Located in an inlet of the Baltic Sea, the City of Riga is central to the Latvian economy as one-third of the Latvian population lives in the city and half in the metropolitan area. Therefore, Riga’s strategy promotes the importance of Riga to represent Latvia internationally. 

Riga’s approach to strategic planning can be divided into a Sustainable Development Strategy – a vision for up until 2030, and a Development Programme for the period from 2014 to 2020, which is a concrete action plan.

The vision includes three pillars:

  • Society: The opportunity to educate, grow, find oneself, and be relevant
  • Urban Environment: The opportunity to live in a convenient, safe, and healthy environment
  • Economy: The opportunity to gain income, provide for oneself, and the family, basis of the social system

Those three pillars are joined by a fourth pillar which aims to secure Riga’s significance in international networks:

  • Riga: An internationally recognizable, significant, and competitive Northern European metropolis

Those four pillars rely on four strategy implementation principles:

  1. Involvement of society and implementation through joint creation
  2. Observation of local identity
  3. Broad cooperation
  4. Effective use of resources and deliberative municipal property policy
Riga
@Riga City Development Department

These pillars and principles are relevant in the long term. In addition to that, with its action plan, Riga also worked on a medium-term planning document. Riga agreed on Nineteen action directions with 111 tasks through 2020. Those action directions and the corresponding tasks influence the four long-term pillars.

The action plan is supervised by a simplified annual report and a broader report every four years with a website for monitoring fulfillment of the objectives.

A talk with Mr. Guntars Ruskuls as Riga’s chief city strategist offers closer insights to some of Riga’s strategy-related issues.

Which process did you use to develop the strategy?

We adopted the current strategy in 2014. While working on it, we tried to improve elements on participatory planning as well as monitoring systems to evaluate if the citizens are happy with what we are doing. As an example, we established an innovative neighbourhood platform. The platform is a guide for citizens to the most relevant places in their neighborhoods, and local NGOs can apply for funds that they then can then use to pursue neighborhood-related activities. Those activities can include projects in the arts, too.

Which feedback did your strategy get internally and externally?

Our citizens are very much interested in what specific measures mean for their neighborhoods. But as a city strategist, you have to see the bigger picture since a good city strategy is always holistic in nature.

For example, we took approaches to green mobility and the like and educated the citizens on such issues. Our experience is that they accept those progressive objectives and that they then request that they be fulfilled.

Why did Riga change the planning paradigm from very liberal and fragmentary scattered planning to one that emphasizes a socially responsible, sustainable, and compact development of the city?

In the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, the economy was booming, and we expected it to keep going. Therefore, we searched for investment activities and applied a polycentric model. After the financial crisis in 2009, things changed. Former polycentric areas fell in stagnation because they were too far away from the city center.

Experts then advised us to revitalize the city center. It was important to us that the city became more attractive to young people, students, and qualified people who want to return to the city. People now say that you can feel the Berlin vibe from the 1990s in Riga.

Riga
@Riga City Development Department

Which for you, as a city, is currently the biggest challenge?

Currently, we observe a need for resilience due to the corona crisis. People are at home now, and we expect they will come back to their previous habits quite quickly. But maybe COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on their behavior. In 2009, we saw a structural crisis due to a significant boom in real estate. But this time, the crisis calls for resilience. Resilience is the keyword. We need to change the economic structure due to global trends and infrastructure projects. The Green Deal by the European Union can play a significant role in this.

Which diplomatic relationships with other cities does Riga maintain?

Riga is a member of METREX; this is a network for larger metropolitan areas. The last conference of this network was in Stuttgart, where we gathered ideas on how the central city and the metropolitan area could better work together. We are also very active in the network EUROCITIES, especially because of our role as a capital city.

Riga also has almost 30 twin cities. Maybe that is too many from a strategic point of view. Some of them are mainly held due to historical reasons. Important partners are, for example, Amsterdam, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Bremen, Rostock, Tallinn, and Vilnius.

To us, when we engage internationally, it is essential to promote the Baltic area and its understanding of crucial aspects such as green issues, transparency, democracy, and inclusiveness.

Which challenges are relevant for Riga in the long term?

It may sound odd to some people in Western Europe, but one of the biggest challenges for Riga is that, even though the metropolitan area is growing, the core city is still shrinking. This is why it is crucial for Riga to become more attractive, especially to young and educated people. If this is not the case, we will face a lot of demography-related challenges.

People from the metropolitan area go to work in Riga but do not pay taxes for the infrastructure they use when doing so. It is apparent that Riga needs a better agreement between the city and the metropolitan area. This could also be a vehicle for the revitalization of a lot of brownfield land too.

Find more about city strategies: Have a look at our talks with officials from Helsinki, Eindhoven, Bochum, Zürich, Mannheim, and Aalborg to find out more about city strategies in the face of global competition.