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Belgrade Waterfront project, Serbia


Savamala is a neighbourhood of Belgrade that stretches along the right bank of river Sava and it is part of the city's historic core. This area includes state-owned land containing a formerly industrial waterfront zone, old railway tracks, small businesses, 101 individual households, and football club established by railway workers. Since 2009, one part of “Savamala” have been transformed by community of young artists and students and now hosts many bars, galleries and cultural centres.

“The Belgrade Waterfront” is a project developed between the state-owned company “Beograd na vodi d.o.o” and Eagle Hills - the newly established private property developer from United Arab Emirates. This project plans to transform “Savamala” into an area of offices, luxury flats,  and a shopping mall (the biggest in Eastern Europe - EE) and commercial tower (the tallest in the EE), including displacement of main train and bus stations out of the city centre. The national government declared the project to be of national importance with an explanation that it would revive the collapsed construction industry, create of hundreds of thousands of jobs in construction, commerce and tourism, apart from the share of the profit.

In October 2014, the city's architectural, artistic and academic community organised “Ne da(vi)mo Beograd” initiative (the brackets suggest two sentences meaning "We're not giving Belgrade away" and "Do not sink Belgrade") which uses a yellow rubber duck as a symbol of their resistance against a project that they oppose for architectural, urban planning, transportation, economic, ecological, and broader social reasons. The initiative criticises the fact that the project started without public competition and discussions, which prevented citizens and professionals to provide alternatives to the current consumerist vision of the project that include use of public finance for exclusively private benefits. In addition, the project would cause traffic collapse, dramatically alter the visual identity of Belgrade, and promote spatial segregation giving the fact that the luxury flats would be available only to rich people. Moreover, the government adjusted effective laws regarding the spatial organization of the city in order to enable the project.

In 2014, “Ne da(vi)mo Beograd”: 1) submitted the list of objections to the project’s draft spatial plan, 2) protested in front of the National Assembly during the session on the laws and regulations adjustments, 3) participated in public session of the spatial plan in Belgrade City Council using inflatable rings and balls to send the message that “’Belgrade Waterfront’ is hollow and we do not want to sink”, and 4) used the banner "Stop the investor urbanism" to disrupt the award ceremony of the 23rd International Salon of Urbanism - organized by the Urban planners association of Belgrade- , given that “The special purpose area spatial plan for regulation of the coastal part of the city of Belgrade” won the first place in four categories.

In 2015, the initiative protested in front of the National Assembly against the adoption of lex specialis for “The Belgrade Waterfront”, as well as in front of Geozavod building (headquarters of “Beograd na vodi d.o.o”) against signing the contract between the government and the partner. In addition, the members of the initiative interrupted the project related presentations held by the mayor and the main city planners at various occasions. They also participated in the 51st Critical mass organised to express concerns over the faith of bike lane located on the future “Belgrade Waterfront” promenade, which was eventually closed due to the start of construction works that have resulted in further protests and area blockades. At “Belgrade Boat Carnival”, the initiative’s boat carrying a big yellow duck and a message was excluded from the parade by the police for sending “political messages”. The protest against setting the project’s foundation stone for two residential towers followed.

All named peaceful activities were organised in the presence of large number of police that has been forbidding the initiative members the access to the project related event sites and distribution of a printed newsletter, while several journalists have been prevented from filming and interviewing.

Despite the resistances, the promenade has undergone a makeover including construction of a controversial project’s “exhibition area”, actually a private restaurant “Savanova”. The construction works on the tower are also ongoing but facing the problems of extremely high groundwater and flood risks. Namely, the construction area coincides with flood defense zone significantly impacted in the big floods in 2014.

Most recently, in March 2016, in the light of upcoming parliamentary elections, the initiative reported that a group of people related to the leading political party the Serbian Progressive Party have misused their symbols in order to mislead citizens and prevent substantiated criticism of the project.  On the night of April 24 (election day), around 30 masked men using vehicles without number plates demolished several buildings in the Hercegovačka street (Savamala), while tying up the witnesses and taking away their phones. This event provoked a series of the citizens’ protests against the authorities suspected of being involved in the demolition that gives a way to Belgrade Waterfront project. The protesters are asking for identification and punishment of the perpetrator as well as the resignations of the city and police authorities who did not protect the inhabitant of Hercegovačka. Around 20,000 people participated in the last of three protests organised so far. The initiative has announced it would organize further protests until the demands are fulfilled.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Belgrade Waterfront project, Serbia
Location of conflict:Belgrade, Stari grad, Savamala
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Urban development conflicts
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

180 m- height of the tower

1.8 km- length of Sava promenade

1.8-2 million m2 - office, commercial and residential space (60% of total project area),

6,000 apartments will host in total 14,000 people, while 12,700 people will be using business space,

370.000 m2 – size of green area (park), and

8 hotels with 2,200 rooms.

Restaurant “Savanova” occupies 670 m2, while shopping mall will occupy 140,000 m2.

An average price of apartments = 453.000 USD. Namely, 3,400 USD is the price of a single square foot of Waterfront residential property = 7 to 12 times the typical Serbian monthly salary.

It is calculated that the new luxury neighbourhood would need 25 million m3 of water and 100 megawatts electric energy daily, 40.000 parking places, and solution to disposal of 3 million m3 of excavated land.

The details of the contract published 150 days after signing revealed that the partners will provide 170 million USD, a much smaller sum than principally agreed, while Serbia will take out loans (from the same partner) of 550 million to 1 billion USD to invest in access roads and other infrastructure.

Project area:150
Level of Investment:4 billion
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:2.5 million
Start of the conflict:07/10/2014
Company names or state enterprises: “Beograd na vodi d.o.o” from Serbia - Investor (32% of share)
Eagle Hills from United Arab Emirates - Investor (68% of share)
Relevant government actors:The Government of the Republic of Serbia; The City of Belgrade
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) - ERBD loan approved to "Serbian Railways" will be used for displacement of railways and train station from the city center
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:"Ne da(vi)mo Beograd" civil initiative ( and;
Critical mass Belgrade (;
International Network for Urban Research and Action (; Serbian Academy of Architecture; international students, architects and other professionals.
Newspapers distribution partners: Knjižara Beopolis, galerija Remont, Nova iskra, društveni centar Oktobar, Centar za kulturnu dekontaminaciju, Magacin u Kraljevića Marka, kulturni centar Grad, REX, Kulturforum, Matrijaršija, Udruženje Učitelj neznalica, Kafe Tezga, Kafe Čilton, Kafe Petak, Kafe Kliše, Kafe Zaokret.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local government/political parties
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow)
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in violence and crime, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:The initiative “Ne da(vi)mo Beograd” suggest that “the plan should be cancelled, and a planned organization of the central zone of Belgrade should return to a legal planning procedure, with respect to professional standards of planning and implementation of mechanisms for the protection of public interest”. They ask for more transparency in the entire process, respect of laws, and participation of the whole society, as well as demand resignations of the directors of Republic agency for spatial planning and Urban Development Institute and the mayor of Belgrade. The citizens demand identification and punishment of the perpetrators of demolitions in Hercegovačka street, as well as the resignations of the city and police authorities who have not protected the inhabitants.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:So far the authorities have been completely ignoring all complaints of citizens, and appeals and arguments of experts including architects and lawyers. The project is ongoing.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Analysis of the Belgrade Waterfront contract by "Ne da(vi)mo Beograd"

Alternative Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for Combating Corruption 2013 - 2018 and the Action Plan, CASE STUDY - The project "Belgrade on water" (pg. 2319

Newspaper printed by "Ne da(vi)mo Beograd" number 2

Newspaper printed by "Ne da(vi)mo Beograd" number 1

Serbia: 20,000 protesters say 'NO' to controversial Belgrade Waterfront project

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Facts about the project

Layers against the project

Open letter to the citizens of Belgrade by international scientists and experts in urban development and planning

About Savamala

Ongoing construction works

About the project

The last Savamala household standing

Bus station demolition

Flats sale

Disappearance of railway workers football club

Private restaurant as the project exhibition area

Civil movement against Belgrade Waterfront (in Italian)

Professional opinion abouth the project by a sociologist

Mayor on the mesaures used by the police

Ombudsman suggests dismissal of the head of communal police

Movement against Belgrade Waterfront (in Italian)

On the procedure how to buy a flat in Belgrade Waterfront

Luxury flats interiors

International opinions

Declaration by the Serbian Academy of Architecture

Construction site and flood risks

Belgrade gentrification (in English)

Chronology of events (in English)

Cyclists' uprising against Belgrade Waterfront

Evidence from the protest in front of Geozavod building

"Belgrade Boat Carnival” incident

Belgrade waterfront - dark side behind urban renewal (in English)

Resignation of the presidency of the Urban Planners Association of Belgrade

Scanned contract

Republic Agency for Spatial Planning report

Thousands take part in protest over Savamala demolitions

Serbian Protesters Say Authorities Were Behind Demolitions

Serbs rally against shady demolitions after masked crew 'tied up witnesses'


International students on the Belgrade Waterfront (in English)

Serbs Protest Demolitions for UAE-Investment Project

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Closer insight in the project development

On Savanova restaurant/promo stand

Banner at the 23rd International Salon of Urbanism

Press conference on misuse of the initiative "Ne da(vi)mo Beograd" identity

Protest report by the national TV station

Video from "Belgrade Boat Carnival”

Ute Lehrer (profesor at the York University) opinion (in English)

Operation "Slauf" in Belgrade City Council

Public debate in Center for cultural decontamination

Unsuccessful intent by "Insajder" journalist to interview "Beograd na vodi d.o.o" director

Meta information

Contributor:Jovanka Spiric, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at)
Last update20/06/2016



Protest in front of Geozavod- "Whose city? Our city!"

Belgrade Boat Carnival

The police preventing the initiative’s boat from continuing the parade

Cyclists' uprising

51st Critical mass at the Belgrade Waterfront promenade

Protest on June 11

More than 20,000 people in the protest walk