July 2018 — Before studying at Polis University in Albania, Greta Kukeli, now 24, had never heard of the urban planning profession.
“Cities are the places where people live, work and play, but so few of us know that there are professionals helping plan our cities,” says Kukeli.
While she had intended to study architecture at the university, Kukeli quickly changed her program to urban planning and city management. “I wanted to acquire the knowledge and skills to help Albania address its many urban planning challenges,” she explains.
Like other cities around the world, Albania’s many municipalities have struggled to provide the necessary housing, transportation, infrastructure improvements, and services to meet the needs of its rapidly growing urban population. Issues like insufficient funding and the underperformance of systems and processes, such as an effective taxation system, have hindered cities’ ability to respond to new and emerging challenges.
When Kukeli began her studies, she did not fully understand how to translate her classroom knowledge to practical problems. Fortunately, Polis University had a solution.
As part of her degree, Kukeli participated in a team-based project course on municipal finance. This allowed her to determine how increases in private land values could be captured for public benefit in Tirana, Albania’s capital.
The university — and its study materials — have a strong connection with USAID.
To improve the effectiveness of Albania’s public sector, in 2012, USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project partnered with the Co-PLAN Institute for Habitat Development to research how Albanian cities could apply new financial instruments, such as land value capture, to increase revenues. Co-PLAN, an Albanian NGO dedicated to sustainable urban planning, was responsible for founding Polis University in 2006. Because Co-PLAN and Polis University are closely connected institutions, USAID's research with Co-PLAN quickly became relevant classroom training materials.
In 2015, USAID collaborated with a second university, the Albanian School of Public Administration, to make seven years’ worth of USAID materials available to the public, including publications on public service delivery, project planning and management and community empowerment.
“Most of my professors were also Co-PLAN staff, so they mainly use USAID training materials,” says Kukeli. “They were showing my classmates and me new planning tools and explaining them to us step by step. In my land regulations class, we were able to understand challenges cities in Albania face using real case studies.”
Prof. Sherif Lushaj of Polis University added, “Greta and her classmates are well-trained. They’re the next generation, the future of Albania.”
After graduating in 2017, Kukeli began to work at Co-PLAN as a junior planner supporting USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project, where she is currently using the same USAID tools she acquired in the classroom for her projects.
“I am working on a beltway project in Tirana that I learned about in a USAID case study,” she says.
Kukeli has also been helping Co-PLAN create new materials to share best practices on community participation based on her experience as a student. She is just one of 1,200 Polis graduates who are beginning to change the way cities work in Albania.
“USAID training has provided my peers and me with the skills and confidence, as well as the methods, to become better planners and public servants,” says Kukeli.
Since 2012, USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project has partnered with Albania’s national government as well as 15 municipalities to build bipartisan consensus and effective policies and legislation on decentralized local governance, improve service delivery, and share best practices on municipal governance. Albania’s ability to create conditions for robust local governance is a prerequisite to European Union membership.
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,“USAID training has provided my peers and me with the skills and confidence, as well as the methods, to become better planners and public servants.”