The optimistic manner in which planners spoke about planning also tells us about the new status of planners in the socialist state. On the one hand, plan-ners were empowered by their new place of importance in the regime. No lon-ger constrained by crippling limitations, as they had been prior to the war, they could extend their analytical and creative gaze beyond building facades and city limits. Given a new role of importance in socialism, as actors in the planning process, they would be the ultimate authority in deciding what should be built and where. On the other hand, Belgrade’s town planners undoubtedly also felt they had to cement their authority in the new political and administrative sys-tem, in the face of all possible challenges, by claiming scientific authority.
Belgrade’s urban planning team said everything that could be expected in a newly minted communist regime. And yet, after the Tito-Stalin split, Yugo-slavia was anything but an average Eastern Bloc country. In addition to the difficult material and security situation, the regime was ideologically adrift, unsure of how to justify its rift with the Soviet Union to the communist world and to its own people. This dark period of uncertainty could not but cast a shadow on Belgrade’s first master plan of the socialist era. Expressions of cau-tion took the place of promises of amazing feats that would have rung hollow. While planners had a vision for transforming Belgrade in significant ways, of-ficial pronouncements were riddled with reminders of Belgrade’s limited ma-terial possibilities and exhortations to be realistic. Urban planners had clearly been directed to design only solutions that were strictly necessary and to make the best use of resources, and they managed to convince their patrons that
every project included in the plan was necessary and cost-effective. Nikezic, the president of the Executive Committee of the People’s Council in 1950, acknowledged to the Municipal Council that “there had been a time in the elaboration of this plan when proposals were made that were too expensive and that did not have a decisive significance in the reconstruction of Belgrade. For example, there were ideas for the radical reconstruction of the current center of Belgrade-Terazije and for the protrusion of broad arteries through the mid-dle of some well-built neighborhoods.” However, Nikezic added that the col-lective of specialists working on the plan eventually rejected all such concepts. “Those large and expensive projects that remain in the plan,” he affirmed, “are essential to realizing the basic ideas at the heart of the master plan.”64
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We can also detect the spirit of the times in the cautious open-mindedness of urban planners toward the corpus of urban planning theory inherited both from capitalist societies and from the Soviet Union. Somborski noted that “be-cause substantial results were achieved in theory on both sides, and because practice made obvious the advantages and disadvantages of individual urban-istic choices, we can avoid many mistakes that are inevitable when translat-ing theory into practice.” However, he also criticized the wholesale copying of solutions taken from capitalist societies. Solutions that were designed for capi-talist conditions were doomed to fail in a different context. The key to success, according to Somborksi, was to approach any current urban planning concept with skepticism, to avoid falling into “lack of realism, fictions, and utopias.”65
Finally, perhaps reflecting their lack of certainty concerning what the future would bring, urban planners tried to create a plan that was flexible. Citing the continuous progress of society, science, and technology, Somborski sought to avoid a plan that would act as a brake on progress. In the mind of the plan-ning team, it was necessary to decide in broad strokes how traffic should move through the city and to determine land use for each part of the city and its sur-rounding area. A master plan should refrain from going into too much detail. The specifics would be settled later, when urban planners would design “phase plans” that would break down the master plan into distinct phases, based on yearly investment and construction plans.66
The purpose of the master plan, Nikezic declared, was twofold: first, to expand the city in order to allow the further growth of the population, and second and “more important,” to ensure the reorganization and further development of Belgrade in a manner that would result in an improvement of living conditions for the population.67 The master plan was designed to be valid for the following twenty years, during which period the city was projected to double in size, from 426,000 to nearly a million inhabitants.68