20 October 2023

Achievements that inspire: project visits in Riga

Written by Elena Kolosova & Rasma Rozenberga

Cooperation projects bring together people and organisations across borders, paving the way for joint endeavours that drive real change. Recently, our project partners in Riga showcased their achievements and future plans for development, all aimed at making the region greener and more inclusive. The Riga project visits left us feeling inspired and convinced that such projects slowly but steadily improve the lives of residents in our region.​

Three projects unveil the transformative power of transnational cooperation in the vibrant city of Riga

For one day on 6 October, a diverse group of some 30 participants from the European Commission, Monitoring Committee members of the Programme from the Baltic Sea Region countries as well as the coordinators of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region put aside their laptops and formal discussions. Instead, they went on a bus tour to learn what three projects NonHazCity, cities.multimodal and KidsLikeUs had succeeded in.

The day began with a warm welcome from Ms Inese Andersone at the Riga City Council, setting the perfect tone for the exciting project visits that lay ahead. “Each Interreg Baltic Sea Region project is a way to test new things to connect cities and develop the capacities of the people. Projects raise the capacity of our team to be change-makers,” said Ms Andersone, who leads the Riga City Development Committee .

Presentations of Interreg Baltic Sea Region projects at the Riga City Council

Change consumption – then you reduce emissions, the NonHazCity approach

Mr Normunds Vagalis from the Riga City Council explained how the NonHazCity project changed the way the municipality worked to cut back chemical pollution of regional waters and the Baltic Sea. With a new chemical action plan, inspired by the city of Stockholm, Riga city was changing the use of chemical products in everyday life. Everyone was involved. Municipal procurement specialists were trained to give proper advice on what chemical products to choose for schools, kindergartens, and other municipal entities to reduce exposure of people to hazardous substances. Small businesses and residents learned how they could cut down the use of products that contained hazardous substances. Mr Vagalis, who managed the project in Riga, stressed the importance of involving residents in taking action: “Projects are vehicles for people to learn to change and adopt new ideas.” During the project, more than 60 households in the partner cities around the Baltic Sea were checked on hazardous substances, for example, in cleaning agents, toiletries, kitchenware, and toys. Residents received information about the products in their homes and advice on how to reduce the amount of hazardous substances used.

To check the viability of the project advice, we brought some of our home products, hoping they were good enough and safe for the environment:

“Yes, some products are good, but not all. Read the ingredient list, and check the use instructions ”concluded Ms Agnese Meija-Toropova, from the Baltic Environment Forum in Latvia.

“While sitting in the beautiful Riga City Hall, I was mentally doing an inventory of my personal household supplies and cosmetics. Some of them I do not feel like using anymore.” one participant of the project visits later commented.

Mobility in practice, the cities.multimodal example

Inspired by mobility points in cities like Ghent and Bremen, the cities.multimodal project triggered changes in transport development. Ms Nika Kotoviča, from the Riga Energy Agency, stressed the huge impact the project made on the development of mobility in the city of Riga: “It is a game-changer project. It brought to Riga a lot of new knowledge, inspiration, and practical results.” The inspirations resulted in the new Riga Mobility Plan 2050 with a focus on public transport as the backbone and people-centered mobility, as well as a new Riga Masterplan 2030, where the term «Mobility point» was introduced.

Visiting a mobility point in Riga

Getting on a bus and driving through the busy streets of Riga was a good way to experience the challenges of urban mobility and to notice the crucial developments already done. The tour culminated at the mobility point installed by the project at the intersection of Brīvības gatve and Gustava Zemgala gatve in Riga. 

There, everyone could see what it meant in practice: a mobility point as a transport hub that connected different sustainable modes of transport with convenient bicycle parking spaces, a bicycle repair station, and a rental point. Everyone could touch and check different tools provided for the citizens and tourists in one place, to help commuting within the city in environmentally healthy ways. This mobility point triggered more points. First ten micro-mobility points have already been implemented by the Riga City Council after the project had ended.

“I had a bus tour with an enthusiastic guide showing us different Riga. We stopped at the Mobility Point, I charged my phone and would have technically managed to continue the city exploration on my own, using some of the e-bikes or mobile app guidance there,” another participant of the project visits said.

Overcoming traumas using creativity and favours of nature, the KidsLikeUs solutions

Practical insight into the KidsLikeUs project brought the group further to the outskirts of Riga and the older part of the Children’s Hospital in Gaiḷezers. Ms Beata Fabiasik, from the Poznan University of Life Sciences in Poland, who leads the project, highlighted the unusual combination of expertise among the partners, from specialised furniture development to arts and physiotherapy. Working together for one shared aim, they were creating a superhero garden for kids, teenagers, and their parents facing depression, anxiety, and traumas evoked by the war, pandemic, or home violence.

So was the day unusual for the Gaiḷezers Clinic Psychiatry Department. First, the Hospital staff and young patients together with their colleagues from the Pedagogical Centre and Psychiatry Department welcomed the project partners from Poland, Sweden, Finland, and Latvia, who brought along special technologies, methods, and a lot of enthusiasm for the day ahead. Then, a diverse group of people working with transnational cooperation in their offices in Brussels, Stockholm, Tallinn, Warsaw, Bonn, Helsinki, and Riga, joined the gang. Here, everyone got practically involved in the creative and therapeutic activities developed by the project.

Together, the participants of the visits, the Hospital staff, and the young patients tried out some sensory video games, created artistic works with water colouring and by 3D printer, and stretched their physical bodies and mental borders in a yoga workshop. The unusual group composition, new and interesting games, energetic workshop leaders, sparkling eyes of the youth, and supportive Hospital staff together created a warm and special spirit during the whole event. It turned into a small, yet very special celebration amongst the daily hospital routine, and ended with a communal lunch on the hospital premises, enjoyed by one and all.

It was a memorable day for all:

“Watercolouring brought me back to my childhood. Yet this was a bit different from the art classes at school – more playful. We learned some new painting tricks and experimented with the colours. There was no competition, we had fun together – the old and young ones.”

“I did not know I would end up doing slalom in the hospital (with the help of a screen on the nurses’ table).”

“My younger teammates were really enthusiastic. After we had put so much effort into creating and printing our 3D tower, we all got a really good appetite, and the lunch tasted better than usual.”

“I would have loved to stay there longer. During these couple of hours, it felt more like a creative arts studio than a hospital.”

An extraordinary day for all this time

This time, the participants of the project visits, brought unusual travel reports back to their offices in Brussels, Stockholm, Tallinn, Warsaw, Bonn, Helsinki, and Riga. Ms Natalie Verschelde, from the European Commission’s DG Regio shared: “You gave us a real flavour of your work in the region!”

The participants witnessed that EU transnational cooperation was all about people, protecting them from pollution, helping them move easier around their own city, and if the time comes, helping them deal with traumas, using the best available expertise in the region across borders.

Curious to learn more about the visits? Scroll through the gallery!

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