„Vision for Sofia“ is an initiative of Sofia Municipality to create a shared and long-term strategy for the development of the capital and suburban areas until 2050. The project has the ambition to analyze the current state of Sofia and propose specific steps, measures and goals for future sustainable development of the city. Achieving this task is possible only with the combined efforts of citizens, business, science, NGOs and administration.
The idea for the creation of the Vision started in 2016 in the discussions about the necessary reforms in the urban planning and planning of Sofia, organized by the informal „Laboratory for Urban Development“. During the meetings, the need for a long-term strategy for the development of the municipality became clear and this idea quickly met with widespread public support. The shared and long-term strategy is necessary in order to approach the necessary amendment of the General Development Plan of Sofia in a sufficiently informed and responsible manner.
At the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, a series of public discussions were held, the aim of which was to bring out the main strengths and weaknesses of Sofia and to help shape the approach to creating the Vision. Representatives of various political parties, non-governmental organizations, businesses, entrepreneurs, researchers and active citizens take part in the debates. Based on the proposed directions for work during the discussions, methodological guidelines are formulated for the development of a long-term Vision for the development of Sofia and the suburbs, which are discussed in a wide expert panel.
Similar visions and long-term strategic documents for the comprehensive development of cities and regions have been created in many parts of the world. The work on creating a Vision for Sofia includes a study of international experience. Examples from Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, Vienna, Tel Aviv, Goteborg, Copenhagen, London, Brno, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Sao Paulo, Helsinki are discussed in more detail. There was also direct contact with the teams that worked on similar processes in Boston, Vienna, Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Copenhagen.
The work on the creation of „Vision for Sofia“ officially began with a decision of the Sofia Municipal Council on February 23, 2017, which obliges the chief architect to form a team „Vision“. Lyubo Georgiev, until then an informal coordinator of the meetings of the Urban Development Laboratory, was engaged as the leader of the initiative. In the meantime, he won a competition for director of the municipal enterprise Sofproect. The formed multidisciplinary team „Vision“ includes an architect, urban planner, ecologist, economist, programmer, lawyer, sociologist and communication specialist, who have a variety of previous experience in business, the non-governmental sector and academia. The team coordinates the areas of Urban Environment, Transport, Environment, Economy, Management, Identity and Culture and People, and the latter covers all social aspects related to the quality of life in Sofia.
The preparation of the Vision requires the creation of a platform for an informed conversation about the future of the city, in which all people and organizations determining the development of Sofia can participate: municipal authorities, non-governmental organizations, investors, researchers, experts and citizens. The aim is to seek consensus and more effective interaction between the shared ambitions and goals for the development of Sofia, so as to improve the process of urban planning. Special attention in the planning of the process is paid to the communications, which aim to significantly expand the scope of interest in the initiative and to include as many people and organizations as possible in a dialogue about the possible directions for development of the capital. In order to ensure more efficient and transparent work, a Monitoring team is formed like mirror image of the Vision team, whose task is to monitor, criticize and direct the work of the main coordination team and to prepare reports with its observations and recommendations at the end of each important stage of the process.
The process of creating a Vision for Sofia is synchronized with other current initiatives related to the future development of Sofia Municipality, such as „City for the People“, „Plan for Sustainable Urban Mobility“, „Green Sofia“, „Pre-investment study of water supply and sewerage infrastructure“ and other.
Step 1 – Organization of the process
In order to create a precondition for an informed conversation about the long-term goals of the city, the team of „Vision for Sofia“ must first collect data on the basis of which to make an analysis of the state of Sofia. For this purpose, in Step 1 of the initiative, 7 expert teams from a total of over 50 experts have been selected through public procurement, which are starting work on collecting the available data and information on the development of the city in 7 areas: Urban environment; Transport; Environment; Economics; Management; Identity and culture; People.
Step 2 – Gather information
In the field of People work Association „I CITY – research and design in the city“, in the field of Identity and Culture – Cultural Center of Sofia University „St. Kliment Ohridski”, in the field of Transport -“Urbitat ”, in the field of Environment -“ Environmental Research ”, in the field of Urban Environment – Association “Informal”, in the field of Economics – “Center for Economic Strategies and Competitiveness” and in the field of Management – Association Business booster. The teams contacted 123 sources of information (state and local administration, companies, associations and NGOs), from which 742 database sets were requested. Thousands of sources of information have been collected and researched.
Over 400 interdisciplinary meetings were held in the three months of work under Step 2. On October 30th, 2017, at the Sofia City Art Gallery was presented the interim progress of the work on this step. Leading experts who have participated in similar processes for Barcelona, Tel Aviv and Boston have been invited to share international experience from strategic initiatives similar to Vision for Sofia on three continents.
Step 2 ends at the end of 2017. As a result, the team has systematic information about the environment, as well as reports with summaries and recommendations of what are the most necessary research that should be conducted in each of the areas to gather the minimum necessary information and start an informed dialogue on long-term planning of the city. Based on the meetings held so far and information gathered, a schedule is planned for subsequent studies, meetings and events, which aim to engage even more people, industry and other organizations to participate in the dialogue to reach consensus on various topics. A list of the collected information is maintained in the Library section of Vision for Sofia. All data for which Vision for Sofia has the relevant rights and permissions from the owner are open for use.
Step 3 – Research and activate the topics
At this stage begins research to fill the information gaps. In parallel, we are working on consolidating and analyzing the data in order to promote and involve the general public in an informed dialogue on important topics that should be embedded in the long-term vision for the development of the city. Meetings with stakeholders – NGOs, politicians, administration, entrepreneurs, researchers and others – are organized throughout the time to discuss the information gathered.
In order to carry out the expert work in Step 3 was conducted a procedure for selection of contractors for the research and analysis proposed by the expert teams in Step 2. „Alpha Research“ for research in the field of People, „Global Metrix“ for research in the field of Identity and Culture, association „ITI-Regul“ in the field of Transport, „Environmental Research“ in the field of Environment, Association „Informal“ in the field of Urban , Association „Association of Bulgarian Leaders and Entrepreneurs“ in the field of Economics and Association „NGO Links“ in the field of Management.
The Vision for Sofia team has launched the „Podcast for Sofia“ series, which aims to acquaint the audience in more detail with these research teams, the tasks and challenges facing them, and the research approaches they use to carry out the research.
On the website and Facebook page of the initiative starts sharing short articles, analyzes and surveys, which aim to present the information collected so far in a fast and accessible way and to engage people with interest in various topics to take attitude and participate in creating a shared vision for the city. A campaign with posters and outdoor advertising in the city is started, which aims to promote the Vision more widely and to attract citizens to watch for opportunities to participate in the initiative. This is possible online through comments on social networks, sending suggestions by e-mail and participating in surveys, and offline by participating in representative surveys, upcoming events, promotions and discussions. Both in events and meetings, and offline, coordinators help all stakeholders to share information, generate ideas and take real action to solve various problems. The team presents the knowledge about the real state of the city and collects and summarizes all comments and suggestions for the development of Sofia.
By the end of 2018, the following surveys have been conducted, which fill part of the information deficits in the strategic planning of the city:
- Representative sociological survey on quality of life
- Degree of satisfaction of the employees of Sofia Municipality
- Sofia identity: story, brand, vision
- The social impact of the arts on the city, in particular on the free creative scene of Sofia
- Transit traffic through the central part of the city
- Accessibility by public transport to workplaces
- Biodiversity inventory in Sofia Municipality
- Study of the possibilities for realization of the green wedges in Sofia Municipality
- Comparative analysis of the state of components and environmental factors
- Research on pedestrian connectivity on the territory of Sofia
- Research on the morphology of the city
- Study of intersectoral dependencies
- Competitiveness of the city of Sofia as a tourist destination
- Preparation of economic profiles of the regions in Sofia Municipality
- Management and evaluation of the processes in the work of Sofia Municipality
- Data management in Sofia Municipality
- Quantitative and qualitative assessment of the effectiveness of public hearings
The reports with the results of the research include conclusions about the state of the environment in each of the seven thematic areas on the basis of the information gathered in the process of work. The data collected in parallel and analyzes from all studies, implemented as part of step 3 of the Vision for Sofia, are supplemented with information collected from other sources. By the end of step 3 of the initiative, nearly 50 analyzes have been compiled in various spheres of life in the city and 3700 sources of information have been processed: data, reports, academic papers, research.
While the research is underway, the Vision for Sofia team is launching another initiative that aims to present data and gather opinions and suggestions on topics important for the development of the city. The series of four discussion events „Dialogues for Sofia“ puts up for discussion current problems of the city in their relationship, first presenting all available data on the problems and then involving representatives of various stakeholders to seek possible solutions that are in everyone’s interest.
Another event in Step 3 of Vision for Sofia, which aims to explore and activate the topics, is the „Hackathon for Sofia“, which takes place in November 2018 in the Business Incubator of Sofia Tech Park. In just two days, more than 60 participants in the hackathon are developing 15 projects that seek creative use of the data collected by the initiative to improve the environment in the city.
Step 4 – Formulate the goals
The process continues with finalizing the topics and formulating the goals of the Vision. First of all, the expert teams in the seven areas compile a list of long-term and short-term goals, measures and indicators based on the information processed so far. Then a series of multidisciplinary workshops begins, during which each team discusses its proposals with the others. The aim is to find points of contact and to unite common goals, measures and indicators. The result of the work of the broad expert team is a list of 69 goals and 490 measures for their implementation, which are ready for wider expert and public discussion in the spring of 2019. The discussion of these proposals begins first with all councilors in Sofia Municipal Council and the administration of Sofia Municipality and continues with 20 thematic expert meetings, which are attended by a total of 178 participants (50 from the administration, 52 NGOs, 40 from business, 33 independent experts and 3 branch organizations). The purpose of these meetings is to critically read, supplement and edit the proposed objectives and measures. In parallel, meetings are held with representatives of municipalities that are neighboring or close to Sofia Municipality – mayors, deputy mayors, municipal councilors. The relations of their municipalities with Sofia are discussed – in economic, social, demographic, ecological and many other aspects. The received information is systematized and analyzed by the team of Vision for Sofia.
Step 5 – Activation
This is the period of wide public presentation, discussion and ranking of the proposals for goals and measures of the long-term strategy. The aim is to determine the commitment of citizens and the various stakeholders to them. That is why various actions and communication formats are organized: digital game survey on the site of the Vision; live meetings in different parts of Sofia; exhibition and contact point in the Largo subway; representative sociological survey. The Vision team talks about the initiative through a widely promoted video on public transport and social networks, and billboards around the city and posters in the subway invite citizens to get involved in creating the Vision, sharing which goal is important enough for them to get involved personally with her.
In place of Largo the initiative team began presenting information about the city and gathering feedback on proposed long-term goals. There, everyone can view a small exposition of facts about Sofia and the nearly 70 specific goals for the development of the city, get more information from a member of the team and join the initiative. In July 2019, actions will begin in 16 public spaces in different parts of the city. With the assistance of guides from the Free Sofia Tour, the team visits various neighborhoods and settlements within the scope of the Sofia Municipality. There are many video messages from citizens and feedback on what kind of Sofia we want to live in tomorrow and what should be the long-term goals and priorities in the development of Sofia and its suburbs. For the entire period of the initiative, the various campaigns and media activities of the Vision reach an audience of over 900,000 people, managing to engage over 190,000 of them.
Step 6 – Formulation of “Vision for Sofia”
In the summer of 2019, the feedback received on all communication channels from the very beginning of the process of compiling a Vision for Sofia was analyzed. This is done through systematization, review and discursive analysis of all comments, suggestions, emails, opinions, announcements, statements from events and recommendations from meetings. This analysis is also one of the methods for forming the goals and measures of Vision for Sofia.
At the same time, a representative sociological survey was conducted by the sociological agency Global Metrics, which aims to examine the attitudes of Sofia residents towards the proposed goals. It shows very high support for all directions of development, formulated in the course of the analysis and expert work on Vision for Sofia.
All the feedback collected in Step 5 of the Vision for Sofia is reflected in the final proposals for goals, measures and indicators for the development of Sofia. They were presented to the expert community by participants in the process for the first time at the Forum „Sofia: 2050“ in early September 2019 with a live broadcast on the Facebook page of the initiative. The goals and the steps towards them constitute the long-term strategy for the development of Sofia and the suburban territories, which should serve as a supreme coordination strategic document for the management of the municipality in the future.
The final presentation of the Vision is through the large exhibition „Sofia Tomorrow“, which shows the results of two years of work on creating a long-term development strategy for Sofia Municipality in the Largo subway in October and November 2019. The exhibition shows highlights of basic research and knowledge the current state of the city – what is Sofia today, as well as the outlined goals and directions for the development of the city tomorrow. Specific data are provided on the quality of life in the city, as well as on topics such as traffic, water and air, waste, construction, economic potential of the city, aesthetic appearance, inequalities, access to culture and education, management and administration models, etc. Attention is also paid to specific areas and neighborhoods – what are their problems and in what direction they can develop.
Curator is Vladiya Mihailova and the exhibition also includes works by artists Anton Tsanev and Krassimir Terziev. Within the exhibition there is a program of presentations „Initiatives for Sofia“, which work on the implementation of long-term goals in the shared strategy. The program includes five events dedicated to the five priorities in the Vision, in which more than 20 organizations take part by presenting their civic or business initiatives related to a diverse city, involving citizens in city management, skillful resource management, adaptive and compact city.
The process of creating a Vision for Sofia ends at the end of November 2019 with a public presentation entitled „Why is it important to have a vision?“. The document was submitted at the end of December 2019 to the Chief Architect of Sofia Municipality and was submitted for consideration and voting to the municipal council with a report by Mayor Yordanka Fandakova in early June 2020.
By the end of 2019, Vision for Sofia has attracted over 10,000 participants. Among them are politicians, entrepreneurs and investors, representatives of both the capital and the state administration, researchers from various fields, and last but not least a large number of non-governmental organizations and citizens. Following the steps of the pre-drawn clear and transparent methodology, Vision for Sofia and the municipal enterprise „Sofproect“ carry out a total of over 50 surveys, collect and analyze databases and seek answers to problematic topics in the city on key issues of living conditions in him. A significant part of the data has been digitized and turned into maps, graphs and a comprehensive library of reports and developments, which should be maintained and upgraded in order to monitor the progress of the implementation of the Vision in the future. After numerous analyzes and discussions with stakeholders, the Vision team has formulated 24 long-term goals, nearly 250 steps and 385 specific measures, which have the ambition to draw up a plan for making Sofia a better city to live. The long-term vision is for 2050 Sofia to be a compact, diverse and adaptable city, skillfully managing its resources and involving citizens in decisions for the future.