TWO STORIES OF MEMORIES AND HOPE. Celebrating lost and returning people in Riga. Pt.2

You must've known at least one person who returned back to their home town due to the coronavirus pandemic. At most cases never deliberately, the decision was usually made without discussion. However, some returned before and after despite any lockdown - with impressive experience and different views to what their city was then and has become today. We celebrate the 819th birthday of Riga this weekend by again sharing memories and hope of its lost and recently found citizens with the second edition in this article series.

capital r, riga, capital riga, martins engelis
Riga, Nometņu street. 30 years apart.


Returned on July 2020 after leaving for Ilmenau, Germany, and the Hague and Leiden, the Netherlands in September 2010.
Now I don't see any big difference between Riga and other cities that I have considered being western European. Everything is present here, at least if you live in central Riga or any other "fancy" neighbourhood. Meanwhile, the inhabitants even at my native microrayon Purvciems celebrate the opening of their first "normal", not another shabby café - Purch.

On Aleksandrs' way home to Purvciems, there is the Deglava bridge. This house was built more than 100 years ago, was infested with the homeless and, after an accidental or purposeful partial fire, got torn down in 2013 (2008 / 2020 - © Aleksandrs Safronovs; CAPITAL R).

I grew up in "Purchiks" while attending schools in the centre where most of my activities and life took place. Outside of that, there were only commuter neighbourhoods. I did not notice any segregation then; however now it strikes my eye. On the other hand, being back also absolutely destroyed my willingness to live in the fancy Klusais Centrs part of Riga. It has hardly changed, so it must be me and my left-wing politics why I changed my mind.

I noticed some development of the traffic culture - it really is not as bad as it was back then. In fact, I even feel safe enough on roads to ride a bike without helmet. I also noticed foreigners that finally live and work in Riga for a change. It makes me happy.
What doesn't make me happy is the bottled beer in supermarkets now being more expensive than in the Netherlands. Thankfully, the quality is up along the price here too, with new breweries and new sorts of beer. Nowadays most bars have some local IPA on tap, and many have a rotation of tasty new sorts.
Many of my favourite bars closed, changed, or moved (mostly in Old Town - CR) . We have lost Aptieka completely. Also Leningrad moved to a mundane location and lost its charm. The silver lining is Gauja which was teleported around the corner from its old spot and now has the cosiest terrace in town, killer food, and is every bit more welcoming of an institution. Finally, some new places have appeared as well, Aleponija can give it a run for its money tho. :)

A place in Old town Aleksandrs and his friends called the "Spanish loop" since the wreck mysteriously reminded them of something in Spain. The house is torn down and the address is vacant for years now (2007 / 2020 - © Aleksandrs Safronovs; CAPITAL R).


Returned in April 2018 after leaving for the Hague, Brussels, Zurich, St. Andrews in Scotland, and Amsterdam in August 2010.
Returning back home did not come as a conscious decision; more like an idea to have a short detox and then onto the next destination, but hey…here I am.

When comparing what Riga was back then to what it is now, I can truly say the place has changed tremendously. At first, Riga is becoming greener. Besides the city parks and flowerpots, the fact that urban greening aspects are taken into account when planning and developing different areas of the city as well as the rise of different citizen-lead initiatives is something that I very much appreciate.
Increasing number of cycling and scooter lanes, pedestrian streets, zero waste shops, vegetarian and vegan cafés, initiatives that connect buyers with local farmers... Now more than ever urban planning, locally sourced food, and other environmentally-conscious issues are on top of our list when thinking about the quality of life in my city.
Something that I have always appreciated about Riga and am reminded of whenever my foreign friends visit – how compact and connected the city is. However, there still are areas in which the city should continue improving – different means of transportation and an inclusive city planning.

This particularly is reflected on Brīvības iela. Although being one of the main streets of Riga, it represents the lack of urban planning and greening into the city’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, it still highlights the problem of cars being in the centre of city planning, and pedestrians and cyclists being secondary.

Depending on the season, one can search for shade somewhere between the buildings and pavement or hope one will not be splashed by rainwater or wet snow. The city is changing, that’s for sure; however, whenever crossing Brīvības street, I hope that soon enough Riga will be able to present a modern, inclusive, and green thinking behind its main streets for its inhabitants and visitors.

During the parade of XXIV Latvian Song and Dance Festival, where I took part in. For a day, Brīvības street was given to the people. The section captured in this photo was a boulevard mostly made for walking 100 years ago (2008 / 2020 - © Elza Ozoliņa; CAPITAL R). P.S. This year's festival for the youth (that would have a similar parade) did not take place due to the coronavirus lockdown.

When I first moved out of Riga, my family lived in Āgenskalns while I was attending the Riga English Grammar School. Thinking ten to twenty years back of Āgenskalns and seeing how much the neighbourhood has developed in recent years – a modern market, little cosy cafés, an upgraded shopping centre – it has surprisingly been one of the highlights since my return.

The picture of my graduation day represents the end of a significant chapter as well as one of the last times when being in Āgenskalns. The construction of the school’s façade, development of a new building and its surroundings has also represented to me the change that has been happening in the neighbourhood over the past few years (2010 / 2020 - © Elza Ozoliņa; CAPITAL R).

Overall, since I’ve returned to Riga, it is great to see not only the physical change that the city is undergoing by trying to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants. It's also great to see it aiming to reach toward values of a more open-minded, accepting, inclusive, and kinder society.

Although there’s still a long way ahead of us (believe me, I do have my frustration moments!), at least we’re on the right track by raising these issues within the society and can not only hope, but also make change through our actions and civic participation. And remember, my fellow Latvians – we ain’t average, we don’t deserve average, we always look up and reach towards the top!