive than  being a in a faceless apartment block in Belgarde, especially now that we have seen that a lot of work can be done remotely, and that there is a huge value of having a garden in which you can walk your pets of chill with your elderly parents.

Until we are even allowed to leave the city, here are some photos of my favourite houses in Belgrade where I would love to be quarantined. I would also suggest you follow twitter accounts such as @wrathofgnon and @createstreets that lean more towards lower-density, traditional urbanism and architecture.

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