What shall we do with all the empty buildings?

The central Latvian town of Cesis played host Wednesday to activists from countries including Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia to discuss a problem encountered by many small and medium-sized towns - a surplus of empty buildings caused by various factors from emigration to industrial decline.

The event, titled New Ideas For Old Buildings, was held in at Skolas6, an historic building in Cesis town center which threatened to become derelict when the local technical college moved out but which has now been reborn as office and workshop space for small businesses and ordinary members of the public.

Jonas Buchel of Riga's Urban Institute told LSM a little more about the project, which forms part of a larger pan-European initiative called New Ideas For Old Buildings.

Jonas Buchel, Urban Institute, Riga

    "If a building is ready to use, it should be used. If the municipality doesn't have a use for it, the strategy is to give it to NGOs," said Ana Furlan of Ajdovščina, Slovenia, which hosted the first event of this kind. 

    Cesis vice mayor Martins Malcenieks said the town was doing its best to stimulate economic and cultural activity, saying "We don't like empty houses, we try to get someone in," and suggesting some of the initiatives from the meeting could be included in the town's development strategy.

    And as if to provide an added warning of the fate that can occur when suitable uses are not found for empty properties, even as the attendees talked, just a hundred meters away an historic building in Rozu square, derelict for years, was being bulldozed.   

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