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Past, Present, and Future Lives of Soviet Housing Estates in the Baltic States

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Baltic Mikrorayon (Past, Present, and Future Lives of Soviet Housing Estates in the Baltic States)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-12-31

To address a gap in knowledge about socialist urban planning (especially construction of housing estates and mikrorayon) and to find out how to maintain the attractiveness and social mix of housing estates, I conducted original research [including interviewing planners and architects who practiced during the Soviet era (and those practicing more recently)] to analyse these topics in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and create an urban biographical analysis of housing estates and mikrorayon. Gathering information through interviews is vital to (a) understanding how principles of territorial planning in Soviet times influence the built environment of residential districts and residential preferences today; (b) learning how principles can be adjusted to current-day conditions to help ensure a positive image for housing estates; and (c) producing an updated set of principles for the renovation of housing estates.

This Individual Fellowship included a 24-month academic stay at the University of Tartu (UT), Estonia where I engaged in training-through-research supervised by Prof. Tiit Tammaru, Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the Chair of Human Geography and Regional Planning. I undertook new training in archival research and interviewing, and participated in local planning processes. UT benefitted from my academic visit through exposure to my urban planning scholarship, a topic undeveloped in Estonia and highly prioritized at UT. The project maximized opportunities for collaboration by emphasizing ongoing engagement (in student mentoring, academic visits, funded research, and publications) between colleagues and partners in Estonia, the Baltics, and throughout Europe. Outreach events focused on impact through knowledge exchange.
The study aims are accomplished through several research methods: (a) one-on-one interviews with key informants; (b) comprehensive review of archive material (architectural drawings, site plans, approvals and planning documents, images of sites before/after construction); (c) observation, documentation, field work, and site visits; (d) synthesis of a, b, and c to find out how to maintain the attractiveness, quality of life and social mix in socialist era housing estates. Returning to primary sources from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s through today to gather key decision-making information about mikrorayon—using planning documents and interviews with critical informants who were primary actors—is essential for project success.

Knowledge Transfer Activities
• Project activities allowed me to engage with doctoral students and various professionals inside and outside academia, providing opportunities to nurture future academic researchers and public leaders.
• The project also established and enriched long-lasting research collaborations that benefit all partners, including the beneficiary (UT), me and my and home institution, study participants, research contexts throughout the Baltics, and most importantly, the public at large, providing opportunities for people involved (students, researchers, professionals, myself) to accelerate their intellectual development.
• The project facilitated exchange between researchers. the policy community and housing associations. Knowledge is transferred (via a two-way process) through collaborative partnerships with key participants.
• The rigorous approach of this project helps reduce disparity between scientific knowledge and practical application, specifically targeting research products toward city leaders, planners (at various governance levels) and residents of housing estates. Various opportunities provide for the public to access, free of charge, information produced in the research project through open access publications and a research blog.

Dissemination Activities

The scientific output of the project includes:
• 5 scientific articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals
• 3 book chapters in books published by high-ranking publishers
• 2 additional article manuscripts have been submitted to scholarly journals
• 2 edited volumes have been contracted through Springer International Publishing. Manuscript development is in progress and the books are scheduled for publication in 2018 and 2019
• 20 invited talks or conference presentations were delivered to international audiences consisting of researchers and professional practitioners.
Throughout all phrases of the project, extensive research collaborations were formed with a broad team of international researchers. In total, 40 scholars from 17 countries will contribute to the first edited book, and 31 scholars from 6 countries will contribute to the second edited book. (Included among these author teams in the two books combined are 15 doctoral students from 10 countries.) With these contributing authors, I have performed extensive peer review of manuscripts and research mentoring, and I have benefited from the collaborations through exposure to their research methods.

Funding from the European Commission for this Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant has allowed for broad dissemination of research results in the form of presentations delivered to scholars and researchers, professional practitioners, civil servants, community advocates, and the general public. Activities included, during the life of the 2-year grant, 11 invited talks (in 5 countries), 6 conference presentations (in 6 countries), and 3 conference sessions for which I was organizer (in 3 countries). In addition, I organized seminars, visited local high schools, and interacted with the public in a variety of forums.

My research blog, provided an avenue for wide public dissemination of research results. Entries posted on the research blog were shared far and wide through social media (twitter, Facebook, and other research blogs) by the staff and researchers of the Centre for Migration and Urban Studies.


Research products include 5 scientific articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and 3 book chapters in books published by high-ranking publishers. The final aspect of the grant research tackled comparative research approaches. The first edited book (Housing Estates in Europe: Poverty, Ethnic Segregation, and Poverty Challenges, Springer International Publishing, 2018 forthcoming) compares European housing estates and their socio-demographic and ethnic effects on cities from a horizontal perspective by synthesizing research on 14 cities across Europe. In this edited volume, my co-editors (Dr. Tiit Tammaru and Dr. Maarten van Ham) and I explore in considerable detail large housing estates that were built between the 1950 and 1980 in many European cities and were once envisioned as social utopias that would solve many urban problems at times of rapid industrialization and urbanization.

Building upon the horizontal approach in the first edited volume, the second edited volume is more geographically focused (in the three Baltic countries) and approach housing estates and their legacy from a vertical perspective by delving deep into relevant themes and subtopics. Co-edited with Dr. Tiit Tammaru, Housing Estates in the Baltics: The Legacy of Central Planning in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (Springer International Publishing, 2019 forthcoming) also emphasizes the socio-cultural aspects that shaped housing estates during their formation during the Soviet years (1950s through 1980s).
Dr. Daniel B. Hess and students visit Kodasema, Tallinn, Estonia, June 2016
Dr. Daniel B. Hess, in Tartu, Estonia, June 2015 (photo by Timo Ilves)
Dr. Daniel B. Hess, in Tartu, Estonia, December 2017 (photo by Timo Ilves)
Dr. Tiit Tammaru delivering a presentation at the University of Lille, France, May 2016
Dr. Daniel B. Hess and Dr. Ugis Bratuskins, Riga, Latvia, November 2017
Dr. Daniel B. Hess, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing University, China, October 2016
Dr. Daniel B. Hess, with Dr. Volli Kolm, rector of the University of Tartu, A
Dr. Daniel B. Hess with Dr. Tiit Tammaru, event at Delft University of Technology, September 2016
Dr. Daniel B. Hess (right) with students from Tartu University and SUNY Buffalo, June 2017