Informal Urban Development in Europe - Experiences from Albania and Greece


Informal development is not a novel issue for Europe. The southern part of the region has long experience in dealing with this problem. Rapid economic and political change in the European region during the last twenty years has resulted in rapid population increase in many urban centers, mainly due to immigration of rural poor searching for job opportunities and better living conditions, or of internally displaced people. Increasing unplanned or informal suburban development has become an issue of major importance particularly in the transition countries.

Many countries are investing substantial funds to establish or improve their land tenure systems. The focus is on formalizing the real estate market and achieving economic growth. Although in most countries in transition land privatization and first registration projects have been in operation since the beginning of the 1990s; informal development and lack of efficient administration already threatens the newly established legal rights and zoning regulations over land. Squatting on state and private land occurs in urban and suburban areas, weakening land tenure security and creating environmental and social problems in the region. In many cases illegal construction in Europe is well built and can be considered as “affordable housing” rather than as “slums”.

Overlapping responsibilities and resulting problems show that countries have not yet managed to coordinate responsible land-related agencies and relevant projects. Planning is a tool that involves politics. In many countries, there are several political debates related to planning and land management aspects. During the period of centrally controlled economy in Eastern European countries, spatial/urban development planning was considered to be a task for the government exclusively, in which citizens had no involvement. After the social and political changes, there is a significant lack of knowledge and experience due to that attitude. There is a need to improve relevant education at all levels, create local expertise, share experience and raise public awareness about the importance of land management tools like cadastre, property registration and planning. There is also a need for stakeholders, local experts, professionals and citizens to realize that such tools must be applied in coordination with each other. Experience shows that legalization, penalties and even demolition has not completely stopped informal development.

FIG and UN-HABITAT recognize that there is a continuing need within the European region for guidelines and tools to address informal urban/ suburban development and to reduce the phenomenon in the near future.

The study builds upon the research done by FIG and UN-HABITAT. It includes material from the publication produced by the UNECE WPLA and CHLM, “Self-made Cities – In search of sustainable solutions for informal settlements in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe region”, in 2009, adds more detailed information and lessons from experience with the problem of informal urban and suburban development in Albania and Greece.

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