Student Fellowship

Spreading Joy in the Public Realm: Crafting an Urban Design Placemaking Plan for Riga

Project Area:

Urban Design and Mobility


Riga, Latvia

Reporting to:

Chief of Staff

The Challenge

The Mayor of Riga is committed to deepening community satisfaction, expanding civic engagement, and elevating the cultural identity of the city. The pandemic has tested residents’ spirits and a recent polarization in local politics has taken a toll on residents’ morale. As a step toward shaping the city’s identity, city leadership is making efforts to communicate in a new way about culture and has articulated the need for a structured and collaborative approach. By framing these challenges as a collaborative opportunity, city leadership aims to take a participatory approach in engaging the community with arts and culture in the public realm and instilling a further sense of belonging for residents and visitors. With dedicated funds for implementation and previous efforts to learn from, city officials want to develop a creative urban design placemaking plan that engages a variety of public and private stakeholders in the process. 

To build out this plan, the fellow working alongside Riga officials will help answer two key questions: 

  • What small, inexpensive activities, projects, and actions can make the city more enjoyable for residents as well as contribute to tourism marketing and city branding?
  • How can the city best engage the private sector?

A rich cultural history, active political environment, demand for pedestrian safety improvements, and a dynamic, young new mayor who is championing this project, all support the effort. Through greater engagement with a variety of stakeholders, city leadership aims to leverage urban design and arts and culture to inform civic engagement. City officials think that a fellow will bring a fresh perspective and contribute greatly to the working group that is helping shape a community-informed arts and culture plan that reflects all of Riga.

The fellow will have the opportunity to engage in events being hosted this summer, which include: the annual participatory budgeting cycle (project selection process), normally held in June and July, and the international Riga Biennale of Contemporary Art, which will run from July 15 – October 2, 2022.

What You’ll Do

The fellow will be expected to develop a year-long placemaking plan for the city, rooted by street art and public space interventions. There are several tasks that shape this effort: 

Assess and understand current urban design and placemaking features in the city.

  • Develop a new dataset to capture this information for city use.

Identify key stakeholders to engage now and into the future.

  • Conduct stakeholder interviews and hold focus groups with elected officials, artists, residents, private sector actors, the Tourist Investment Agency, and the Neighborhood Coordination Center–focused on community perceptions and design preferences.
  • Based on information gathered, identify gaps in urban design interventions and activities.

Develop an ideas handbook that charts various types of urban design strategies to encourage conversation, foster cultural identity, and boost community satisfaction (and joy!).

  • Research various urban design precedents and solutions, from temporary/pop-ups to permanent installations. Opportunities include standalone objects, digital art or mixed media, interactive pieces, pieces that are activist-oriented or have an action-oriented message (e.g., for voting).
  • Assess location suitability for neighborhood-specific strategies.

Draft a year-long plan for implementation. This may also include developing a public-facing interactive database or “story map” to feature selected arts and culture items from the plan. 

Build a case and/or process for the private sector to engage, fund, or support/manage these efforts to add as a section in the year-long plan.

Related deliverables defined in concert with the fellow include the following: a year-long implementation plan that includes a plan for engaging stakeholders; insights from stakeholder interviews and best practices research; and a database of urban design and placemaking features in the city. 

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills and experience: 

  • Qualitative and interview experience
  • Urban design skills 
  • Mapping skills
  • Marketing experience (social media focus is a plus)
  • Arts and culture interest (a plus)
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