Development in Kopli seeks to bring art and local people together

Novaator, the scientific news portal of ERR, and Vikeraadio visited the former Põhjala rubber factory (Põhjala tehase) in Tallinn's Kopli area where activists are building a creative center. The old, empty buildings are a reminder of Tellskivi Creative City in previous years but the atmosphere differs due to the rental chickens, beehives and from the community's assistance.

The complex is run by MTÜ Põhjala tehas and stakeholders emphasize that the complex is not only designed for creative people who want a refuge there but for anyone who wants to get involved. The purpose of the complex is to amplify the community's work. Neighbors from local and distant areas are welcomed to discuss developments of the complex on the spot. 

The complex is situated in a former rubber factory which made boots, raincoats and hoses and operated between 1924-1998 and has remained empty since. Until 1930, the company was called Eesti Kummitööstus OÜ. In 2019, renovation started in the complex and events are now being held on the site and in available rooms.

Searching for a common language between creatives and private sector

Exploring Põhjala Gatehouse, visitors can see displays of rain boots and goloshes, which were formally made at the site. The foyer, which gives out Quentin Tarantino vibes, has access to Botik locale bar and in addition to that, people can enjoy the back garden where they can take pictures under the fairy lights.  

Above Botik, there is a studio built in a black-box type (a square room with black walls and a flat floor. The simplicity of the space is used to create a flexible stage and audience interaction. - ed.). It was built by Mari Meentalo, a member of Oopus. Meentalo said it is common that life around Põhjala is full of events and music. 

Ensemble Oopus members Johannes Ahun and Mari Meentalo and Aleksander Sprohgis, who was hiding behind the installation, said that setting up their own studio . Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Liis Serk, an anthropologist and one of Põhjala's leaders, said the goal is to create a functioning network. She added: "Urban people generally have very small opportunity to have a strong voice and influence in the development of their environment. If anyone any kind of initiative or thought about how to change the environment around the Põhjala area, they are all welcome to be discussed." 

Ingmar Pastak, a human geographer at the University of Tartu, has studied the creative town areas of northern Tallinn. He said it is not surprising that urban residents want to have their own say on this topic. 

Pastak added: "Private sector ventures are sometimes very modern in terms of involving both tenants and local residents." On the other hand, public sector projects tend to be selective in their involvement. 

Rubber boots outside Põhjala rubber factory. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

How to get involved so that no one is involved 

According to a recent Human Development Report, the JOKK-scheme (JOKK - "Everything is legally correct" – ed.) has become widespread in the public sector whereas there are no comprehensible explanations given about the developments which are affecting the environment or public space. 

A number of detailed technical projects are posted on the Internet which requires a great deal of prior knowledge and time to rootle around in. In that way, the response period can pass by as later on the creators of the projects do not want to get caught by the protests organized by the local residents.  

This will weaken the initiatives of the citizens and deepens the mistrust from the people who will collectively take part in an action called NIMBY ("not in my backyard" - denying all the new developments – ed.). 

The reciprocity of the community is creating a troublesome situation for the authorities. A new vicious circle emerges from this situation. 

On a snow-less New Year's Eve, the giant hangars became a roller skating park. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Who owns northern Tallinn? 

Compared to the western world, there is a lot of apartment space under private ownership in Estonia. This is the main reason why there is no classical gentrification in Estonia as the wealthier population takes over the ownership of popular industrial areas. The value of all living space areas is increasing due to the popularity of the area. 

Ingmar Pastak with his colleagues have identified so-called soft displacement: "The new liberal community organizes Kalamaja päevad (Kalamaja Days) and it seems like several citizens make the neighborhood feel like their home. Residents who have lived here longer tend to interact more with the people as they try to make them feel at home as well. In the case of northern Tallinn, we could speak of symbolic exclusion." 

The products of the former factory are spread around the building. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The fact that the renewed Balti jaama turg still attracts an antisocial element is positive from the point of view of modern human geography. The more diverse the society is, the more cohesive the community can be, although the contrasts experienced can create the opposite feeling. 

According to Pastak, great companionship may not last forever as it reflects the community's identity. He said: "If coffee costs €3 or €4, the more longterm residents will definitely have a sense of change and may find out that they are no longer welcome in the area." 

Bees and rentable chickens also live in the community. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Utopia of Põhjala

There are already ten creative cities of different parts in northern Tallinn. The real estate developments have a significant taste of cultural components. There is also no shortage of industrial space to renovate for housing or business. These smaller and larger creativity spaces within settlements raise the average amount of the local population in terms of both levels of education and income. 

The presence of the Põhjala factory is still being defined and the future of the building is being created. Currently, there are investigations and research projects going on about the history of the complex and previous activists. This will help to tender the identity of Põhjala creativity. 

Although the creators of the complex have been trying to pump in a new feeling and vibe for years, visitors may feel they are walking around a territory that it is at its beginning. The enthusiasm of the young people seems limitless as they want to create a creative city which is successful and part of democracy citadel. 

Botik. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein

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