Daniel Hess explores the legacy of central planning in Baltic States

Housing estate in Lithuania as viewed from the exterior.

An improved five-story panel Lithuanian apartment building of the I-464-LI series (Krūminis group). Image Source Žiburkus J (ed) (1969) Vilniaus namų statybos kombinatas (Vilnius house building factory). (1969). Ministry of Construction of the Lithuanian SSR, Vilnius

by Tyler Madell

Published November 5, 2019


State-sponsored housing projects dating back to the socialist era are a ubiquitous presence across Eastern Europe, particularly in the Baltic Countries. Housing Estates in the Baltic Countries , the latest book edited by Daniel B. Hess, UB professor and chairperson of urban planning, focuses on the formation and later socio-spatial trajectories of such projects in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

General plan of Väike-Õismäe district, 1974 revision plan. This district is the focuss of chapter 13 of the book and examines this section of Tallinn that, although never completely built out according to the initial planning, received the Soviet State Architectural Award in 1986. Image Source: Tallinn, Estonia city planning department archive

Co-edited by Daniel B. Hess and Tiit Tammaru of the University of Tartu, Estonia, the book examines the claim that housing estates in these countries - all former members of the Soviet Union - have taken on a special "westward-looking orientation" that resulted in some of best designs for such spaces in the Soviet Union. Housing Estates in the Baltic Countries (Springer, 2019) builds on a 2018 book by Hess and Tammaru that explored poverty and segregation in housing estates across Europe.

Hess and Tammaru argue for a larger public role in planning the future of these increasingly privatized developments as residents grapple with challenges of physical environment, social mobility and transportation linkages.  

Beginning with a contextualization of housing estates in the Baltics, the book discusses the challenges and debates concerning the construction of these estates as well as their preservation and continued importance in the post-Soviet era. Demographic analyses of housing estate residents in the three Baltic capital cities is paired with case studies of people and places tied to the housing estates. Looking to the future, the final chapter describes retrofits aligned with "smart city" principles to an historic housing estate in Tartu, Estonia.

Having taught and researched in Estonia as a Fulbright scholar and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie international fellow, Hess has focused his research on legacies of urban planning in the Baltics during times of occupation, socialist planning and now post-Socialist market led urban transformations. As exemplified in this book, he has also studied housing systems in these countries and the ways in which they interact with notions of social stratification. Hess' scholarship also includes an extensive body of research on the connections between access to transportation and land use.