kolmapäev, märts 14, 2007

Thinking about 2009 and 2011

Now that the 2007 parliamentary elections are behind us and the big question is whether Mart Laar will get to be foreign minister or if Urmas Paet will keep his seat at Islandi Väljak, I have been thinking about what kinds of issues I would like to see in the debate during the municipal elections in 2009 and the next parliamentary elections in 2011.

The first issue, which I believe is up for grabs in terms of parties but that could favor the Rohelised, is some kind of commitment to sane urban planning. Across Estonia, haphazard urban planning has left some of its most picturesque cities with a mishmash of 19th century wooden dwellings, Stalinist architecture, and sleek 21st century modern buildings with jagged edges and endless windows.

What is lacking is consensus on what Tallinn should look like, what Tartu should look like, what Pärnu should look like. New may be good, but it may also be ugly. Who gets to say what goes where. In my experience, municipalities with a clear sense of what the city should look like are able to retain their charm and therefore their allure for local residents - who choose to stay - and tourists and visitors - some of whom also choose to stay.

Some questions you might want to ask yourselves in Tallinn are: "Why is there a McDonalds in the Old Town?" and "Why did they build Ühispank right next to a tiny wooden church?" Who is in charge, here?

Another zone of opportunity for politicians is Ida Virumaa county, where Keskerakond got more than 50 percent of the votes on March 4.

Politicians from other parties should be asking themselves why citizens in one of its more populous counties chose a party that very likely won't do anything to better their lives if in power. Has Keskerakond promised them anything that other parties haven't? Not really.

This makes me think that parties that want to win in 2009 and 2011 should stop writing off Ida Virumaa and should invest in operations there. There's no reason why the Sotsdems or the Rohelised shouldn't be getting more of those left-leaning votes. The electoral battles of the future will be fought in places like Kohtle-Järve. Start preparing now.

Finally, Estonia, like always, is caught up in many conflicting trends between nationalism and multiculturalism. It's likely there will be more gay parades and Pronkssõdur grandstanding in the future.

The wisest parties will be the ones that don't stick their nose in these beehives but do their best to ensure the public peace. Rather than shooting off opinions on these touchy feely issues, parties that hope to win in the long-run should present themselves as unentangled moderates in the cultural sphere.

Estonia has presented itself to the world as a multi-cultural country. Those that embrace that reality will spend the least political capital while other parties toil away defending their positions. This is a lesson that Keskerakond has used to its benefit and one that other parties can learn too.

12 kommentaari:

Kristopher ütles ...

What never fails to surprise me is not just that ugly tasteless buildings go up in the middle of historically continuous neighbourhoods -- though have you seen those onion domes up on Toompea, I mean, reeeally (though seriously, Kadriorg is especially bad) -- but that there is no capitalizing on what is truly Estonia's strength. I mean, what is the #1 tourist attraction? Other than for the British 18-30 crowd, that is. The Old Town, isn't it?

But there are few true hommages to the truly cool architecture.´, just like there are no new Art Nouveau buildings in Riga. Instead there is this trend of making oblique reference to the past as part of a concept.

In the case of industrial heritage, it's got to the point where you have a cube, probably with windows that don't open and wall to wall carpeting (though not sure) perched on top of a mouldy old factory building, and that is supposed to be art. What next, a capsule on top of Oleviste that is supposed to tie in with the Estonian conceptual natural heritage and the stork's nest theme?

Personally I would love to see Narva's Old Town rebuilt exactly as it was, but it's not worth even dreaming about. In Tallinn, I'd love to see the Harju Hole filled in with actual gingerbread houses. Just think -- a whole new part of the Old Town to explore. It doesnt matter if the buildings were actually in use; after all when I walk down the Saiakang, I groove on the passageway ambience and the cafes, not the history. Instead, in the case of Harju, we're getting some half-assed project where the outlines of the buildings are marked (as if in remembrance with the victims of 1944 but more like a low budget copout and conceptual conceit) while the place ends up still a vacant lot, but better landscaped.

I would love to see Raadi Manor in Tartu, which was a truly lovely place, better than Sangaste, rebuilt with extra wings, for the Estonian National Museum. Instead it looks like we will get a concrete and glass monstrosity that refernces the Soviet era airfield CONCEPTUALLY, because a foreign architect thinks that would be cool for Estonia, being former Soviet and all and no doubt the kind of place that is all existentially conflicted over its Sovietness.

Then you've got Kalev Spa, which is also half-assed. It preserves what was BAD about the Soviet era building -- the floorplan, the woman cleaning the floor in the men's room -- while getting rid of the kinda neat essential Roman-bath shabbiness, crumbliness of the place.

Kristopher ütles ...

When I proposed rebuilding Harju tänav with "actual gingerbread houses", I didn't mean the confection. It rains too much here. I meant buildings with a lot of verisimilitude, as worthy as the ones lining Pikk.

Just in case some avant-garde engineer or architect gets another bad idea from my sloppy writing.

AndresS ütles ...

Does urban planning even exist in Eesti? I haven't seen any examples of it. The mishmash of buildings, roads and transport seems to be completely random and the proliferation of north american style suburbs around Tallinn is disturbing. Although cycling is possible and enjoyable in the countryside it is next to impossible in Tallinn, I tried biking to work one summer and was hit by 3 cars (thankfully never seriously) and the drivers were mad at me. Transport within the city is poor and no respectable Estonian will take the bus if they don't have too. Most shopping is done in kaubamajad and street level stores are often ignored.

Instead of dressing up in rastafarian clothing and busting cab drivers Tallinn's leaders should be spending more time managing the city's growth. I'd be more than happy to send Ratas my copy of Jane Jacob's book to see how cities should be.

Toivo Ellakvere ütles ...

Public transportation should be an issue ...

Anonüümne ütles ...

Coming from the States, I think public transport is great in Estonia. Minor problems like onion and body odor have abated, likewise the phenomenon of mentally disturbed people using mass transit as a soapbox. It would be interesting to hear what people consider to be the problem. Service -- bus, trolley, tram, marsruuttakso -- seems to be punctual and frequent.

Anonüümne ütles ...

vali keskerakond - siis buss sõidab :-p

Giustino ütles ...

Coming from the States, I think public transport is great in Estonia.

It depends where you live. In New York the subway is often dirty and unreliable. Not to mention expensive.

Boston is much cleaner, DC's metro is excellent.

I think some new trams are in order. Too often the trams in Tallinn are filthy and muddy, especially in winter. The buses strike me as ok, though.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Well, the most significant "urban planning" actions in Estonia's recent history were certainly carried out between 1941 and 1944, during what's called the WW2.

Take for example Tartu, my hometown and now yours as well, which was a battlefield in both the years mentioned, when the Soviet and Nazi forces were standing on the opposite riverbanks and letting go at each other with everything they had, making the end result look like this (it is the area where the Kaubahall and the new Kaubamaja stand today; the market-house in far centre and a building that is out of the picture on the left - there's a book store now IIRC - are the only ones that still stand today) or in better cases, this (a postcard view you should recognize) with the estimates varying from 50% to 65% of all pre-war buildings destroyed. Basically you can draw a circle with a radius of 1km or even more around the centre of Tartu, take a walk within it and consider that everywhere you see a park, open space, a "hrushtshovka" or other building that you estimate to be postwar, you can safely assume that this was a block burned down or shelled/bombed to rubble during the war. You can take this 1927 map for reference. Parks, for instance, were quite non-existent in Tartu before WW2, except for Toomemägi, Botaanikaaed and a strip beside Vabaduse puiestee (ironically though, considering today's level of "motorization" - the number of cars jamming the streets during rush hour - these war-created green areas are now very welcome "lungs" for the town).

What followed after the war was a result of different times, different powers and policies... put short, "urban planning" was not a priority then, but still all the people - there were still quite many left after all that had fled, been killed or deported - had to live somewhere, work somewhere etc. Besides, the hrushtshovkas had central heating, water-peldiks (very uncommon in the 1930s) and such.

All the fuss and noise going on around the demolition of the late Sakala keskus in Tallinn illustrates very well how extrordinary and painful thing it is for us to tear down a completely good building to build another one. We simply don't have the tradition to do this because for the last 60 years, we have always had plenty of space left from the war to build new stuff on. And so I estimate that for many of the hrushtshovkas, it will take at least another 10-20 years or another war to make them a memory.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Well, the wooden church beside SEB Ühispank is an anomaly. I personally would move or demolish the church and build a modern building there. Too bad it will not happen.

Certainly Estonia needs more consistent urban planning, but the soviet legacy will not go away so easily. I am waiting for the time the hruchovkas and big ugly "commieblocks" will be demolished.

space_maze ütles ...

Though the big ugly commie blocks can also be renovated in a manner to make them look a lot less commie and a lot more like homes that people might actually live in .. on purpose. Some, in Lasnamäe, actually don't look that bad anymore, after some recent renovations.

Not necessarily pretty, but .. I've yet to visit a country that doesn't have apartment blocks.

plasma-jack ütles ...

hands out of that church! I'd rather dismantle rest of the modern town centre.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Please remove the image of Ida-Viru county map from your blog, which you have without permission copied from B&B website: http://www.bbee.ee/?country=356&state=42&city=0&language=2
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