Kairi Tilga: National Library city space could be car-free and diverse

Kairi Tilga.
Kairi Tilga. Source: Johan-Paul Hion

If we could link the landmarks of democracy, the National Library and the Parliament, through developing a green, culturally diverse metropolitan area between these sites, this space could tell a story, educate and represent the values that matter to us, writes Kairi Tilga, the head of the non-governmental organization Estonian Cooperation Assembly.

ETV2 culture program "Kultuuristuudio. Arutelu" posed the question of whether we need more culture in our everyday public spaces. The subject was worthwhile since cultural issues are rarely addressed in our urban development debates.

We are still in the process of redistributing urban space, and the paradigm is shifting. Only when we make more space for people in the city, when it is safe and accessible, can we truly understand what a pleasant environment is and what could be seen in that space.

The revitalization of urban space through cultural memory, the role of cultural institutions in the formation of public space in neighborhoods, the development of communities, and seeing public space as a vehicle for cultural identity are not the concern for our current urban planners, architects, let alone politicians.

Helsinki Oodi (the city's central library) is located in the city center; the building's beautiful architecture and location are not, of course, coincidental. They are motivated by Finland's fundamental principles of liberty, openness, equality, education and culture. The space in front of the library is not a parking lot, but rather a place for all sorts of activities, with the national parliament building visible in the distance. It is a dense and diverse metropolitan environment, which creates the empathic city space. This was the subject that Helen Sooväli-Sepping, the urban geographer and editor-in-chief of the Estonian Human Development Report, brought up at the program.

As we look forward to the rebirth of the National Library of Estonia (Rahvusraamatukogu) building and its contents, one could only hope that, in addition to the interior of the building, the space in front of the building will also be brought into the 21st century. This would not be possible without car-free space in front of the National Library. The urban space in the front of this building is a matter of culture.

We would be able to connect to the Tõnismägi green area if we can direct cars and dangerous traffic away from the main entrance of the temple of democracy and culture, which offers exceptional opportunity for a city space rich in culture and memory. It is precisely this small green space that should be filled with stories and monuments, pleasant greenery and seating areas. A breathing space and a meeting place.

And, looking from above, the National Library and the space in front of it have a great natural connection with Toompea tänav, a street that embodies our democracy and freedom. If we could link these landmarks of democracy (the National Library and the Parliament), such an urban space could tell a story, educate and express in city space the values that are important to us.

A modern, empathetic and diverse urban space should not be only realized from the top down approach by architects and planners, but should also made by gradually encouraging simpler, experimental interventions that emerge from multiple interconnections, potentially resulting in spatial diversity.

Tallinn Literary Center in Kadriorg (Tallinna Kirjanduskeskus) and the Kalamaja Community Museum (Kalamaja muuseum) are two good examples. Tuning into the surrounding neighborhood (engaging and encouraging community participation), and bringing activities out into the street or larger public space benefits the cultural institution, the city and the people. Closing the main road leading to Kadriorg (Koidula tänav) to cars for the first time six years ago was a brave move, bringing literature (and still focusing on classics!) and culture to the street.

One of the best examples of empathetic and culturally sensitive space occurred through street art, exhibitions, light installations, music, theater, discussions, and city tours that translated the area's literary heritage into the language of space.

This type of public space is not limited to the city centers of Tallinn or Tartu. In the spatial identity of small towns, culture and tradition can be the most effective means of discovering one's own identity, fostering hometown pride, and discussing the city's ideals. To achieve this, bottom-up initiatives, one-day experiments, and collaborations must also be encouraged.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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