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Endrik Mänd: Tallinn needs a chief architect

Endrik Mänd.
Endrik Mänd. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Former Tallinn chief architect Endrik Mänd, who served the Estonian capital in this capacity for 21 years, said it is essential that the city fill his former post. Tallinn's political leadership has taken over the role of explaining the city's development, however it is lacking a specialist's perspective, Mänd said in an appearance on "Otse uudistemajast" on Wednesday.

"In 2007, I presented a concept to [Tallinn City Council] regarding opening the city up to the seafront, and the results of this concept are only just now starting to be realized," Mänd said regarding the results of his work as city architect. "This could be considered a success."

He voluntarily resigned from the position in 2019, and is currently working as chief architect of the neighboring Viimsi Municipality.

The majority of his work as city architect was done by means of nudging, Mänd admitted. "Departments in Tallinn are relatively large and logistically and ideologically distinct," he said

Since his resignation several years ago, the City of Tallinn has not replaced him as chief architect, nor does it plan to.

"This is an interesting situation, because this position is incredibly necessary," he said. "One of my roles was communicating with the public — explaining the city's development from a specialist's point of view. This [role] has since been taken over by the city's political leadership, but these views differ. What is needed is views that complement one another."

Nonetheless, the city's former longtime chief architect said that Tallinn's public space is developing in the right direction.

"The changes aren't as rapid as we'd like," he acknowledged. "In the long-term perspective, the city is on the right track toward being a good urban space for all age groups. More equal attention is being paid to various groups than ten years ago. A side effect of that, however, is polarization between car drivers and other road users."

With the building of bike paths in Tallinn, it was evident that the public space was being shared between weaker groups.

"Relatively few [cyclists] went on vehicular roads; they continued to stick to sidewalks, although the difference in speed of movement between pedestrians and cyclists is much bigger than between cyclists and cars," he said, adding that this hurts pedestrians' safety. "This has been learned from, however. There are better solutions in the bastion zone and along Rannamäe tee."

Mänd noted that in an urban space, danger and safety are two different things.

"Danger is the physical world — let's separate people so they don't pose a danger to one another," he explained. "Safety is behavioral; it's a situation in which trust exists in one's fellow road user. Cyclists are right when they say that [cycling] in Tallinn is dangerous. What's crucial is increasing the safety of more vulnerable groups of people, like mothers with their children."

A lot of large old trees in Tallinn are taken down when new roads, including new bike paths, are built, and this bothers city residents.

"This is a fundamental issue and it's good that this issue has been raised," the ex-official said. "It is customary in Tallinn for removed greenery to be replaced. It's actually extremely important to understand that this replacement won't replace the old tree, which has adapted with the environment as well as provides shade and binds dust and carbon dioxide, which these young trees won't do for another ten years yet. We don't only have to consider the urban space from a future perspective; rather, people should shape themselves in accordance with existing urban nature."

Mänd described a case of urban design he'd seen in Austria, where a big tree was left growing in the middle of a street.

"We have to take such tailored solutions into account more," he said. "With this discussion we've taken one step closer toward it, as at some point it will reach city leaders too. Of course, city leaders in turn depend on whether or not people vote for them, so [people] have to influence their representatives on these issues."

Listening even now to what city leaders are saying, they aren't objecting verbally to environmentally friendly ideas, the former longtime city architect noted.

"It's evident in Tallinn, however, that political governance doesn't reach the level of a specialist who makes a decision," he continued. "These goals are not reaching all the way down to the bottom. Each department is doing its own thing and not every issue reaches the center, creating for an enjoyable urban space for people."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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