Vilnius, “the city of the future”: open, fast and creative

Lithuania´s capital has been recently regarded among the top three medium-size European cities of the future by the Financial Times Investment Expert Group fDi Intelligence

Standing on the threshold of its next hundred years of statehood, Lithuania, and, particularly, Vilnius, the heart of all major economical, social and cultural vibrancy in the country, has already decided to take advantage of this historical time to pause, reflect and discuss the direction that the third Baltic State wants to head in the next hundred years of Statehood. As discomfort has always inspired action, Lithuania´s industry has slowly started realising that the only direction for its progress lies in the creation of added value.

On 16 February 1918, the Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed, effectively creating the modern Lithuanian state, with Vilnius as its capital

 

Attracting foreigners to live and work in Lithuania´s capital, turning creative ideas into creative projects, and making the city more attractive and liveable to local residents and visitors, are increasingly becoming a catalyst for future growth. In fact, Vilnius has been recently regarded among the top three medium-size European cities of the future by the Financial Times Investment Expert Group fDi Intelligence. Its strategy to retain business investment and hold talent from abroad to live and work in the capital of Lithuania was considered by an independent expert panel of the fDi Intelligence as a role model for other cities.

OPEN & FAST

“Vilnius strategy is about finding priorities. When you are clearly focused in the right direction, then you can dedicate all your resources on that purpose”, stated Gintarė Kavaliūnaitė, public relations manager of Go Vilnius, the Official tourism and business development agency.

Attracting tourists, talent and investment to the city are the three focus points of Vilnius growth strategy. However, integration is not always easy, particularly, in a city inhabited by 128 ethnicities including strong Russians, Polish, Germans, Belarusians or Jewish communities. In order to smooth foreigners path, the municipality with the support of Go Vilnius, has launched a tool based on the experiences of people who have already made their move to Vilnius. This tool, which takes the form of a relocation guide, has been also useful to enterprises interested in recruiting foreign workers.

“We live in a time where recruitment is global, and companies are trying to attract people from other countries, especially when the profile that they need is missing in Lithuania. When the human resources department finds the foreign talent that the company was looking for, they provide this tool to smooth their move to Vilnius”, explained Gintare Kavaliūnaitė.

By scheduling step by step the process, providing either essential information, helpful advice, or even lists of job offers and co-working spaces, the city business agency have found in this relocation guide a proper way to pave the foreign road. The purpose is to recover what the city meant to be from its foundation in the 14thcentury: an open and tolerant centre between Eastern Europe and Asia.

First mentioned in 1323, history reveals that the founder of today´s Lithuanian capital, Gran Duke Gediminas, sent numerous letters to Western Europe inviting craftsmen and traders of all nationalities and religious confessions to settle in the city to nourish its energy, and pushing its life forward. After seven centuries and a disruptive recent past of consecutive wars and invasions, Vilnius, the city reborn in the ruins of the Russian Empire, is becoming once again the harmonious multicultural centre and constantly open-ended.

“We want Vilnius to be diverse, different and open to new people, new initiatives and businesses. We are not a big city, but we can do better than others in terms of openness, flexibility and fast-growing business. Foreign investors do not have to face high bureaucracy barriers. They start to operate as soon as possible. An example is Uber. It was the fastest entering in the city, which took less than a month”, argued Miss Gintare.

This all-doors now open momentum has encouraged International companies such us Uber, Swedbank, Barclays, Euromonitor International or, recently, Benify to open their business in Lithuanian capital. In fact, over the past 5 years, foreign direct investment has grown by more than a 60% in the city, according to the latest figures of the National Statistics Department.

In order to keep boosting this business booming, Go Vilnius has recently created a new initiative launched to invite international companies to come and spend one week in Vilnius with their personnel. “We provide them with the accommodation, premises and office space. The idea of this programme, which will start in September, is to invite enterprises to experience what it feels to live and work in Vilnius”.

According to the European Commission, 98% of residents are happy with life in Vilnius

 

With a current area of 400 square kilometres, Vilnius is a concentrated and greenery city that rests at the Neris riverbanks. A natural border that separates the Old Town; a UNESCO world heritage site that harbours an impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings, and the new Tech Park; a working ecosystem that hosts the biggest Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) startup hub in the Baltic and Nordics, uniting international tech companies, accelerators, incubators and other businesses.

Social and economic statistics have already pointed out the rapid growth of Lithuania´s Creative Industries (CI). According to the European Commission’s Cultural and Creative city monitors, a strategic tool that assesses and measures the imaginative pulse of cities, the creative sector in Vilnius constitutes half of Lithuanian CCS. In fact, industries such us Fintech, GameDev and Biotech attract about two-thirds of all direct foreign investments in the Baltic country. This tendency it is not only being displayed in graphics and statistics, it is taking place in people´s consciousness, as well.

Vilnius Tech Park invites cutting-edge companies to become part of this working ecosystem, which is just a 15 minutes walk from the city centre

 

CREATIVE CITY

“Vilnius of today raises money from ideas that come from the new generations. Creative Industries take a big place due the many artistic and young creative people residing in the city”, explained Ms Agne Vilkonciute, Deputy Director of Administration and responsible for cultural affairs.

Regarded as a “newcomer” city by the Creative Metropolis Network, (co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Norwegian funding through the INTERREG IV programme), Vilnius is taking the first steps in developing Creative Industries policy framework. Taking as role models other European cities with more established CI policies such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Helsinki, Stockholm or Birmingham, the city is using creative industries for enhancing Vilnius attractiveness.

In order to achieve this aim, Vilnius CI policies are the focus in financing several on-going projects related to the renovation, regeneration and revitalisation of urban space and old industries sites. One of these projects is “Creating Vilnius”. A plan that has rapidly acquired 120 modern, bright and unique art projects suggested by Vilnius’ citizens to be employed as a mean to decorate the city.

The regeneration of Uzupis is one of the most significant cultural and social transformations to take place. According to the Mapping Document of Creative Industries, there are more than 200 creative businesses, organizations and artists active.

 

Užupis, is an example of the transformation of a run-down district into a creative and artist district due willingness between artists, entrepreneurs and creative organizations itself. It used to be a centenary market of craftsmen and traders, but with the pass of the time, it became a dark and dangerous place. However, it is nowadays an artist’s republic with its own constitution and president. Despite it is a quite small pedestrian area with 7.0000 inhabitants it has been compared to Montmartre in Paris and to Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen.

Located in the heart of Užupis, Užupis Art Incubator has led an important role in the metamorphosis of this old side making its life interesting and constantly open-ended. Since its foundation, this creative workspace -first project of this kind in the Baltic countries- has been promoting a place for creative young people, who are given an opportunity to implement their ideas and realize their potential in an inspirational workspace. This bohemian and unique place, located just ten steps to the river Neris, is also regarded as a tourist spot. Free markets, open galleries and art in the streets provide a distinguished mood to this picturesque city area, which receives at any time of the day, visitors with their cameras.

Other neighbourhoods in Vilnius has been inspired by Uzupis Art incubator and have started their own initiatives to foster feelings of belonging to a community

 

“Places like this are crucial because it brings value to the city. The concentration of artists and creative energy attract residents and tourists, but also small business”, explained Ieva Matulionyte, Užupis Art Incubator manager. “Besides of being an incubator growing young talent, we are based in a lively, active community. Our mission is to involve people. That explains why we have open studios”.

Every year, a panel of experts selects the most valuable and promising candidates. A hundred of young talented people, specialised from traditional and visual arts until architecture or design, got the chance of jumping into this working environment. Since 2002, more than 750 Lithuanian developers and over 160 foreign artists from Finland, Georgia, Switzerland, France, Latvia, Russia, USA or Norway among other countries have developed their own projects in UžupisArt Incubator.

“To me, this place is like Hollywood. It is a good space to create”, states George, a foreign artist and designer, who saw in Vilnius a rising star in the start-up scene.

In order to enhance the creative talent, governmental institutions such as Invest Lithuania and Enterprise Lithuania are encouraging and supporting youth entrepreneur’s ambitious ideas. “We want to offer a strong umbrella to all the creative and cultural industries”, explained Roma Surviliene, Director of the Lithuanian Creative Industries Association. “We are aware that the Creative Industries are not only holding young people, looking forward to finding a vacancy in new jobs, are promoting the growth of the city. Enterprise Lithuania, which is a national agency for boosting entrepreneurs, is offering free services to young brands and business. So, all these young talents with creative mindset and entrepreneur skills can apply for some consultancy and some financing”, added Miss Roma Surviliene.

Apart of promoting young talent, whose ideas are striking and promising, Vilnius is also focused on developing creative projects in order to make the city more livable and attractive to local residents and foreigners. Street music and art festivals, open kitchens and local markets are bringing life in a different way. These are not economical projects but provide a liveable and democratic atmosphere.

In fact, people from abroad describe Vilnius as a nice combination metropolis. It hosts the classical side with its gorgeous architectures buildings, wide avenues and squares, theatres, cultural centres, galleries and museums, distinctive for their number and gentle refinement, and, then, the liveable, new and modern side which hosts alternative initiatives and not-elitist cultural projects. All these artistic performances, events and places of public interaction have become, indeed, the driving force of the overall “Uptown” district growth: an industrial side, built under Soviet rule. However, it is now to be rebuilt into a fashionable district.

“New Town revolution has involved the right people always willing to make the New Town more beauty and liveable. Neighbours from the very beginning entrust us this commitment. They provided us the money in order to make this old area more valuable and alive in a medium-long term”, stated Zivile Diawara, manager of Loftas Art Factory, an independent, non-profit cultural centre that, in eight years, has leaded the regeneration of an old factory in the Newtown district into a creative place. “When we moved here, it was a big challenge for us. We had somehow to connect everybody by doing something together. We invited all the community to discuss what we wanted this space to be. It is a place made by people and for people”.

Every single week, the Art Factory Loftas hosts a music concert in its premises

 

Inspired by other Berliners and New Yorkers art factories, it has been providing creative opportunities and events including fashion shows, concerts, seminars, cinema screenings and art performances for local residents and tourists. Becoming in 2010 the first multifunctional space in the Baltics States, it hosts nowadays around 200 events a year.

“Since we started all these creative initiatives, this area of the city started to change”, explained Zivile Diawara. “It nowadays a place open to new people, new business and initiatives. In a long-term I would like to make this space a destination spot in Europe, where the creative professionals could come”, she added.

It is said that in a constant cycle of influencing and being influenced the city impacts upon its residents’ mind and, conversely, their emotional state impacts upon the city with untold effects. Since the city independence in 1990, Vilnius society has more optimism and enthusiasm toward the present and the future. A sign that is not only reflected in its people mood, but also it is displayed in the city ambitious attraction strategy, in the inspirational and creative contribution of non- profit organizations and in the new generations promising ideas.

The eagerness, tenacity, ambitious, openness and effort demonstrated by all this public, private and independent groups are increasingly changing and improving the economic situation of the overall Vilnius, still yet to be discovered worldwide. Maybe it will only be a matter of time before Vilnius, the city reborn in the ruins of the Russian Empire, becomes widely recognised as what it meant to be: “open, fast and creative”.