Vitosha - A Boulevard Doing Away With Itself
Spring is coming to Sofia and it's about time to have a cold beer outside in the sun. This has become difficult nowadays on Boulevard Vitosha, the new central pedestrian of the city because it is no longer tree-lined but covered with strange constructions of glass and metal, almost leaving no place for tables and chairs in the sun.
A couple of years ago, Bulgaria followed other countries in banning smoking in public buildings, a decision heavily criticized and questioned ever since. The ultra-right-wing Ataka party even made the abolition of the smoking ban to its main precondition for tolerating the minority government of the Bulgarian Socialist Party. It is a big surprise that they eventually did not get away with their demand.
Hence, the country still has to live on with the smoking ban. At first, the impact on the urban landscape was the same as in other countries. Little group of smoking people gathered in front of bars and restaurants, during cold times being warmed up by blankets and gas lamps.
After some time several places tried to gain a competitive edge with the smoking clients by erecting primitive sheds wrapped in transparent tarpaulin. Others followed one by one, a process culminating in a downright arms race circumventing the smoking ban.
These smoker hideaways are now air-impermeably encased in glass, equipped with automatic doors and a heating. Since a cloak-and-dagger-operation to chop away chestnut trees that were in the way had been stopped in the last minute, the trees are now seamlessly integrated in the constructions, so that they are supplied with oxygen in the upper part and with nicotine in the lower.
Smoking trees on Boulevard Vitosha
The smoker boxes, ugly as sin, are cordially called "tents", and as such they probably do not require a building permit by the municipality. And, hey, you are outside, grab some fresh air, bring your kids along, and come and see how the restaurant staff enjoys the achievement of a smoke-free work environment.
This new development is the culmination of a series of equivocal decisions of the Sofia municipality related to the design of the new pedestrian after the Sofia subway had been finished.
Instead of calling for concepts in a public competition, the lot was simply given to the company that had built the subway. In November 2012 this led to the protest campain "Vitoshka Boza" of the "Grupa Grad" (group city), during which the freshly built testimonials of bad taste had been covered with boza, a rather strange local drink of an acquired taste, but also a synonym for bullshit.
Likewise, the chance to lock the streets crossing the pedestrian was missed, so that your walk on the pedestrian is interrupted every 50 meters, when you have to cross a street with cars. It is public belief that locking the little streets would lead to a major traffic collapse of the city center.
City planners, willing to learn how to ruin a cityscape in no time at all, by sacrificing the reshaping of public spaces into attractive urban landscapes to the interests of bar owners, smokers and individual motor car traffic should definitely consider a short trip to the Bulgarian capital.