Planning History Society

The story of "ugly duckling". The run-down slum that survived the socialist system of government has turned to desirable residential area

Nele Nutt, Mart Hiob, Sulev Nurme

The paper introduces a small Estonian wooden housing district in Tartu called Supilinn. Supilinn is unusual because, unlike other wooden neighbourhoods in Estonia (mostly created in the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century) Supilinn has existed within its limits since at least the 17th century making it the oldest preserved residential area outside city centres. Located next to the city centre of Tartu, directly behind the previous city wall, Supilinn, due to its location has transferred from a run-down suburb to one of the more desirable residential areas of today. Even the original structure of the main streets has remained untouched and many of the buildings date from the 19th-20th centuries and are preserved in their entirety. The district has been gradually built through several hundred years, that makes in unique both in Estonia but also in Europe, and its value will only increase with time passing. Its uniqueness makes it worthy to be submitted for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

While during the Soviet occupation (1940-1941, 1944-1991) there were certain plans to demolish the whole district, it is still almost entirely preserved. The district was not caught by the wind of modernism leading to irreversible changes, which has wiped out many other similar neighbourhoods. The Soviet-era poverty preserved its suburban authenticity as, unlike for example Finland, where wooden parts of the city have been refurbished, the Soviet Union had simply no funds for investment. With the arrival of the market economy, the district has become a very desirable area, which has been under strong pressure for construction and development in last ten years.

The paper presents the rise of this once unpopular district with related successes and pains. An overview of the architectural, planning and social values is given, and discussion on how to preserve those values is presented. The main question is how to break the gentrification processes before the pleasant environment is exchanged with new glamour. The interests of different groups (residents, city government, real estate companies) and their plans for the future are also presented. The thorough research conducted in the district in recent years provides an excellent opportunity for combined analysis of different aspects (architectural, cultural, social, economic etc.). Scientific as well as practical works provide a good foundation for sustainable planning for the future of the district. This is an excellent example because it is a neighbourhood, where valuable aspects have been changed, but where the third sector has organised itself to deliberately stop or at least delay the gentrification processes. The paper provides an overview of how the third sector has managed this undertaking. Will the ugly duckling always become a beautiful swan, or can the ducking, after growing up, still remain a duckling at heart.

The presented case is an example of growing activity of the third sector in Estonia. Supilinn Society has been continuously active for 10 years and has been a role model for other similar neighbourhood societies in Tartu (Karlova Society), in capital city Tallinn (Uus Maailm Society, Telliskivi Society, Kalamaja Society, Pirita Society) and other Estonian towns (in Pärnu Raeküla Society et al). Nowadays, municipal governments treat societies more and more as partners.