In the shadow of skyscrapers: social constructions of space in Snipiskes, Vilnius
(CUNY Graduate Center)
Paper short abstract:
This paper looks at the intersection of urban development, heritage preservation, and housing issues regarding the emergence of the new city center of Vilnius, Lithuania.
Paper long abstract:
Over the last decade, Vilnius has undergone dramatic urban redevelopment in an effort to project an attractive image of a modern, Western, and global capital. The glass and steel skyscrapers of the new city hall, office tower, and shopping center called "Europa," serve as emblems in the urban landscape affirming the country's successful 'transition' to a market economy and the EU. However, these dynamic transformations have also given rise to complex spatial contradictions marked by stark contrasts in the built environment. Just across the street from the new business district, a neglected quarter of 19th century wooden houses remains despite ambitious city plans to transform the area into a prestigious modern city center. This paper addresses the tensions arising from various actors' (local government authorities, heritage experts, cultural activists, residents) conceptualizations of this neighborhood of Šnipiškės that create an arena for negotiating and articulating values, identities and sensibilities of place. In particular, I focus on how post-Soviet economic and political transformations have affected the way residents of the wooden houses experience and perceive the spaces of their everyday lives. Caught between discourses of demolition and preservation, residents remain uncertain about the future of their homes as they compete for space amongst themselves and view the government's plans and promises with distrust. Although the financial crisis of 2008 dashed many people's hopes of selling property at peak prices, the lull in the construction boom has fostered new revaluations of place that celebrate autonomy and ways making-do.
Urban space under (re)construction: affective and economic geographies under rapid social change