Downtown Sofia
Downtown Sofia - ©Boby Dimitrov,

Sofia city development strategy – Sofia I and II

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Main actors

City Government, NGO / Philanthropy, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 1999/12

The aim was to enhance the development of a democratic and self-reliant municipal management system to generate sustainable benefits

The aim of this project was to enhance development of democratic and self-reliant municipal management systems in Sofia in a manner that generates sustainable, long-term benefits for residents. Change was achieved through research, policy advice, public consultation, and capacity building in partnership with the Municipality of Sofia, representatives of local NGOs, trade unions, and professionals from Bulgarian institutions.

The work built upon findings identified through a multi-sectoral analysis of Sofia economic prospects and spatial structure. Work along these lines was initiated and the draft report was discussed with major stakeholders at a workshop in Sofia in December 2000. The results served as a basis to define a shared vision for Sofia, goals, priorities, and action plans. Both the product and the process provided an input into on-going efforts to define and implement regional plans in Bulgaria. The City Development Strategy (CDS) integrated donor assistance in the urban sector. In this context, defining a CDS, with Sofia stakeholder participation, contributed to economic and social development in Sofia and enhanced its competitiveness. More importantly, it created sustainable mechanisms for stakeholder consultation and public input to the decision making process. The facilitated decision making process by the professional team and streamline work.

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Sofia, Bulgaria

Size and population development
2011: 1,174,000, 1990: 1,191,000, 2025: 1,212,000, 2010-2015: -0,01%/ year

Population composition
more than 95% of the population is of Bulgarian origin

Main functions
political, industrial, and cultural centre

Main industries / business
steel, metal, and chemical industries

Political structure
Mayor and City Council ; 24 district mayors ; regional manager for the state regional policy who can block any of the council’s or mayor's activities

Administrative structure
24 districts

The main goal of Phase I was to support formulating Sofia CDS through wide consultation with key stakeholders, and to develop institutional capacity guaranteeing implementation as well as disseminating learning experience throughout the country. Specific objectives were:
  • support city-based consensus-building process to establish priorities, strategies, and actions for sustainable and socially inclusive urban development in Sofia
  • strengthen Sofia regulatory framework and improve local government efficiency
  • assist Sofia Municipality in outlining investment strategies, taking into account city-based resources, and fostering alliances with private sector investors and communities
  • build local capacity to sustain CDS achievements, disseminate information, as well as sharing lessons learned and knowledge throughout Bulgaria
  • support formulating Sofia CDS through wide consultation with key stakeholders
  • develop institutional capacity ensuring implementation as well as disseminating learning experience throughout the country.

The goal of Phase II was to enhance the development of democratic and self-reliant municipal management systems in Sofia in a manner generating sustainable, long-term benefits for residents. The initiative promoted creating a vision for Sofia future development on the basis of comprehensive assessment of spatial, economic, social, and environmental resources.

The analytical work for CDS Phase I, supported by Cities Alliance, was initiated with an inception mission in September 2000. Sofia Municipality established a CDS steering committee and working groups on socio-economic and planning issues. The proposal for CDS Phase II has been developed in a collaborative way with input from key stakeholders representing the interests of different communities in Sofia. The project was initiated in February 2001 and completed within ten months. It capitalised on partnerships created during Phase I, professional contacts, networks, and cooperation. Results from analytical work as well as operational project management structures led to strong momentum in launching the public consultation process.

The project was anchored in Sofia Municipality. Efforts aimed at mobilising Sofia stakeholders through the assistance of Open Society Foundation, Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce, Union for Private Economic Enterprise, Centre for the Study of Democracy, Institute for Regional and International Studies, Economic Policy Institute, Centre for Economic Development, Centre for European Studies, Ikonomica, Foundation for Energy Efficiency, Association of Commercial Banks and Foundation for Local Government Reform.

Stakeholder mapping and analysis were carried out, to identify NGOs representing various ethnic minorities, socially disadvantaged groups, and, in particular, the high number of Sofia ‘working poor’, to ensure adequate representation in workshops and community discussions. Emphasis was placed on identifying organisations able to influence policy debate and assume responsibility for further discussion with local and central governments, as well as lobbying efforts for change.

Change was facilitated through research, policy advice, public consultation and capacity building in partnership with Sofia Municipality, local NGO representatives, trade unions and professionals from Bulgarian institutions (e.g. Association of Local Governments, Cities for Change, Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works), as well as international organisations (LGI USAID, UK Know-How Fund, UNDP).

Primary deliverable types include surveys, research reports and policy notes. These analytical outputs set the stage for programmatic outputs such as Sofia vision, action plan and investment programmes in priority sectors. Other deliverables included hands-on training in strategic planning and SWOT analysis.

CDS second phase converted analytical work into a process incorporating programmatic elements. It established a stakeholder vision for future Sofia development and action plans for priority areas; it integrated capacity building efforts so that Sofia Municipality can sustain monitoring, planning and consultation work needed to augment CDS.

Analytical assessment: initial findings formed the basis for a more in-depth discussion about structure and trends in the local economy, national and regional contexts, and various obstacles - institutional, financial, environmental, and social - which may constrain future development. In the case of Sofia spatial analysis, emphasis was on social problems and assessing regulatory constraints on private economic activity infrastructure provision and in particular, housing and land use planning.

Framing the process: two surveys were carried out:

  1. assessing main concerns in Sofia residents and community leaders and their vision for the future;
  2. assessing Sofia business environment and potential for growth, through interviews with established business leaders, foreign investors, banks, representatives of business associations, trade unions and NGOs. 

Building consensus: on CDS priorities: several workshops were organised to set CDS priorities, to map out Sofia vision and to define a strategic plan of action in priority areas. Additionally, this phase incorporated curriculum design and training on strategic planning and public participation in municipal decision making, delivered to small groups of municipal professionals and community leaders. The training component served two purposes:

  1. ensure good understanding of the CDS process
  2. facilitate stakeholder input and sustainability of results.

Creating local capacity to sustain CDS achievements: efforts facilitated institutional changes in the municipal structure to ensure progress monitoring in priority areas, disseminating information to community groups, as well as capability to share lessons learnt and knowledge throughout Bulgaria. Emphasis was placed on establishing mechanisms to share Sofia learning experience through publications, newsletters, electronic professional networks, TV, and radio information.

Project costs phase I: Cities Alliance: USD 75,000
Co-financing:     USD 27,000
Total Budget:    USD 102,00
Project costs phase II: Total amount requested for Cities Alliance funding: USD 249,800
Total co-financing amount, including local partners: USD 171,900
Total budget: USD 421,700
The initiative was expected to produce significant results, firstly in improving operational efficiency in Sofia municipal government and secondly in empowering inhabitants through democratic involvement in the decision making process. More specifically, outputs / outcomes are:
  • vision for Sofia future economic, social and spatial development
  • action plans for priority areas and investment programmes
  • public participation and mechanisms for stakeholder involvement in Sofia planning process as an integral part of democratic governance
  • training and developing educational materials for municipal professionals: handbooks on urban economic base analysis, action planning and public participation
  • disseminating Sofia learning experience throughout Bulgaria through the press and networks for municipal cooperation.

In contrast to more supply-driven and expert-executed Master Plan approach, Sofia CDS for emphasises an investor-driven, employer-led approach, where public finance is a supporting element, and where stakeholder participation would guide the process. This has been difficult to achieve and may be a problem for other case studies. Convincing private investors is much more difficult than convincing public organisations.

Sofia CDS process can be replicated at two levels. Given its leading role in Bulgaria, Sofia was able to establish a model that can be followed by other Bulgarian local governments. With this purpose, the various phases in Sofia CDS were presented to the Bulgarian Association of Municipalities and the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, and learning experience disseminated to other municipalities. Furthermore, in transition economies local governments face similar challenges, among others, need to develop housing and real estate markets, to upgrade infrastructure, to remove legal constraints and to improve participation process in local government decisions. From this point of view, the process could set the framework for regional outreach and replication through eastern Europe. Additionally, the World Bank is studying to promote in Bulgaria a distance-learning centre about the Balkans, combined with an initiative for a Regional Centre for Democracy.

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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