Turning main street into a cultural centre

Orchestra Design, Omsk, Siberia, Russia

SDG 1: No povertySDG 8: Decent work and economic growthSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
Orchestra Design is an organisation of social entrepreneurs specialised in urban design & city development, based in Paris, France and St Petersburg, Russia. They work with placemaking as a tool to design good and inclusive public space capitalising on the human capital already existing in the locality. One of the largest and first projects they have worked with was the main street in Omsk, Siberia.

Omsk is Russia’s seventh largest city with almost 1,2 million inhabitants. It is a major city in Siberia and is traditionally an important transport node with a station on the Trans-Siberian Railway. A large oil company funded a project to refurbish the main street in the city. However, the development plans for the new street did not respond to the needs of population living and working in the surrounding areas. The parking lots, transit roads, and eradication of public space quickly provoked large protests. People primarily protested because of the car based new environment, and instead proclaimed bringing back the traditional structure which was pedestrian-centred and been dominated by a large linear urban park.

Good practices & solutions

The protests were fruitful. The construction company turned to activists for help and the social entrepreneurs at Orchestra Design became involved in the process. Through a public consultation process they brought together stakeholders (house owners, cultural institutions, local associations, the student community). An initial clash between surrounding shop owners and the population had to be overcome. Shop owners, who initially wanted to transform the area into a luxury shopping street, feared that pedestrianisation would scare their customers away. They were won over to the“people’s side”by the argument“low prices attract many, high prices just attract few”. This created consensus of creating a pedestrian oriented concept. For three years, pocket parks were built, new youth activities planned, and the linear park was reconstructed.

Outcome & opportunities

A result of the intervention was that the director of the museum became responsible for culture in the local administration and launched the special programme“cultural street”with weekend street programmes, outdoors public lectures, theatres, and concerts.“The street has become the cultural centre of the city. Before they were concentrated to the shopping malls”. Even during the harsh winter months, the street became the central attraction of the city, and skiing and running marathons are frequently organised there.

This was the city’s first experience of participatory work, and it brought several long-term effects. When external experts let the process become participatory and include locals from many different societal groups, it guaranteed further management and sustainment of the public space. Even the oil company became interested in supporting more citizen initiatives. Together they launched project laboratories for bottom up activities and knowledge sharing. Additional positive side effects include increased safety, cleaner public space, and feelings of ownership from the community. For example, the quote “This was done by local people for local people” written on one of the new walls ended vandalism.

Lessons learned & recommendations

One lesson learned was that girls tended to be more active in the participatory process than boys. However, when the boys saw that the girls were gathering it also attracted the boys. They came to help the girls with creation of their new city centre.“The girls became bosses, boys the workforce”. A recommendation to others is that even small grants from private sector or government is essential to launch activities. Larger support will come when businesses see positive results. Therefore, incubators, tests, and pilots can be a real catalyst.“Just test, if it works, you will get support”. Most important is to understand how knowledge is power and that data and numbers speak for themselves. Providing training for the business community and the city about urban development will easily solve unnecessary conflicts.

Related SDG targets
  • 1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
  • 8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium- sized enterprises, including through access to financial services
  • 8.4 Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead
  • 10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status
  • 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • 11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
  • 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships
Further reading

Photo: © Orchestra

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Project: Urban Girls Movement