Car-free Avenue 2021 opens, but questions raised over environmental impact

Fans watching the European Championship 2020 final football match on Car-Free Avenue on July 11, 2021.
Fans watching the European Championship 2020 final football match on Car-Free Avenue on July 11, 2021. Source: Silver Gutmann.

Tartu's Car-Free Avenue opened for the second year in a row on Friday and can be visited until the start of August. While the event proved popular last year, some people believe the location is wrong, ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported.

Car-Free Avenue takes place on the four-lane Vabaduse puiestee which runs alongside the Emajõgi river through the center of Tartu. A section of the street has been shut for a month, giving more city space to residents.

Until the start of August, there will be concerts, screenings and workshops on Car-Free Avenue and there will also be cafes, food trucks, a pool, playground and climbing frame.

Tartu city architect Tõnis Arjus told AK on Saturday: "The urban space we see here on a normal day, which is a four-lane asphalt road by the Emajõgi, is definitely not a modern public space that we want to see by the Emajõgi in the future. And with this project we are actually experimenting with the future."

This year, more emphasis has been placed on environmental issues and visitors can only eat from reusable dishes. The British Embassy has also sponsored an exhibition on a similar theme.

But not everyone is happy. As the road is closed to cars, vehicles have been diverted and critics question the choice of location, the environmental impact of the project and accessability to the city center.

Vladimir Šokman (Center), a member of Tartu Council, told AK that the diversion may cause more emissions due to queuing traffic. "Can we seriously say that this is a green project?" he asked. 

Car-Free Avenue visitor Agneeta told AK: "It's not especially nice that they close this place. It's important to get to Town Hall Square and with children, and if the child has mobility problems, it's much harder."

Arjus said there is always criticism, but looking at last year's event, which saw more than 150,000 visits, the experiment is justified. However, the city has no plans to permanently close the street.

Peep Mardiste, an expert of the Estonian Green Movement, said it would be nice to see a longer-term commitment.

"I think it would be much more sensible to take up the asphalt, to make a park here. To plant trees and bushes here, make playgrounds, outdoor cafes, maybe have one road for the bus or ambulance. Or another option is to build the cultural center here instead of the street," he said.

Another visitor Andres told AK: "I think it's a very good idea. I liked it last year and like it this year as well."


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Editor: Helen Wright

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