Lithuania-Poland-Russia ENPI Cross-border Co-operation Programme 2007-2013
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Ideas for a city screenplay

Artists from Gdansk and Kaliningrad participating in the international project „Close stranger” run by Klaipėda Culture Communication Center (KKKC) in cooperation with its partners will prepare and present public art projects in our port city. What should our city guests know about Klaipėda and what specific features of the city can serve as a launching point for creative ideas – these issues were discussed by KCCC director, art critic Ignas Kazakevičius and Chairman of the Board of Klaipėda branch of the Lithuanian Architects Association Vaidotas Dapkevičius.

Within the framework of the project run by the Baltic Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art (Kaliningrad, Russia) in cooperation with KCCC and the Centre for Contemporary Arts “Łaźnia” (Gdansk, Poland) Klaipėda will soon receive an art descent of artists in public spaces of the city. „I suppose the artists should not come with biased opinion and already prepared installation or performance, just having looked at Klaipėda pictures through „Google” search engine. At first, we invite them for a pilot visit”, – said I. Kazakevičius, who asked V. Dapkevičius for an outline of evolution of Klaipėda city, which could be referred to when preparing guidelines for the artists.

By I. Kazakevičius, architecture is the first thing that visitors notice when arrive to the city. Heritage lovers, for instance, would look for a city hall, some guests – for new buildings, other ones like squares and monuments. Art in public spaces can serve as a visual representation of certain issues that the city is concerned about. And it can also lose its core relevance, if being displayed on certain territory, which itself is not interesting.

Ignas Kazakevičius (I. K.): – some abstract phrases: „our cities”, „let’s turn to our city” are highly popular today. What do we mean – private or public interests? What does generate problems, form a city image, its peculiarity – private or public space? What can help making the city attractive – personal efforts of a community member or measures taken at institutional level? We would like to provide the artists with a list of Klaipėda places worth enlivening. Therefore, our aim – to analyse mutual invasion of public to private space and vice versa.

Vaidotas Dapkevičius (V. D.): – We should start from the concept of public space. In fact, it is being pulled like a blanket. Public space is both cybernetic, and physical. Speaking about the space referred by you, Ignas, it should be called public urban space of the city – in such a case it finds its place in the city structure.

I. K.: – And speaking about communities, should we integrate urban and public spaces?

V. D.: – First of all, they should be divided from each other, because you will have to assign space in the city and space for communication for the artists. Speaking about communities, relation between private and public for them is highly relevant. I happened to attend a lecture by one professor of urban planning and he mentioned that having calculated the number of public urban spaces of the city, a ratio between public and private spaces can be derived, which, according to him, allows describing identity of the city, evaluating its urban form in qualitative parameters. Careless approach should be avoided when trying to change the character of spaces. Just to mention the prospects of Atgimimo square in Klaipėda.

I. K.: – I would propose to make it our Hyde park – space for meetings.

V. D.: – It’s an issue for discussion. A square as an element of the city identification can be used to silence community and democracy, or to strengthen it. Do You know, how? You just need to change its type: it should be converted – by planting greenery or by other means – from a „city square” where meetings, gatherings can take place to a „garden square”, a park-type square. It will be very nice and cosy, but will not serve as a place for meetings and manifestations any more. The less public spaces, the less places for meetings. In this way, the nerve of the city community can be altered. I think the city should have as many as possible different types of spaces serving all major needs of an urban resident.

Speaking about relations between private and public spaces in Klaipėda, it should be noted that a major part of them was formed following free-planning principles, which reflected the post-war socialistic ideology, as if everything was common – both public and private, both a park and a square at the same time… The time proved unsoundness of this principle. People anyway want to identify themselves with a particular space, and the public-private relation makes impact on quality of life in the city. You can form a large private space, where people will not come to terms with each other.

There are numerous examples in the communities of houses built along the perimeter of the street, as, for example, at the former „Vaiva” cinema and along M. Mažvydas walkway. The residential quarter was built in the early post-war period and has a big closed yard in the middle, which as if pretend to the status of a private space. But I know from people who live there how difficult it is to strike a compromise in such a large community when deciding on issues of common importance. By making space smaller, the quality of scale can be gained, which could be defined not just by a distinct physical form, but also by number of residents. Sociologists would tell what size of a group is optimal to achieve a consensus. When this size is exceeded, people start splitting into smaller group, and the sense of community diminishes.

I. K.: – What are the differences between the residential quarter at „Vaiva” and traditional blocks of flats in Jūrininkų avenue?

V. D.: – the spaces at blocks of flats in Jūrininkų avenue were planned following so called free-design principles, and this type of space, as such, cannot be clearly structured into private and public at all. In case of houses at „Vaiva”, the public function naturally is „left” at the street side, and the inner yard is perceived and can be easily arranged as private space. Just try to do something similar in free-design pass-through yards … The city has prepared a lot of detail plans trying to make legal division of such spaces, to form separate land lots, however no solution has been achieved. Houses cannot be relocated, and efforts to organise the space by means of bureaucratic measures do not yield effective results. Small architectural forms do not help much either. Just some spaces do not resist to structuring and become a joining link of the community, while others do not.

I. K.: – What did give an impulse for formation of Klaipėda structure?

V. D.: – Speaking about the post-war Klaipėda, it was developing along with the port. Growth of the port resulted in growth of the city, that’s why it outstretches in a strip-like form along the lagoon. Extension of some part of the port was followed by its overland counterpart – a residential quarter. A trip home was faster than today. However, the potential of the port as a strong economic and financial stakeholder has not been employed to full extent in development of relations with the community. I suppose that former urban corridors could be restored in other form, as social and information channels; I would offer the companies operating in the port to pay more attention to adjacent areas, establishing relations with them, contributing to creative projects. Art projects are flexible, they do not require feasibility studies and bureaucratic procedures. Such experience would be interesting and useful also for the artists themselves, who could apply it in their own cities.

I. K.: – To what distance, in terms of geography, does the influence of the port extend?

V. D.: – In terms of communication, it’s usually said that 300 m is a distance one can walk without getting tired and without using a car. In Soviet times, when number of private vehicles was significantly less, cities were planned exactly in such a way. A shop, culture centre, library played a role of landmark – local residents needed to have a possibility to drop to a shop on the way home from the work and take a stroll home. It could be worth trying to revive these nuclei of the quarters, scenarios of patterns of movement of people.

I. K.: – Nowadays old patterns of movement of people have changed – new objects have emerged or former objects have lost their significance. It can be seen, let’s say, by advertising columns – many of them today seem as if out of their proper place, because people have changed patterns of their movement. On the other hand, what meaning does a guidebook have for city guests? A guidebook that offers a route with marked sightseeing objects?

V. D.: – Independent search and small discoveries seem much more attractive for human nature than following an instruction. Therefore, it’s much more interesting if one can catch the scenario of the city himself/herself, instead of walking by a map route. In this aspect, a challenge for the urban planning is to form a meaningful or inventive structure of urban signs, spaces and paths.

Written by Valerija Lebedeva