Like in most other Eastern and Central European countries and societies making up the vast post-Soviet area, public urban spaces in Lithuania in general, and its capital city Vilnius in particular, underwent significant spatial and symbolic transformations during the last quarter of a century since the spectacular break from the Soviet Union.
And yet, despite the fact that two and a half decades have passed since the end of the infamous Soviet era, a large number of public spaces in Vilnius to this very day remain a kind of ‘black hole’ in the capital’s urban topography, making its present urban culture highly questionable.
Usually one might expect to find abandoned, unattended, ghost-like urban voids somewhere on the city’s margins or in its remotest outskirts, but examining recent urban developments in Vilnius, one finds quite the opposite is true – shapeless and almost defunct public squares are situated in the capital’s central areas, stripped of their former ideological signs and symbols for good but without the acquisition of any new content, form, or meaning.
Some of them have been neglected and misused for such a long period that today they sometimes look like dangerous places one should avoid as soon as sunset approaches, and in fact some of them are.
Distasteful graffiti covering these shapeless abandoned urban wastelands seems to cry out for adequate municipal care, sufficient public funds, and large scale communal movement directed towards reviving and refurbishing the areas of urban publicness.
These spaces seem to signify a partial failure of state and municipal policies in dealing with the urban legacy of the Soviet era, and are reproachful visual manifestations arguing for an urgent need of insightful urban design in order to breathe new life into some of these gloomy and sometimes even scary territories that embed numerous controversies and the failures of the ‘frozen’ transitory period.
The situation, however, is not without hope, as some of the squares and parks in Vilnius center and the Old Town have been successfully revived during the last decade, especially in those unfortunately not very numerous cases where the authors of redesign projects gave some thought to their new civic functions and uses, aesthetic qualities, and last but not least – chose to pay homage to the phenomenon of genius loci, otherwise known as the spirit of place.
Read full article in the LITUANUS (LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES): The Genius Loci, Public Spaces and Transformations of Vilnius’ Urban Milieu