We have undertaken an ambitious task. To clarify in a short period of time how a city is planned. Which parties use what kind of instruments to make decisions concerning Tallinn? And as if the task itself wasn’t complex enough, we have also gathered comparative data from Helsinki, Riga, Copenhagen, Vilnius, Prague and Zurich. It is a crash course for us as well as for the people responsible for the various parts of the future research.
In selecting the sample, we considered cities comparable to Tallinn in size and recent history, but also some very different cities exemplary for other reasons. In practice, it means that we were in contact with various local practitioners, city officials, activists and theoreticians. We spoke with people, not institutions. We attempted to make our questions straightforward and understand what the success stories and problem areas in the given cities are. We asked if the planning of the given cities has been based on same wider visions. If there is some kind of a social contract in writing on how the city will develop and how the development will be gradually executed in various stages. We went to the offices of city architects to see what their daily work is like. What is the number of people working together with the city architect and what is his wider role in the society. The given discussions have largely been frank and personal. There has been little so-called official information. This allowed the interviewees to remain true to their opinions and also express criticism of the great success stories. We attempt to reveal the regulations and procedures behind the scenes that provide the city development with its framework, direction and ambition.
As we were probing the situation, we attempted to see and comprehend what the good living environment means in the 21st century and how to achieve it, what can be learned from whom, who are the important actors in the process of urban change and how they contribute. It turns out that the guiding principle of liveable Tallinn is, in fact, controversial – on the one hand, the concept of “the most liveable city” seems truly noble and attractive, on the other hand, the downside was described by Canadian architect Leonard Ma at the workshop “The Unfinished City” organised at the Faculty of Architecture. Originally from Vancouver, which is considered one of the most liveable cities graded high in various ‘liveable cities’ ranking lists, Leonard claimed that the downside of the given title is that due to the increased property prices, the locals cannot keep up with the pace and need to move. And the city is affordable only for the international business elite. For instance, the ranking table of the most liveable cities compiled by Mercer is primarily aimed at large corporations for smarter labour distribution. Then again, it would be absurd to claim that a liveable city is a bad goal, as there is nothing inherently wrong in the increase of property value. Quite the contrary. The question is how to create this value in the urban space in a stable and sustainable manner and not as an image-building project (to compare, the stable city of Zurich is ranked the second, while the brashly growing Dubai is ranked the 74th and Tallinn 89th in the table).
We have gathered and analysed a vast amount of material characterising the cities which allows us to compare the density and structure of living environments, the presence and structure of nature, transport networks and border areas, and to highlight the respective measurable and numeric data with the possible (in case of some cities, quite specific) future plans. In the course of the research, the analysis of the cities soon made it clear that the planning practices mainly differ from each other in nuances. Therefore, it would be reasonable to discuss and describe the cities through an overview of the discussions we had.