Russalka social space

The city of Tallinn has recently initiated a process to build a urban highway running along the eastern shore of the city. The main task of the road is to relieve the city from freight traffic generated by trucks coming and going to the harbour. At the same time the harbour authority is also going to relocate the long-term parking for trucks and lorries away from the city centre and repurpose these areas for residential and commercial uses. Moreover, the construction of the highway is expected to smooth the heavy traffic incoming from the north-eastern sprawling suburbs.

Many european cities are not only discouraging the construction of urban highways but they are demolishing and repurposing those transport infrastructures that cut through the city or that are built through and along natural features. In this case Tallinn has planned to build a urban highway that is both in the proximity with the urban core of the city and that will go through the most popular park in the city and built a concrete slab all along the coast, turning the current sandy beach into a motor road.

Politicians have claimed that building the road is reasonable because the beach is not formally a recreational area as the administration consideres it as wasteland. Claims are also made that building the road would not arm the community since the shore is mostly used for anti-social behaviours and there is not attachment to the place.

Illustration by Mari Hunt

As citizens and researchers in Tallinn, we wanted to disprove decision makers, using social media data to demonstrate that Russalka is a very active area and it has a strong meaning for all communities in Tallinn as this is a place of (p)leisure, sports and social life.

The area is used through all the seasons, not only during the summer for activities related to the beach. We read the presence of different ethnic communities, age groups and tourists as well as locals.

By looking at the pictures, we have witnessed not only that big amount of photographs depicting the area but also but users including both the natural elements and the monument in selfies and group portrait. This symbolises a very strong attachement to the area that only other districts such as the old town, the new tv tower and Telliskivi area have produced in Tallinn.

From the pictures it is evident that Russalka it is a community space. We observed that the majority of people came mostly in groups of pairs either to enjoy the scenery, doing sports, organise pic-nics, walking with their partners and kids or taking their pets outdoor. Most generally this is a place where people celebrates romance and friendship that very hardy is possible to relocate in other areas or produce through planning.

These observations are the results of a short study independently carried out by Kristi Grišakov and Damiano Cerrone with the tech support of Raul Kalvo and technologies developed by SPIN Unit as a quick reaction against the decisions taken in Tallinn. We are looking forward to produce more evidences through extended research if commissioned.

The Russalka beach is way more active than we expected however the social life of this place will be pushed away by the construction of the road. The new road will only preserve mobility and sports and not only it will harm the natural landscape that is the major resource for all the social activities but it will erect a new wall between the city and the seaside. As researchers we would like to see the municipality of Tallinn taking evidence-based decision rather than building arguments on personal speculations of the few decision makers involved. This is major decision to take, we need a major study to undertake.

The fundings available to the city of Tallinn can wait for better decisions because this road is not only going to affect traffic but it has a strong social and cultural impact on the communities. It’s not “just a road”. Russalka beach is the oldest public beach in Tallinn. Today it is also the only available sandy shore right next to the city centre with a great park on the side and we need to think about this place as a resource for socio-economical activities rather than a wasteland for a highway.

Pictures taken in Russalka beach per month