Baltic Urban Lab tests new methods for sustainable regeneration of industrial sites

The Baltic Urban Lab partner cities are all faced with different challenges when it comes to brownfield regeneration of industrial sites, ranging from soil contamination and old traffic infrastructure to complex ownership structures and cultural heritage limitations. The aim is to find new and collaborative ways to develop these often attractively located sites in a sustainable manner, replacing industrial activity with lively and dynamic neighbourhoods and urban spaces.

Large potential in developing brownfield sites

“The Baltic Urban Lab is about promoting sustainable land use,” says Research Fellow Sandra Oliveira e Costa. She leads Nordregio’s work on the Baltic Urban Lab, a project which is co-financed by Interreg Europe and Interreg Central Baltic. “Using the hard surfaces of brownfield sites for development is a smart and resource-effective way of using land. As these sites are often centrally located, developing them is also attractive from an economic perspective.”

The Baltic Urban Lab pilot sites include the Inner Harbour in Norrköping, where port activities, warehouses and heavy traffic will make way for an attractive mixed-use waterfront area; a site in Turku that is centrally located but divided into two by railway tracks, and the Mūkusalas street in the Historic Centre of Riga, which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as well as a world heritage site in Tallinn.

“We focus on the early planning phase,” says Oliveira e Costa. “Many cities are developing ideas for temporary and long-term use of brownfield sites, but the challenge is that they may not have any formalised processes in place for the development. Our aim is to establish Public-Private-People partnerships that include local authorities, land and property owners, private developers and the local community in the planning and transformation of these sites.”

Temporary use and local involvement

In Tallinn, the pilot site conjoins an old industrial site and the world heritage protected Skoone Bastion and adjacent park. According to Anu Leisner of the City of Tallinn, the heritage protection presents both an opportunity and challenge for developing the site.

“It’s a very attractive location close to the Port of Tallinn, one of the key entry points to the city,” says Leisner. “However, the site is underused and needs to be transformed into a beautiful urban space that can be enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. The heritage listing is great for promoting the area, but it also restricts us from building anything permanent at the protected site.”

The strategy for the revitalisation therefore focuses in part on ideas for temporary uses that bring art and cultural activities into the public realm. Students from the Estonian Academy of Arts have been invited to contribute to the idea generation and planning process.

“The students will be involved in developing temporary pavilions and other installations that will allow them to bring their art projects out into the urban space for public enjoyment. It’s a good example of the broad involvement that the Baltic Urban Lab promotes.”

New planning methods and technologies

During the course of the project, the cities have organised workshops addressing some of the main challenges of brownfield development. In Norrköping, around 40 participants discussed different methods for soil remediation at the severely contaminated Inner Harbour site. The city is using 3D technology to visualise the contamination.

“Where the soil is relatively clean, we’ll excavate it and reuse the soil if possible,” says Fredrik Wallin, Project Coordinator at Norrköping Municipality. “In the most polluted areas, we’ll be testing a new technology combining excavation and heat treatment, using electrical heaters to heat the soil to more than 100˚C. This will burn up the most of the coal-based contaminants and oil residue.”
The soil decontamination process is the first step in creating a sustainable inner city area at the site.

“We want the site to belong to everyone and not just the people living there,” Wallin says, adding that this can be achieved by mixing different types of housing, offering a variety of leisure facilities and providing sustainable transport options that connect the neighbourhood with the rest of the city.

“Building apartments is easy,” he says. “Planning for a successful mixed-use area, however, is more complicated and requires close collaboration between the city, public and private companies, NGOs and local residents.”

(1)Photo by Kristiina Paju

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