Tallinn is characterized by a proliferation of abandoned or anomalous spaces, including formerly inaccessible military and industrial zones from the Soviet era. Some of these waterfront spaces have seen a cultural valorization through grassroots initiatives such as the Linnalabor (urbanlab) organization and the LIFT festival, described by the architectural historian Epp Lankots as a “lesson in public space”. Political debates around the “urban commons” and alternative cultural responses to wastelands have emerged in opposition to urban boosterism and attempts by municipal authorities to attract external capital to the city.
The complexity of cultural and political discourses span the use of different terms such as tühermaa (meaning wasteland or empty space), jäätmaa (abandoned space) and tühik (literally referring to the “void” in a more metaphorical sense). A key part of the work will involve tracing the different meanings of space emerging in the post-socialist city and their intersection with more recent “international” terminology such as bio-diversity in an Estonian context.