When we think about places that we have visited or we would like to return to, we tend to recall good memories, new ideas, experiences and various people who we have met there. We rarely remember how quickly we could pass the place or how smooth the traffic was. The Car-Free Avenue in Tartu this summer was just this kind of impetus to such good memories. In Estonia, we came through the emergency situation in spring with relative ease thanks to the state’s good digital infrastructure. Life did not halt completely, merely moved to a different space. However, staying in a digital space has a strong impact on our social behaviour and democratic culture, it isolates, polarises opinions and pulls social groups apart. For the given reason, public spaces play a highly important role in maintaining our mental and physical health. A good public space brings the society together again. A good public space provides cities with their value and point – diversity.
The Car-Free Avenue was a myth-breaking project. Myths were broken about cars as the only possible means of transport, Estonians keeping to themselves and countryside as the only possible holiday destination. Closing the excessively wide and seemingly important traffic area to vehicles and opening it to pedestrians and cyclists, activities and events underscored the true urban values. The curious spatial displacement introduced to the streetscape – the right to stay in the middle of the road – was a completely new context for all kinds of planned as well as spontaneous events.
The elements were constructed pursuant to the 2+2 distancing rule: the outdoor element modules were kept at least two meters apart to engrave the distance in our mind. The furniture created on this principle provided the users with suitable tools to create their spatial experience. The ideas realised in the Car-Free Avenue are directly related to the ambitions of the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 to move towards a sustainable future inspired by the slogan “The Arts of Survival”.
Text: Tõnis Arjus