It is generally held that in Tallinn, like in many other eastern European cities, people with different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds inhabit the same residential areas. However, a newly published study involving Estonian human geographers revealed that Tallinn is becoming increasingly segregated.
The cities of western Europe are highly segregated - wealthy and poor people tend to live in different parts of the city. Geographers from the University of Tartu and partner universities studied whether the increasing socio-economic inequality has led to a similar trend in the reformed post-socialist countries of eastern Europe.
Professor Tiit Tammaru said that Tallinn is in some ways an unconventional city. The Soviet Union bequeath to it the so-called "bedroom communities" - Lasnamäe, Mustamäe and Õismäe, which still house about a third of its population. This should have created a fertile soil for socia-economic residential segregation in 1990s that were characterized by rapidly growing income inequality.
However, the study revealed that growth of socioeconomic inequality resulted in the decrease in spacial segregation instead. According to Tammaru, this means that the areas that were less prestigious during the Soviet times - Kalamaja and Kopli, for example - are now attracting wealthier inhabitants. Hence, northern Tallinn is home to wealthier and poorer people, Estonian and Russian-speakers alike.
When the children attend the same school and the neighbors, regardless of their income, native language or profession, communicate with each other, people will grow more understanding and tolerant. This kind of mixing is very good, said Tammaru.
However, scientists have noted that this may be just an intermediary stage. In Tallinn, the lines of ethnic and socioeconomic segregation are increasingly overlapping, meaning that Estonian-speakers and Russian-speakers choose to live in separate districts. Some areas draw in wealthier, other poorer people.
Tammaru said that problems emerge when minorities and poverty meet. Negative examples can be found in Stockholm, Paris, London and many US cities, where the tensions in the areas inhabited by poor minority groups have led to crime and violent clashes.
The only area in Tallinn where such a risk exists is Lasnamäe. "Lasnamäe is not a great problem but we do see a same tendency that western Europe has already experienced," Tammaru said. The geographers stress that the said negative results are not inevitable, but they are possible.
Prague is a city that has all the preconditions for high socio-economic segregation. Yet, its segregation level is low. That is said to be due to the fact that the rental market has been subjected to price control, giving people greater freedom to choose where they live. Tallinn, on the other hand, only used maximum rent limits for a very short period of time in 1990s.
Experts say that market regulations on a national level is one way to prevent socio-economic segregation. According to Tammaru, most European capitals have some sort of regulations in place, Tallinn being one of the largest exceptions.
There are other potential solutions. London, for instance, forces real-estate developers to offer residences in one area to people of different economic backgrounds.
The study was coordinated by the University of Tartu's Center for Migration and Urban Studies. It was recently published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers.
Editor: M. Himma, M. Oll