Block Renovation: a German-Lithuanian Exchange

Gabriela Kuštan

By Gabriela Kuštan, on April 15th, 2015

> Read Gabriela Kuštan's articles

The Lithuanian Government has made the energy-efficient refurbishment of existing real estate one of their top priorities. In the new financial period of 2014-2020, the plans include renovations on entire city blocks at once, moving towards a more holistic practice of the integrating renovation of the entire block, rather than simple one-off projects. It means that not only would a single apartment building be affected, but that care would be given to the entire infrastructure in the immediate area, including street lighting, parking-lots, green spaces, playgrounds etc.

At the end of 2014, the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety signed a co-operation agreement, supporting Lithuania in developing and implementing the first pilot project of the block renovation initiative in three Lithuanian cities. Germany provides substantial, valuable experience in the field energy efficient renewal of urban areas. The country has already modernized 80% of its old residential buildings, and since 2008, has been actively implementing block renovation projects. Currently there are over 400 projects of this kind ongoing in different German cities.

The integrated block renovation implementation plan for three Lithuanian cities was discussed during recent working meetings, involving representatives from both Lithuanian and German governments. During one of these meetings, the Lithuanian delegation visited a renovated block in Berlin, providing positive evidence that such an initiative has strong potential to be a great success.

Lithuania has been successfully engaged in modernizing multi-dwelling apartment buildings since 2013, after a new renovation model was introduced. But the overarching goal is to regenerate entire city blocks, rather than single buildings. Modernizing the existing infrastructure as a whole makes the city areas more attractive places to live overall. Therefore, within this pilot project, a complex renovation of the selected quarters in three different cities of Lithuania will be both a learning experience and an adaptable example for other Lithuanian municipalities.

The starting date of the pilot project is 1st April 2015. During the first phase of the project’s implementation, Lithuanian and German experts will analyze the selected areas and prepare a cohesive plan towards providing solutions for the regeneration of the selected areas. The plan will include improvements in energy efficiency for multi-dweller apartment buildings, an examination of crucial underground utility infrastructure, proposals for the forward, active management of the selected areas, and the future integration of alternative energy resources.

Close partnership between the Ministry of the Environment of the Republic of Lithuania and the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania, throughout all stages of implementation of the pilot project, will help spread the good practice of block renovation across other Lithuanian municipalities. The aim is to encourage municipalities to include the renovation of residential and public buildings, as well as the regeneration of the surrounding environment and supporting infrastructure, a central facet of their on-going territorial development and improvements programs.

 Selection of the cities

The pilot project covers three municipalities: Šiauliai, Birštonas and Utena, with one block to be renovated in each of them. The selection of the cities for this pilot project was based on both their previous experience with similar projects and the potential they have for serving as role-models and transferring their good practice to other Lithuanian municipalities. German partners also analyzed the presented projects and weighed in with their opinions on the selected municipalities.

Thus far, Birštonas has already developed a renovation plan for their designated area and prepared technical projects pertaining to the apartment buildings located within that area. The chosen quarter encompasses 15 hectares with 2,000 city inhabitants living within it. Šiauliai had previously participated in another German program under which the block renovation project of the whole southern part of the city was prepared. The city is planning to run a pilot project in one of its oldest districts, Kaštonų Avenue, and the avenue’s immediately surrounding side-streets. Meanwhile, Utena has demonstrated its high level of motivation for being selected as one of the pilot municipalities by allocating its own budget for the preparation of the more technical side of the renovation project.

By selecting these three disparate cities, it is expected that Šiauliai can serve as a good example for the rest of the large Lithuanian cities. Birštonas will share its experience with the resort towns and Utena with the middle-sized industrial cities, representing characteristic of the majority of Lithuanian municipalities.

 A glance at the future

Lithuania is looking for opportunities to achieve maximum cost-efficiency when it comes to investing in integrated regeneration projects for its cities, benefitting from the experience of other country’s similar renovation projects. Co-operation with Germany is one of these opportunities. Lithuania’s goal is to learn about and adopt the German method of combining interests from all stakeholders involved in renovation process. Successful legal, operational, and financial examples provide some of the richest areas of expertise, important for Lithuania to learn from. A lot of practical questions have to be solved when it comes to the renovation of the entire city block. For example, how to achieve a common understanding and come to an agreement when stakeholders include the owners of residential, public, and commercial buildings, as well as when private and public infrastructure is located within the same block? These are some of the main issues that Lithuania expects to work on with its German partners.

It is also very important to find a way to encourage local communities to take a more active participatory role in this process. Perhaps URBACT Local Support Group method is one of the options worth considering. The creation of LSGs in URBACT networks proved to be a very useful and effective tool. It has already been used in a block renovation related project (RE-Block) as well. One of the partners involved in this project is the city of Vilnius, which has already developed a Local Action Plan for the renovation of a selected block in one of its own neighbourhoods.

Header image: Courtesy of Adolfas Sinkevičius

Leave a Reply