From Knowledge Places to Knowledge Spaces

The results of out studio on creating a knowledge campus in Riga have been published in Dreams and Seeds – The role of campuses in sustainable urban development. Thanks to the European Union and Interreg Central Baltic for their support of the Live Baltic Campus project.

Below an excerpt of the project text.
Knowledge Mile Riga: Co-designing four universities into a collaborative network

The proposal to create a Knowledge Mile stems from an architectural design studio at the RISEBA Faculty of Architecture and Design, Riga. During the spring 2017, ten students and three tutors explored the future of academic campuses by researching global, regional and local case studies as they pertain to education, research and innovation. The chosen territory falls within the geographical scope of the Live Baltic Campus project activities in Riga and that of the prospective development of the main national academic campuses. Imaginative spatial scenarios in the proposal were meant to be reflexive and alternative rather than in line with formal planning policies. The proposal rethinks the development plans of existing academic campuses – the University of Latvia, Riga Technical University, RISEBA and Riga Stradins University – into a more coherent, dynamic knowledge network.

The Design studio analyzed the demography and spatial constellation of an area defined by the Riga City Council as the future Science and Innovation Centre (ZIC), and posed the question of who will study, work and otherwise benefit from the development. The number of local students is currently declining while the competition is fierce between the universities of Riga, and those of other cities, to attract foreign students, researchers and other experts. There is thus a clear need to create and nurture range of public services and green spaces to make the future campus more attractive to its primary and secondary users.
However, according to a rough estimate forecast done by the studio, the trend of declining student numbers may turn and as foreign student number continues to increase by 2020 there could be up to 32 000 students learning, working and living in Pardaugava – up from the current 19 000. The student body would represent a significant critical mass of talent, innovation and production capacity, enhancing the competitiveness of Riga in the wider Baltic Sea Region. The vision of the Knowledge Mile in Riga thus holds the prerequisites to play a prominent role in the re-invention and regeneration of the city. However, the current modes of urban planning have to adapt a more open, collaborative and iterative approach.

The expansion of the academic campuses into a more singular territory means that the cost of land and the density of Pardaugava will increase. An influx of industries, services, residents and workers can thus be expected. The development is far from undividedly positive as it will likely also push gentrification, leading to increasing rental and living costs, and commercialization of public spaces. The relocation of the campuses to Pardaugava can in other words with time make it increasingly difficult for the current inhabitants to remain, and replace the current local community spirit with that of something less personal and characteristic.

Previous campus development projects and attempts to create interconnected Knowledge Places have centered the design around the use of cars. This may likely be the result of a mismatch between those in charge of planning and constructing campuses, and the investors on one hand, and the intended users on the other. The separation leads to an unfortunate opening for external political strategies or corporate interests to become the determining factors for the design of the plans, rather than the interests of the students, professors, or local area inhabitants.

The Knowledge Mile is designed around values that correlate to the emerging trends in cities and campus design around the Baltic Sea and beyond: pedestrian access, livability, green territories and attractive public spaces. The design makes the most of the geographical proximity of the different universities by suggesting new pedestrian, cyclist passages as well as activity hotspots in the public green spaces. The focus on accessibility and openness should not only lead to improved cooperation among the administrative and academic bodies of the four universities, but also ameliorate the quality of life among the current and future residents of the area.

If the Knowledge Mile in Riga is to be a hotspot of creativity and innovation, and transform the city so as to meet the needs of the city’s different inhabitants, novel urban qualities such as those defined by the RISEBA students need to be included and prioritized in the planning and development phase already from the beginning.

The design of the proposed Riga Knowledge Mile attempts to turn abstract and closed Knowledge Spaces into open and accessible Knowledge Places, and make the area beneficial not only for students and businesses, but also for the wider public and local community; indeed, for the city at large. Urban design has the power to propel novel approaches to urban development and does continuously shape and reshape the identity of the city. The Knowledge Mile is an experimental node within urban planning in Riga and, as the area’s prospective spatial backbone, holds the potential to determine both the landscape- and infrastructural design, and the community development of the area.

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