"We create conditions for people to spend a time in public space making things together"
Jekaterina Lavrinec will participate in the New Europe City Makers Summit on May 27-30 2016. Find out more about the programme and register below.
While a neighbourhood is a body, urban/public spaces are the heart. These centres create different contexts to engage their inhabitants to cooperate, participate, get to know each other, work together inspiring and building sustainable-livable neighbourhoods. But to perform this task it is important to find a way to regenerate these places and “create conditions” to make them attractive. Jekaterina (Co-founder and curator) told us about some initiatives Laimikis is implementing to achieve this goal. Learn about Laimikis and meet Jekaterina Lavrinec.
What is the role of Laimikis?
Laimikis is an interdisciplinary platform for urban research, participatory art initiative, non-formal learning and activism. We develop solidarity networks through cooperative actions in public spaces which turn transitive or forgotten spots into shared places. We use participatory art or participatory design approaches, that means, we create conditions for people to spend a time in public space making things together.
One of our first glocal initiatives was Burbuliatorius (“Bubble your city”) event that starting from 2009 takes place in public spaces in more than 20 cities worldwide every second Monday in summertime, bringing people together just to make soap bubbles. This simple yet joyful urban ritual revitalises public spaces, creates shared emotional experience and creates conditions for people to meet and develop new initiatives.
While taking an active part in revitalisation of the public space, the participants deepen their knowledge about how the public space work, what does it need to be liveable place. Last summer we proposed the group of architects to arrange an open square workshop in cooperation with the participants of the soap bubble event. It is important to provide the users of the space with the tools to visualise their ideas about the space, and it can prompt new solutions to the architects. This format of cooperation can be inspiring for both sides and is instrumental in developing some common language for mutual understanding (it is one of the urgent needs in Lithuanian context).
Four years ago our organisation started working with the neighbourhoods, focusing on the development of public spaces and networks of mutual trust and help. One example is reflected in our work in Šnipiškės.
A historical wooden neighbourhood is located next to the expanding skyscrapers area. The redevelopment pressure brought insecurity to the residents for decades. To empower the local residents we started developing a public space in the neighbourhood. By applying a set of tools for formal and informal communication, open creative workshops and cooperative activities, we built a local network of trust, encouraged residents to take part in revitalisation of the public space, and provided local leaders with the communication platforms. It is important to arrange the local interconnections in the way they would work when you switch to the next activity. Some of my colleagues call it “a tactics of exit”. That is why for community developer it is important to keep a role of the assistant, reserving the role of leader to the local people. Now community gained its voice and this year people of the neighbourhood initiated a preparation of a new detailed plan for the area.
Street Mosaic Workshop is one of the first initiatives that we have launched in the wooden neighbourhood. Drawing upon the fact, that in previous times the district was known for its ceramic workshops, we started decorating unused electric poles and facades with ceramics, inviting passers-by to join. This open-air activity was helpful in building a network of trust: meeting each regularly, the participants started sharing new ideas for further activities. As a result of the workshop, a street mosaic route in the neighbourhood was developed. Two years after we created an urban orientation game Urbingo in which we included some elements of this mosaic route.
Public spaces play a great role in community building: they are places for social contacts. We chose one of several municipal plots for community gatherings. One of the solutions we developed for this space was mobile typographic furniture. Mobile furniture provides more possibilities for its users. So we sought for the technical solution that would keep these letters stable yet light.
Urban furniture can be instrumental not only as a placemaking tool, but also as a research tool. Last year, with a support of European Cultural Foundation, we have initiated a series of co-design workshops in four Vilnius neighbourhood. The idea was to provide people of the neighbourhood with the flexible tool for placemaking, that could fit various needs. As a basis a tetris-like set was developed and produced in cooperation with the makers-space “Padirbtuvės”. While co-design workshops took place in different neighbourhoods bringing together the makers and the residents. The residents choose whether they need drawers or not, whether they need concrete cubes attached for safety or do they prefer to keep it more mobile. As a result, in each neighbourhood four different configuration of the furniture were developed.
Šnipiškės was one of the neighbourhood where the furniture set was co-designed. In a week or two after the urban furniture was arranged, swings and some sport facilities were arranged nearby by the local eldership in cooperation with the local community. I call this phenomenon an “echo-effect”: if you start arranging objects in public space, and they work right, the initiative will be continued by the local residents. Four years ago this place was just an empty field, but now it has become a community space and has got its non-official name – a Dragon’s field – which is used by media and municipal workers as well.
It is important to get a response and support from the people living in the neighbourhood on the very early stage of the activities. In each neighbourhood there are natural leaders and creative people, sometimes all you need is just to bring them together.
How is the initiative organised administratively and financially?
We seek for sustainable solutions, which may last and could be run easily by the participants after we switch to other activities. That means, that usually we search for low-cost materials and models, which do not need big investments.
We have three financial sources: European projects, 2% donation which Lithuanian tax payers can make for NGOs, payment for the services like workshops and lectures (in creativity and alternative media, inclusive urban development, participatory arts) and organisation of the events. We save the money for the development and implementation of new solutions. As there is a continuous request for the products that Laimikis group has developed we also see it as a financial source for our activities. I’m also interested in trying the crowdfunding model.
How is the relationship of the initiators with the institutional context like the local municipality, corporations, business sector, etc. ?
The models of cooperation between municipality and various stakeholders is exactly what we need. There is a gap between institutional decision-making (what must be done) and tactical knowledge (how to do that). To develop forms of cooperation with municipality and stakeholders we have launched annual Co-urbanism event in cooperation with our Belarusian partners, Minsk Urban Laboratory. The aim of this event is to create conditions for mutual dialogue between those who are involved in city making process on various levels.
What kind of obstacles did Laimikis face up?
In Lithuania case it is the absence of models of cooperation between institutional level of decision-making and tactical knowledge (how to develop public spaces, how to engage communities). Municipality workers and urban practitioners need to transfer the practical knowledge (what keep public spaces alive, how to arrange liveable public space) to the strategic models. I guess, that the question of “translation” of the practical knowledge and micro-perspective to the strategical models is actual for other city makers as well.