#15URBANMINUTES. Lunching a new urban literary project.

This autumn I began an urban literary project called “#15urbanminutes” dedicated to my love for observing and channeling urban spaces through self. The project’s modus operandi is simple – “One place, fifteen minutes. Don't ask, don't talk, don't overthink, just look... and see.” Here are some of the best examples of #15urbanminutes for now.

I wrote the first texts last autumn just to cope with the unstoppable growth of covid restrictions and the #stayathome movement. Pushed outside yet unable to be fully social with others in the advent of the autumn lockdown, I began to wander more in the city alone. What started as a covid-era therapy, has now grown into a multi-city text project. Its output, accompanied by photos, are phenomenological (observe everything directly, take notes, don't intervene) poetic diaries on everyday mise-en-scènes in cities #15urbanminutes at a time.
Turns out city life is much more comical, sad, unexpected and inspiring than we think. We just need to take a break and let the urban life indulge us. It's something we constantly forget.
For now, there are two cities I have begun to observe: RIGA and HELSINKI with, hopefully, more to follow. You can find the texts on the project's Facebook. Of course, I will be glad you'd follow the page too. Also, in case you know a fund, initiative, residence, project, festival, forum, biennial etc. that would allow me to write about your/any other city as an commissioned artistic intervention, let me know. Long time ago, I also did creative writing workshops, and the #15urbanminutes method is actually a good mapping exercise in neighbourhoods.

This article is just a little showcase of some of the best, weirdest, most personal or most popular texts. SO take a break from your daily life and have a read.



The kindergarten is over, school is over, work is over, and life has really begun on the top of the hottest hill in Riga when it’s the coldest.

From oldschool sledge to toboggan sled, to steering snowracers and sled boards, from mini skis to skateboard decks, from anything to everything. Kids from all ages use everything that slides and are all in on this little city slope today. Most kids go down alone, some form doubles with parents, some even try out triple power.

Back in the day 13 years ago, when I lived right opposite Grīziņparks, I would be the only silly one sliding down the hill on my shoes while my neighbour’s taking pictures. It was a fragile, gloomy time. Now the park is safer, renovated and tended, there are more better situated families in the neighbourhood, people are better situated in general to buy good clothing and gear. Parents look affluent, kids don’t miss a thing. Even the dad-mom ratio is balanced, so it tells something about the evolution of the family concept. This place is now a winter wonderland many yearned for, but what has now been reclaimed by the community.

I find it extraordinary to see what seems to be two pairs of sister twins both dressed up in the same snowsuits, both having the same gear. Two teenagers pass by with their skateboard decks, but choose to go downhill away from “kids”. A little boy in a red-starred WWI-like felt “budenovka” hat is going downhill on his steering sledge once with his dad, then alone a second time. This could have been his very first snowy winter as the boy tells the dad he is afraid to steer and keeps on pushing the brakes on his second independent ride today. Dad instead encourages him to go all the way down with no fear.
As I leave the number of kids doubles immediately; I believe it will continue to grow every hour. There should be working hours for parents, yet many are here. Maybe “work from home” or “results oriented work environment” has finally paid off?

The kids don’t know yet that some winter days are going to be like a pain in the ass when they grow up. But today - this is life.

56°57'27.2"N 24°09'18.6"E




“Riga is London for the poor” - states a contemporary saying popular among Russian-speaking expats. Here, surrounded by hordes of pigeons like in Trafalgar square, amidst the continuous drizzle and constant grayness, and seeing a tired Latvian version of the diagonal pedestrian crossing on Oxford Circus, I can only confirm it, at least for today.

This place is busy with passers-by but it’s much busier with birds. It seems they have a tendency to gather after lunch time, when they are most likely fed by pupils. I have no idea when this spot became the feeding grounds for pigeons, but what was once a few dozens are now a few hundreds of fearless, sometimes demanding, but often dull critters. It only takes once for a well trained eye to spot the source of the birds - usually sitting on the edge of the roof of Bērnu Pasaule and scanning the square like a flock of living CCTV’s.

A shady couple with a plastic-boxed honey cake are the first to attract the birds. Standing next to the carpet of pigeons, they talk quietly, meet their shady friend, supposedly, and then leave. Whereas, the birds are attracted by every kid and dog passing by. A fancy man, dressed in a slim wool coat, passes right by my nose, reeking of garlic bread. A teenager across the street fixes his “Nick Carter” hairstyle. Every older pedestrian with a mask has their snoot out. A concrete mixer truck passes by twice - it makes hell of a noise the second time. The birds take wing and swoop a hasty lady passing by. It’s a tight schedule for all the creatures in the world today.

56°57'25.7"N 24°08'01.3"E




Last time I was here, a couple would break up at the feet of the Alexander II statue. We were sitting on the steps having lunch while the young woman would be shouting and crying at her guy. Both of them were not locals, probably Erasmus. After a while, as she sat down, both went silent and he just started tapping with his palm on her shoulder like “don’t cry, good girl, very good girl”.

That was summer. Now you would be crazy to break up at the Senate Square. You would freeze to death from windchill first. Where I stand, next to the cathedral, it’s even more unbearable despite the temperature being quite optimistic. And I am dressed well. Not to be said about those many, generally Mediterranean-looking and mostly Spanish-speaking tourists, who dare coming here in tight dark blue denim jeans. I know, the cold is exotic to them, but - come on. The shoes are also 50/50, at least their coats fit the weather description; few are actually well equipped like going on a snowboard camp, not having a city break, and all have hats. But who were they kidding to turn up with massive DSLR cameras not to be used once at the Square just because they don’t want their fingers to fall off.

If no one sits on the steps, the square seems to be relatively busy with foreigners, and barely anyone stops to pose for a phone picture. All as one climbs up the stairs and heads toward the entrance of the cathedral, but it seems only a handful stay for longer. Maybe they get suspicious of the Finnish inspired “entrance is 5 EUR, but this is actually a donation”. For many, this can cause brain paralysis - so is it free or do I pay?

A group of middle-aged tourists gathers at the bottom of the stairs; it seems to be a stop for a free tour. Another group, perhaps a private one, gathers on the other side of Alexander II. A German-speaking nuclear family with 3 pre-teen boys manages to climb to the top, and all of them are surprisingly poorly dressed (when you get used to seeing all Finnish kids packed in snowsuits, this is a bone chilling view).
The humbly decorated Christmas tree is struggling in the wind. Something is again under construction, now on Aleksanterinkatu. A trifecta of two Spanish-speaking daughters and their mother reach the top and flee as soon as the windchill begins: all dressed in the same burgundy coats. Must have been a bargain.

60°10'12.2"N 24°57'06.2"E




Exactly 8 years ago, I was standing in this exact place before leaving Helsinki after my very first visit. It was sunny, cold and snowless just like today, and the construction guys were digging under the tram track. I wonder what it does to you as a person when you keep on gnawing on nothing but rock beneath the city surface all your life. With Helsinki continuously being under construction, I am glad the digging is done here, and it’s time to fix facades now.

This is an intensive tram junction, and every pantograph sparks electric charge every time; I have seen it happening at low temperatures more often. Right at the opposite tram stop, an older carriage on Route 4 passes by a new, cosmic-like Route 4s tram. In a city with its well-kept distinctive tram style, the advent of the future has come quite recently and is a surprise to me.

People are dressed better than on my seminal visit, Christmas decorations are also already on, yet Helsinki, as seen from here, has kept its business. People keep on flowing; however, the conversation is almost exclusively going on only among the younger generations while the middle-age and the elderly exchange words extremely seldom here. A woman pushes by a cart full of dirty catering equipment, a well-dressed man carries two bags of “princess organic” blankets out of the Forum shopping mall, a very old man, seemingly lost in the city, stops in front of me, then passes across the street, a short, poorly dressed teenager lost in life with a cigarette between his teeth asks for a light.

Meanwhile across the street a seemingly regular man in a reflective suit pushes some kind of agenda on a woman with Indochinese origin and hands out some materials. After finishing my 15minute watch, out of curiosity, I approach him. Turns out he is from Brazil, has been living in the Helsinki area for 20 years, hands me a pocket-sized brochure “Help from Above”, and says: “Are you a friend of the Bible? It has all the wisdom of life!”

Whom was I kidding this would not happen?

60°10'10.9"N 24°56'17.6"E




Recently, few “Riders of Justice” from the local neighbourhood group on Facebook criticized the newly opened Āgenskalns square by the market. It’s too bright, it’s too much a Colorado beetle, it’s too flat and pays no respects to the old market building. So I decided to pay the place a 15 minute respect myself.

It’s the end of a working day, and people don’t seem to rush for a change (apart from a guy running for the bus, but I can understand it as the city has thinned its public transport schedule due to lockdown and he might wait too long). The only ones rushing now are cars in this usually busy traffic joint, and it is emphasized by often beeping and a lorry taking a turn right and hastily running over the whole corner curb. Seems that the criticized square, once a car park, brings the long awaited balance to the neighbourhood. There is now a place for rush, and a place for leisure, both get on pretty well, and there is finally a decent, relatively good looking place to hang out in the heart of Āgenskalns. Not a fan of the water pump though as it looks too robotic in this otherwise poetic scenery.

Two acquaintances pass by and don’t recognize me. It’s getting darker, and there is this one moment between day and night where my eyesight gets slightly blurry. Maybe theirs gets too.

The “Riders of Justice” also warned the square will be an attraction to the homeless. While I am there, there're none. Instead, two young women sit around. If this was 10urbanminutes rather than 15, I would have missed one of them meeting her friend. As soon as they’re gone, three young blokes pass through the square, one sits down in a bravado manner to make fun of the place, another one ridicules the round table at a bench as if it was a steering wheel. I can only bet, in no time, those blokes will be frequent visitors and spend a lot of their meet-ups at the square. After all, we all tend to laugh at something we actually need later.

The acquaintances pass by again, now in the opposite directions. One of them, the guy, carries a large TV screen. Jackpot.

56°56'08.7"N 24°04'17.1"E




Once I wanted to write a story about a man who loves the sea, but then sees a dream where it kills him. From then on, the man keeps away from the sea, and all his love is transferred to his newborn daughter he names Mare to honour his now lost friend. The man’s love and care only grows stronger with years, but it seems more and more fanatic, even dangerous in the eyes of the child. The man, only wishing the best to his daughter, keeps her away from any threat, but it only drives Mare mad until one day, in the height of one of their fights, she, out of self defense or maybe madness, stabs her father to death with a knife.

This beach is the place I once saved my friend from drowning. Even if it seems like a brave ego trip in post factum, the memories of that day, knowing if I didn’t brace myself and hit the bottom as well, are frightening. Tell me what you want - bodies of water have this indescribable ability to affect our lives even from afar. Like with Mare and her father. 

One old friend of mine once said Berlin would suit me. I responded, for sure!, but how can you live so far from the water - it’s like staying at an overpopulated market square. Maybe it’s a bit hypocritical to say I cannot breathe without the sea even though I sometimes visit the place only few times a year. But it’s not the regularity that brings us solace, it’s the knowledge of the sea being somewhere nearby 24/7 whether we are happy or sad. It’s like with old friends - one will always save you even after years of silence.

The wind is stiff today, and the beach is occupied by kite surfers. The waves are not high, yet the conditions remind me of a night in August some 15 years ago when organizing a scout camp at Jūrkalne, we ran into the dark, rough sea. Drifting on the back, it was the very first time in my life I was so strongly aware of myself being alive. But then, when surrounded by this force majeure under the pitch dark sky, I also realized that, in the whole universe, I am nothing. It was probably the only moment in my life I was so close to absolute happiness.

57°04'54.3"N 24°06'19.7"E


Mārtiņš Eņģelis