A local community project called “Genius Loci,” implemented by Žemųjų Šančių bendruomenė in a Kaunas suburb, has recently made notable achievements of interest to public administration. The project was made possible through a grant of €130 000 from the EEA and Norway Grants program. Norwegian partners are the City of Bodø and the Norwegian Neighborhood Federation.
This summer, the Šančiai project received a significant European award for its mapping tool for ethical urbanization. The Bauhaus Prize, established by the European Union, encompasses several categories: Genius Loci won €20,000 in the group for „Resuscitating the sense of community.” The mapping tool is part of a comprehensive effort to record local memories and cultural heritage. The IT based tool has been developed in collaboration with architects at Kaunas Technical University (KTU).
This year was otherwise introduced by a series of group workshops for local people with an emphasis on mapping historical sites through the interactive map developed by KTU. Part of this activity was located to a center for people with disabilities.
Internationally, project leaders Vita Gelūnienė and Ed Carrol have presented a creative scheme to collect material for exhibitions that can be easily transported and assembled. In fact, the exhibition held no more material than could fit in an old suitcase. The exhibition was shown both in Oslo and later at an international conference in Bodø. The theme of the suitcase exhibition was the neighborhood’s actions for sustainable development and against a municipal road project through the district.
Local democracy as a topic of national politics
In May, the project management in Šančiai succeeded in making local participation a subject of national policy. Not only did Lithuania’s Minister of Finance, Gintarė Skaistė, chair a seminar on urbanization and civil society, but the event was also located to Lithuania’s Parliament, Seimas. The seminar was attended by both practitioners and professionals. Personally, I had the pleasure of speaking about the necessity of dialogue between municipalities, developers and local communities based on Norwegian experiences.
A visit to Kaunas after the seminar also gave useful insight into the challenges facing the very attractive neighborhood of small houses from the interwar period. It made it easier to understand that residents have rallied against an extensive road project along the Nemunas River. They fear that the road will have harmful effects on the natural and cultural environment of the neighborhood.
Fortunately, a dialogue has recently been opened between the project management, Kaunas Technical University, and Kaunas Municipality.
The community opera
Baltic countries partake in a strong choral tradition, but creating your own local opera is still a rarity. But since 2018, people in Šančiai have been working on a musical theatre performance with local anchoring. The plot is set in the difficult war years of the 1940s, when even cabbage was in short supply, hence the title „The Cabbage Field”. But as in other operas, there is also a love story here.
A total of 36 people, both professional and amateur, participated when the finished performance was invited to perform in Esch, Luxembourg, this year’s European Capital of Culture.
The project period is not yet over. If all goes according to plan, the author will be responsible for conducting a seminar in team development in 2023. Its purpose will be to better equip the local community for the day when the project funding ends.
The project is thoroughly documented through video recordings and photographs:
Awarding of the Bauhaus Prize: https://youtu.be/p2g2UKrgIRc
Conference Photos May: https://www.flickr.com/photos/97441645@N08/albums
Conference seminar video May: https://youtu.be/rDLdWI3pffY
Dr. Harald Koht is emeritus professor at Oslo Metropolitan University. He has collaborated with MRU colleagues on teaching and research for several years. The article was written with contributions from Ed Carroll in „Genius loci”.
- The representative of the Šančiai community, Carolina Pailhe, is awarded the Bauhaus Prize by EU Commissioner Elisa Ferreira. Photo : EU Commission.
- The author after the local planning seminar in Seimas. Photo credit: Private.
- The local opera rehearses „The Cabbage Field”. Photo credit: D. Petrulis.
- Residents of Šančiai collect material for the memorial archive. Photo credit: D. Petrulis