Tallinn wants to invite businesses to Old Town to revitalize district

Tallinn Old Town is a popular tourist destination.
Tallinn Old Town is a popular tourist destination. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Tallinn's Old Town is gradually turning into a so-called tourist ghetto where locals have no business. The city government believes the area's living environment could be improved by limiting Airbnb apartments and offering rental space to companies the historical district needs.

Tallinn Old Town is home to 2,300 people today. Researchers believe the district's population hasn't been this low since right after the Great Northern War and the plague.

Not just residents, but agencies as well seem to be leaving the area. For example, the building that currently houses the Ministry of Agriculture will be left vacant from next year. Tallinn's plan of creating a new school there has failed, and the building will be put up for auction instead.

The Estonian Museum of National History will also leave the Old Town once the Environmental House (Keskkonnamaja) is completed. The Finnish Institute, located at Harju tänav for the past few decades, recently moved to the Põhjala Factory.

"Tallinn Old Town has increasingly become a tourist area. We do not cater to tourists, and while there are cultural venues for locals, such as museums and galleries, we have been meeting elsewhere recently, said Hannele Valkeeniemi, head of the Finnish Institute in Estonia.

Valkeeniemi said that diversity is important for cities to avoid the appearance of ghettos, whether industrial or tourist ones. "A friend of mine told me long ago that they do not want to go and see other tourists when I proposed a tour of the Old Town," she remarked.

"The value of the Old Town does not lie in these buildings but rather the culture, residents and jobs in the area. This diversity should be maintained lest it becomes a theme park where people come to watch beautiful old buildings," Tallinn Deputy Mayor Joosep Vimm said.

He said that the Old Town has a lot of short-term rental apartments, while other cities' experience suggests that too many of those tend to cause life to wither in city centers. The city has a plan to invite businesses to move to the Old Town in an effort to retain life in the area.

"At least as concerns the city's own rental spaces, we should try and determine whether we can curate what type of enterprise we want to see here, which types of businesses we see are missing from the Old Town," Vimm said.

Local residents do not take kindly to reports from the Old Town only concentrating on how it's emptying. While it is believed only the wealthy can afford to live in the area, a lot of ordinary families have taken up residence and there is an active community organization.

"I believe more new residents will come as space becomes available. Nature cannot abide an empty space," Old Town resident Siim Susi said.

He believes the Old Town has everything one needs. "I find it an ideal [living] environment. It's a one-minute walk to work, five minutes to take the kids to school or kindergarten," he said, adding that it would be good if more young families moved to the Old Town.


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Editor: Barbara Oja, Marcus Turovski

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