AK Nädal: How can Tallinn city center be made more culture-friendly?

Freedom Square.
Freedom Square. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The opposition to the extension of the Estonian National Opera and the Tartu Center City Culture Center has raised questions about the place of culture in a modern city.

At the beginning of last week, the Riigikogu's culture committee announced the list of cultural objects of national importance, the construction of which could be supported by the Cultural Endowment. The four chosen projects were Tartu Center City Culture Center, Narva Kreenholm Culture Quarter "Manufaktuur", Arvo Pärt's Music House and annex of the Estonian National Opera, ETV weekly news show "AK.Nädal" reported on Sunday.

There are theaters, cinemas, galleries, museums and libraries in the Tallinn City Center. But when was the last time, a new culture building with modern solutions was built in the city center?

Business buildings are built without much noise, but the need for cultural buildings, however, has created heated disputes. Where is the place for culture - in the heart of the city or in the suburbs? And what happens when culture leaves the center city?

City strategist Pärtel Peeter Pere said Tallinn is a warning story on an international level of what happens with the space in the city center when there are no cultural institutions.

"For example, the rent prices in the Saarin house (building on Pärnu Street built by architect Eliel Saarinen in 1912 - ed. ) than in Telliskivi. That's because the city government has developed the city center for magistrals and the result is that people don't feel safe there, there are not enough functions and it's unpleasant," Pere said.

Rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts, architectural historian Mart Kalm said that the city center works when different functions meet in one place.

"It should not be just government agencies, or office landscape or trading. All of it - culture, life, business, bureaucracy - must meet in the city center, because it ensures the vibration of life," Kalm said.

AK said that Estonians like to compare Estonia with neighboring countries, especially the Nordic countries.

"If we look at public space in Estonia and the Nordic countries more broadly, we can say that our northern neighbors are more culture-friendly. Let's take the Finns - public libraries have been a big part of Finnish urban space and culture," Pere said.

The neighbor of the Ood library is the Helsinki Music Hall on one side, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art on the other, and the new Amos Rex Museum across the square.

Stockholm Central Square offers cultural experiences with Kulturhuset with a theater, exhibition and cinema halls, a children's library and playrooms.

Architect Andrus Kõresaar said that the place of public space is the heart of the city and could be the seafront.

"The seafront could be the place where people meet and the buildings are open. If we look at other cities that have developed their own seafront, Oslo is a great example. 10-20 years ago the seafront was confusing, there were ports, industry, technology, etc. Currently, the Oslo Opera House is a very attractive building with a lot of activities, both in front of the house and on the roof, and as you walk along the seafront promenade there are cafes, bars, some open ships and art museums," Kõresaar said.

Ignar Fjuk, the former head of the Tallinn City Planning Department, would also be happy to see the seafront as the location of the Estonian Opera House.

As long as it is planned and discussed how to better open Tallinn to the sea, the developers will be able to build the houses full. Instead of spending time culturally, the developer is interested in the abundance of apartments and square meters.

But there are also good examples of creating a public space by the sea which are run by private capital. Whether we are talking about the Noblessner district, the Seaplane Harbour or the Paterei region.

Cultural institutions are not the only yardstick of a functioning city, but they do show something. Where there is something to do and to see, there people spend time and money.

"We can see how the cultural life or cultural geography of Tallinn has actually changed. North Tallinn has emerged much more and the traditional city center is still suffering from development shortcomings," said Mart Kalm.

"What is the city center, what is the heart of the city? Is it the old town? Is it the place where the main street was supposed to come? Or is it Telliskivi? Noblessner?" Pere asked.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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