Tallinn has made a rough plan for the development of Putukaväil, a 13 km long linear park, a corridor for biodiversity, green mobility, and public space. Partnered with different stakeholders in the city, Tallinn is gradually transforming the area in a way that truly adds value to the inhabitants of Tallinn by using “tactical urban planning” – an approach to test out urban planning solutions on a small scale before making big investments in the long-term.
Human beings have an intrinsic need to be surrounded by nature, but rapid urbanisation puts natural habitats in the city under pressure. Innovative ways to preserve and plan natural habitats within the city are needed.
The area now commonly known as the Pollinator Highway of Tallinn – Putukaväil in Estonian – was previously a 50-metre-wide high-voltage power line and former railway corridor. The power lines are in a restricted zone, there are no buildings and wild meadows have taken over. As power lines are being transferred to underground cables, the remaining vacant land has new-found potential for developing multifunctional green public spaces.
The Pollinator Highway spans a total of 13.5 kilometres passing through and connecting different urban and natural environments including industrial areas with city forests, meadows with brownfields and Soviet-time panel housing districts with garden districts. Some of the areas it runs through are teeming with wildlife, already. Improving and increasing biodiversity in other areas poses a challenge.
Studies conducted by entomologists at the University of Tartu have proven that most of this linear space functions as a pollinator corridor, already providing habitat for 42 different butterfly species and 22 bumblebee species. However, the studies showed that the sections of the corridor vary in biodiversity value. While the Astangu section, for example, is a so-called hotspot for rare and protected pollinator species, in the Kadaka section pollinator diversity is next to none. The aim is to improve that.
The second aim of the Pollinator Highway project is to improve the environment for people in a new and innovative way by providing better conditions for green mobility as well as opportunities for recreational activities traditionally associated with country-living such as gardening, hiking, and observing nature all year round.
The Pollinator Highway project has been a placemaking project of remarkable success. Joining communities and creating a sense of ownership has been more successful than expected.
New community groups have emerged along the Pollinator Highway, such as a community garden called Pelguaed. People have started questioning the status quo, some residents have demanded that the local municipality mows grasslands less and assures that no animals—hedgehogs for example—are harmed during the process. This shows a new emerging mindset.
What did the city do?
The concept of the Pollinator Highway has been developed with the support of two European Union projects. Both the Augmented Urbans (2018-2020) and the B.Green (2020-2022) projects are funded by the EU Interreg Central Baltic Programme, which supports cross-border cooperation, sustainable urban mobility, and cohesive communities. Currently, the Tallinn partners are Forum Virium Helsinki and the Stockholm Environmental Institute Tallinn Centre.
During the process, the city has initiated cooperation with different stakeholder groups such as landowners, locals and NGOs to map interests and topics that need to be addressed.
Steps taken so far include:
- Cooperating with the University of Tallinn in defining main target groups and assessing the existing situation within target groups
- Crowdsourcing conducted via digital platforms as well as in physical workshops to gather valuable input from the residents and other stakeholders
- An anthropological study among the residents to involve difficult-to-reach stakeholder groups
- Pollinator (bumblebees, butterflies, solitary bees) and vegetation studies
- Drafting a general concept for the Pollinator Highway that addresses spatial interruptions, coherence of spaces and different identities of spaces
- Designing an augmented reality app AvaLinn AR to visualise the urban planning concepts more vividly
- Creating an urban art gallery along the Pollinator Highway that involves various artists to create a sense of identity, but also illustrate topics that are tackled including biodiversity; green mobility, upcycling Soviet-time garages, activating public space etc. The murals feature an innovative augmented reality layer
- Designing bee borders and native flower meadow patches along the project site to test out different possibilities for increasing the biodiversity of the area
- Developing a thorough landscape architectural design for the Paavli and Pelguranna sections of the Pollinator Highway which was the basis of a construction project.
- Landscape architectural solutions that are being designed for the Merimetsa (urban forest and local conservation area) and Veskimetsa (a mixed-used area behind the Tallinn Zoo) spatial sections of the Pollinator Highway. These are areas of competing scenarios and conflicting interests
- An urban greenery catalogue is being developed to help the residents, landscape architects and developers of Tallinn make smarter decisions in the future in selecting plants that increase the city’s pollinator richness and other biodiversity
Planning the Pollinator Highway has been an in-depth participatory process. The citizens have been involved via crowdsourcing platforms, events, workshops, meetings and more.
The COVID situation was a challenge particularly for interacting with more vulnerable stakeholders such as elderly residents.
Many people still see wild meadows lawns/borders as unkempt and potentially unsafe places. Explaining the reason for mowing less, for example – has been challenging and is an ongoing process.
Finding common ground between stakeholder groups of different interests has been difficult as well.
The biggest challenge has been changing the mindset of citizens as well as other stakeholder groups involved.
The biggest spatial interruption to be addressed to make the Pollinator Highway cohesive is a former freight station along the path. The city is partnering with Estonian Railway to take a bike path through the freight station and initiate an architecture competition for a bridge.
The Pollinator Highway project improves green mobility, connects communities, creates a more high-quality urban space, increases the biodiversity of the city and helps adapt to climate change challenges – overall changing the mindset of people towards a greener, more sustainable city.
Tallinn is happy that a sense of ownership over the Pollinator Highway has been created among residents.
However, the project is ongoing. Tallinn is currently in the process of drafting a construction project for the Paavli and Pelguranna spatial sections of the Pollinator Highway. A multifunctional linear park and public space will be created here.
An art installation competition is being prepared to activate the more monotonous sections of the linear park. Tallinn’s first allotment garden is being designed to sit along the Pollinator Highway so that the residents can grow their own food within the city in the future.
The citizens are anticipating the realisation of these projects.
Findings and recommendations
Tactical urban planning is a great approach to test out urban planning solutions before implementing long-term visions, making costly investments. Cooperation is key – partner with universities, residents, landowners, museums etc. along the way to brainstorm ideas.
This type of practice could be implemented in other cities. Persistence is key. Communication and participation are time-consuming, yet necessary for the project’s success.
You can learn more on the Putukaväil website.