Photo: Barlova's Facebook page
Friday, 11 September 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 36 2020 - Vincent Teetsov
In March, the City Government of Tallinn proposed a regulation that would prohibit the retail sale of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption “on the nights before Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 2AM through 6AM and in the nights before Saturday and Sunday, from 3AM through 7AM.”
Casinos and night clubs would have a similar regulation, with timing shifted one hour later. According to the City Government website, “Restrictions would not apply on the night before January 1st, February 25th and June 24th.”
Originally, the regulation was due to start on October 1st. Now, it is reported to be potentially postponed until 2021. The motivations behind the regulation are “to improve public order, well-being and public health, values of young people, ensure the integrity of the home, balance the rights and interests of stakeholders and preserve the value of Tallinn as a tourist destination.”
Having been a point of discussion with the city's government for two years, this change was part of a conversation at Tallinn Music Week on August 28th, at the event titled “Gentrification and urban planning: how to develop and sustain a diverse live music scene.”
During this virtual event, the concept of gentrification was first mentioned with regard to New York's Lower East Side, as inhabited by punk rock figures such as Patti Smith. Gentrification is typically characterized by the “creative class” seeking low rent housing in neighbourhoods with predominately working-class residents, eventually being followed by investors and developers who buy property, renovate/rebuild, and raise the cost of living as a result. It's a sensitive issue because, although from one angle it would seem that neighbourhoods are becoming more affluent, the long-term process prompts low-income residents to leave.
Gentrification in Estonia has at least external similarities to other parts of the world. In the early 19th century, the demand for housing was met with the construction of tenement districts, in the form of wooden residential buildings, which can be found in neighbourhoods such as Karlova in Tartu and Kalamaja in Tallinn. Along with former industrial buildings, they withstood the neglect of the Soviet era and have become popular with small businesses, trendy bars, creative firms, and restaurants. These amenities are even more accessible if you live in one of the nearby charming wooden properties; and cheap rental prices compared to the centre of town (for example, the Old Town) drew people in. Amid the excitement over an affordable, new place to live, there are still community issues that need work, such as helping those without housing or who struggle with substance abuse.
After decades of enduring through a stagnant economy and stifled entrepreneurship, the eagerness for change in Estonian cities makes a lot of sense. It isn't fair to vilify anyone who jumped on the investment opportunities of Estonia's up-and-coming neighbourhoods.
Equally, in the upcoming years of urban planning and action, long-term residents and cultural anchors of urban communities need to be heard at the meeting table. Henri Roosipõld, the head of Live Music Estonia and a figure on the panel, described how, at first, casinos and bars were part of the dialogue about the regulation, but live music venues weren't. They had to push for their chance to be there.
What can be done to address the past and future of Estonia's urban areas? And what does gentrification and this new regulation have to do with live music?
In principle, reduced alcohol consumption would benefit public health. Beyond this, though, one of the overarching troubles in this pursuit of urban virtue is the way it portrays music venues as loud, dangerous purveyors of unwanted behaviour. In the end, the cultural figures that were attracted by low rents could become pushed out themselves, leading to the disintegration of cultural scenes and venues where people felt at home. The event's panel used Helsinki as an unfortunate example of lost venues.
However, the city of Helsinki is working to heal this through the recent appointment of a Night Liaison. This Liaison, or “Night Mayor” on more informal terms, happened to be the moderator of the event, Salla Vallius. Vallius is one of several Night Mayors present in cities across the world, including Amsterdam, New York, and San Francisco. In December 2019, Michael Thompson was appointed the city of Toronto's first Night Economy Ambassador.
Each city has a different personality and needs. But maybe more cities, including Tallinn and Tartu, could benefit from a Night Mayor to interpret between the government and key cultural and community representatives.
Written by Vincent Teetsov