Photo credit: ©Kaspars Kursišs
In many European countries, participation, vibrant public spaces, pedestrian and bike friendly streets, are common principles which are systematically integrated in urban development strategies. However, in Baltic countries, the situation is quite different. Inherited from decades of soviet urban planning practice, Latvian cities are still designed according to bureaucratic zoning policies. Municipalities reproduce this ‘Le-Corbusier scheme’ of sprawled and car-oriented cities, despite its long-proven inefficiency and un-sustainability.
Urban design in Riga has suffered from a legacy of Soviet-era, car-centric design and suburban sprawl. Wide, under-utilised streets are common throughout the city; and the hipster hot-spot Miera iela (or ‘Peace street’) is no exception. The main street leaves space to the 90% of cars that drive on top of the tram tracks, leaving much of the wide road unused and unavailable for the other 10% of uses.
Pedestrians, cyclists and shop owners are forced to share what is left over on the narrow sidewalk. Frustrated by these latent inefficiencies, local creatives ‘Fine Young Urbanists’ decided to take some action by constructing a 1:1 mock-up model to show the potential of a possible future streetscape.
Intervention in Riga by Fine Young Urbanists
A simple proposal to reconfigure the street hierarchy allowing space for all traffic, refocusing the design to one centred on people, not the car. Many city officials weren’t convinced it was possible to include the amenity they proposed, which is where this human scale demonstration became a useful tool.
Residents, business owners and people passing by were then asked to comment on the design, opening up a dialogue with the community in a way otherwise not possible. The feedback reinforced the desire for a more pedestrian friendly street design.
Other lessons were taken away from the project, provided by its success. “What we’ve learned is that the aesthetics are very important,” said Toms, one of the creators. Above the obvious functional requirements, the aesthetic delivery must be impactful so that the community pays attention. The photogenic blue of the panels and very public construction process meant that they project received maximum exposure. People are more likely to engage and the city authorities were much less likely to ignore such a bold and effective installation.
Toms and Evelina work in a way that extensively observes and collects input from the community. They believe that “it’s unrealistic to make everyone an architect”; so instead they bring the architecture to everyone. As well as their extensive consultative process, they see value in stepping away from their computers and getting their hands dirty.
The Model between number 9 and 10 Peace Street was built in 3 days – some of the work required contractors, but much of it was painting panels, picking up cigarette butts and clearing dog poo. These are jobs they did themselves, with a team of volunteers. To really engage in bottom-up city-making, getting dirty is a price you pay.
This project directly demonstrates the potential for a shift in approach to street design; specifically in the area where the pop-up streetscape was installed.
+ Find more pictures of the project here
+ Text extracted and edited from here