Mission Gauja: creating a more resilient and inviting riverfront in Cēsis

The river Gauja flows in the valley beneath the city of Cēsis, Latvia. Its wider basin of boreal woods, terrain of hilltops, cliffs and sandy beaches have played an important role in the development of the city. Yet, the sheer recreational, scenic and ecosystem-sustaining qualities are at times taken for granted by locals and left unnoticed by visitors in the city. The Augmented Urbans Local Action in Cēsis explores how the riverfront area can potentially be developed by increasing the connections to the city core.

In September, the event Mission: Gauja took the centre stage in the city of Cēsis. Inhabitants, business owners, project partners, architects and planners spent two action-packed weeks immersing in walks, talks, virtual reality (VR), mixed reality and digital-assistant-empowered experiences. A range of project ideas in relation to the vicinity of the Gauja river were generated, including that of a resort.

Streetscapes in Cēsis

To kick-start the two-week event, the participants were invited to take part in the Mission Gauja treasure hunt via a mobile application. Through their participation in the game, the participants explored specific sites around the river, gathered and shared their impressions with others, and were in the end rewarded a small trophy for their efforts.

Pop-up office arrangement and photo by “MakingMagic”

Furthermore, the Augmented Urbans team also set up a temporary residence — a pop-up — on one of the busiest streets of Cēsis, open for all locals and guests of the city. The pop-up showcased an interactive digital map of the Gaujaslīči area by the river, and the existing infrastructure around the Cīrulīši resort area between the city and the riverfront. It also presented a narration that described possible future development projects that are now being discussed. The participants were invited to crowdsource ideas on how to activate the area from the perspective of everyday users.

Planning hike through the Local Action site together with ‘Cēsis Inside’

The pop-up featured thematic talks with project developers describing various developments planned in the area. Projects included an active recreation network of ski slopes, tennis courts, and terrain for seasonal hiking, a space exploration center, a senior housing complex, a watch tower, and the budding plans for the resort facilities and attractions.

To make sure the proposed developments reflected the needs of both locals and tourists, the pop-up team held two events mapping the pains and gains in the riverfront. The first event addressed a pressing issue, i.e. mobility, and the second focused on which activities can be held during peak- and off peak season think. Several events were dedicated to specific target groups: seniors shared their memories from the former resort site in Cīrulīši while school-aged children designed their ideal activities along the forest route in an interactive session.

How do children see the future of forests, hills, trails and the river Gauja? An interactive planning session with the foundation ‘LEARNER EXPLORER CITYDWELLER’

After two weeks of work, interaction and debate with more than 200 attendees, we see that digital technologies hold substantial potential to enhance and augment experiences of participants in thinking about the future of specific sites. Compared with experiences from the other Augmented Urbans cities, people were keen to try out the VR and other applications but also appreciated the chance to share their ideas with others in a tried-and-true manner. The finding is particularly valuable as they facilitate personal interactions in a time when meaningful encounters between planners and citizens often has been found to be increasingly scarce.

See the video and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of pop-up “Mission: Gauja”:

Following the pop-up, on October 25th, the Climathon Cēsis 2019 event is organised by Augmented Urbans in close cooperation with EIT Climate KIC initiative, and the Cēsis branch of the Riga Technical University. The ‘climate hackathon’ is divided under the themes of ecosystem services and tourism and climate. Both topics are founded in the need to develop the Local Action site — the Gauja riverfront — in the most sustainable way possible, i.e. integrating the plans of the future city with the need to protect the sites and fostering their unique natural values.

The stunning natural areas in Cēsis

The topic of ecosystem services and tourism will lead Climathon participants to explore how growing tourism in the area may impact the local green and blue territories and to design ways to put ecological resilience at the core of the tourism-related infrastructure and services. The climate section, in turn, will focus on solutions to mitigate the impact of climate change for local ecosystem services and the future of green and blue territories in Cēsis and its surroundings. We will keep you posted about the outcomes!

Evija Taurene, Chief Spatial Planner in Cēsis municipality and Augmented Urbans Local Action coordinator

Augmented Urbans

Exploring the nexus of sustainable urban development, participatory planning and XR technologies - insights from seven cities around the Baltic Sea. The blog is maintained by the project Augmented Urbans, co-funded by EU's Central Baltic Interreg programme.

Project: Augmented Urbans

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Sharing findings at https://medium.com/augmented-urbans

Augmented Urbans

Exploring the nexus of sustainable urban development, participatory planning and XR technologies - insights from seven cities around the Baltic Sea. The blog is maintained by the project Augmented Urbans, co-funded by EU's Central Baltic Interreg programme.

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