Why Gedimino prospektas has no prospects

Article published on Jan. 13, 2009
community published
Article published on Jan. 13, 2009
Before the financial crisis of 2008 hit Lithuania, the government was planning a study sort of "what's wrong with Gedimino Avenue". It has "discovered" that young people don't hang out there, and a perfectly centrally located area simply fails to attract people. Hordes of clerks rush to work, to have lunch, and home, and only several care to stay when their shift is over. Why?
Gedimino avenue is considered to be the main street in Vilnius (like, this is where you take your tourists if you have nothing else to show them). Its symbolic value can be seen from the patterns of changing its name as time goes by: it used to be called Lenin avenue in the Soviet times, and has been known as Hitler avenue for a short period before that, and Mickiewicz avenue in the Polish Vilnius. Now it is named after the duke who is said to have established Vilnius (there is a monument to him next to the cathedral. The duke is drunk and looking for his horse. Well, it wasn't the original idea of the artist, I must say...). The street starts from the Cathedral + castle and ends near the Parliament, so it's right in the centre of the city. In that sense it is comparable to the famous Avenyn in Gothenburg (Sweden), except that the latter is much more fun.

Now, the Lithuanian word (a loan-word, of course) for "avenue" or "road" in that sense is "prospektas" (don't ask me why). As some Lithuanians believe that foreign words are the same across all languages which have borrowed them, it's no surprise I've recently heard a Lithuanian talking to a tourist about "the Gedimino prospect". Let me enjoy this game with words and ask: why Gedimino prospektas has no prospects? Fortunately, the crisis has delayed this plan of wasting taxpayers' money for investigating what can be seen with a naked eye: the avenue is dead boring! Endless reconstructions, which started a few years ago, have finished only recently. The reconstructions were starting when the infamous mayor Zuokas was still in power. Once before the general election in 2004 I received a leaflet advertising the Liberal-Centre party, and it had photos of the Gedimino av. "before" and "after" the liberals came into power. The "before" picture was taken in late autumn or early spring, with naked trees, greyish buildings and a traffic jam. The "after" picture, on the other hand, was, predictably, full of greenery and colours. What was missing out, however, was any evidence of the fact that after the first stage of the reconstructions the avenue became a sterile and unwelcome place.The reconstructions themselves have been enough to drive people out of their usual spaces. The noise, the fences and other obstacles developed a habit of rushing through the avenue and getting away as soon as possible. One or another part of the avenue stayed dug up for months, and you would find another favourite cafe before your previous one opens again. Furthermore, the old pavement was relaid (was there a need for that?), and the old trees, which used to provide a cosy shadow in hot summer days, were replaced with other trees, specially designed for cities. One of the most expensive streets in Europe is not affordable to almost anybody except ministries and government agencies, big businesses and fancy stores. Gedimino avenue is a concentrated vision of what Vilnius will become if people do nothing to stop the 'planners' from stealing its soul and creating a perfectly ordered space, suitable for those who are in a hurry and those who watch others. Yes, this space is ideal for surveillance - it's broad, open and meticulously organised. So don't misbehave!If you are a tourist in Vilnius, don't go there, unless you are into urban sociology and care to see how spaces can become totally dead when they are overplanned. Take public transport to the parliament and skip the avenue, or choose one of the side streets instead.