This May, an event dedicated to the topic of creation and sustainability of university campuses was organised in Riga, upon the initiative of Riga Planning Region (RPR) and University of Latvia. As seminar experts pointed out, campuses should provide solutions to numerous challenges of today, as well as to be an integral part of the urban environment.
During the first part of seminar day, guest lecturers from Stockholm Resilience Centre and several other seminar participants had a bike tour in Pārdaugava (Riga’s Left Bank), to gain a better understanding of Pārdaugava as the future academic hub and challenges for this aim to be reached.
Afterwards, experts shared their knowledge of developing campuses in Riga and worldwide, as well as the recent trends in this sphere.
Guntars Ruskuls, Deputy Director at the Strategic Development Board at the City Development Department of Riga Municipality, presented the role of Pārdaugava within Riga development plans, highlighting the main development objectives from the perspective of infrastructure, as well as planning of campus area. He pointed out that this area must be attractive not only to students, but also to the general public, e.g., with bike routes, public transport options, green areas etc. He, emphasised that the Rail Baltica project, which will be carried out in Riga from 2019 to 2023, will have a great role in the development of campus. The railway constructed by this significant infrastructure project will stretch across such the districts of Tornakalns, Agenskalns and other districts in Pārdaugava.
Social anthropologist Viesturs Celmiņš emphasised that the main objective of campuses is not merely to improve the infrastructure of local area, but also the quality of life and economic situation. “Campuses do not exist simply on their own – they are growing in symbiosis with the urban environment nearby and coexist with it. Besides, a campus with its adjacent infrastructure will be incomplete, if it is not connected to the other campuses in area. In order to secure the cooperation between these academic institutions and sustainability of campuses, there has to be a single network.”
One should mention Swedish academics Dr. Johan Colding and Dr. Stephan Barthel as special guests of this seminar – these representatives of Stockholm Resilience Centre are regarded to be among the most competent experts in the field in Northern Europe. Stockholm Resilience Centre is the leading institution in interdisciplinary research of questions regarding the development and management of socio-ecological systems. In order to successfully manage these tasks, flexibility, adaptability to changes and persistent development is of great importance. The vision of SRC is a world where socio-ecological systems are well understood, regulated and managed for the purpose of increasing the welfare of people and the ability to handle complicated changes, thus ensuring a sustainable development of urban environment within biosphere.
S. Barthel started his presentation by highlighting the global situation of ever-increasing urbanisation and population growth, which explains the necessity for such campuses that could improve the urban planning and the overall quality of life in these areas. “The innovations that aim at urban development are made possible by considering two perspectives: the socio-technological or the socio-ecological. Both systems must be mutually aligned so that they would have greater adaptability to changes – both physically and mentally – which is crucial for them to keep their functionality, when facing challenges. From our point of view, the purpose of campuses is not just to make the urban environment more developed in terms of transportation and loaded with technologies, but rather to make the city more ecologically advanced by giving more space to green areas that are accessible to any inhabitant of the city,” as S. Barthel told during the seminar.
J. Colding also emphasised that it is necessary to increase the green areas, because they are unfortunately shrinking due to being privatised or used for some public requirements. Besides, open accessibility of these green areas is crucial for making this socio-ecological system more resilient and adaptable to changes; seeing this overall public good, the general public and city planning authorities will have a greater interest in developing and maintaining campuses with green areas that everyone will be able to enjoy.
During the workshop part of the seminar, participants were divided into four groups in order to refine and find answers to significant questions of how to develop a modern campus in a better, more sustainable way. Participants agreed that there must be solutions both on physical level, i.e. well-developed transport infrastructure, as well as solutions attending the mental needs, namely, quality of education and a supportive attitude towards the concept of sustainable development in practice, by creating accessible places for meet-ups, as well as alternative mobility solutions. To make campus accessible and attractive to the general public, there should be certain facilities, for example, conference rooms, which could be used for discussions and events for people also outside the academia.
Another group also pointed out that it is necessary to use the know-how and practices of universities themselves in order to develop their campuses and improve their environment, thus making campuses more accessible to the society. From the perspective of planning processes, one must take into account that there are mostly two parties involved – the university and the municipality – thus the planning process must respect the interests of both, so that they would have no doubt of that the campus development will bring a great benefit for all and that it is, in fact, necessary to follow the guidelines of sustainable development.
The group that worked on the question of transfer of knowledge and solutions regarding sustainability from campuses to other entities – municipalities, companies, also to the people – concluded that campuses should have some space for specialists of various subject matters to meet and discuss. Also, they could test and fine-tune other ideas of sustainable development, thus fostering the knowledge exchange between higher education institutions and a wider public.
The participants of seminar were from University of Latvia, Riga Technical University, RISEBA, Latvia University of Agriculture, Riga Building College, Stockholm Resilience Centre, City Planning Department of the Municipality of Riga, Riga Planning Region and several other institutions: lecturers, students, planning experts, and researchers.