A City Planning Exercise in Tartu City Center

Constance Strother, Shih-Ting Huang, Taavi Rebane, and Nicholas Anto (left to right) work together to review a site plan.

Constance Strother, Shih-Ting Huang, Taavi Rebane, and Nicholas Anto (left to right) work together to review a site plan.


Published June 3, 2016

Imagine redesigning a city in only 2 days. That’s exactly what American and Estonian students did recently as part of a summer study abroad program in Estonia.

Site plan of river front changes.

The work focused on public space at the city center and enhanced connections for people to experience the Emajõgi riverbanks.

The 48-hour urban planning challenge was part of a laboratory practicum led by Daniel B. Hess, PhD, a UB associate professor of urban and regional planning. Hess is currently a visiting scholar in the Centre for Urban and Migration Studies at the University of Tartu as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow. Two students in the Department of Geography were joined by visiting American students to develop new schemes for redeveloping Tartu city center. The American students came from the University at Buffalo and Alfred State College in New York State. 

Focusing on Tartu Town Square and nearby locations, the students began by identifying problems in the built environment, including limited access to the banks of the Emajõgi River, an overburdened Kaarsild connecting the east and west sides, incomplete bicycle networks, and a lack of greenery in Town Square. The students then set about reconceptualizing the workings of various parts of this section of the city center. 

Park and cityscape updates as part of a plan to update public spaces.

Students sought to enhance public space on the east side of Kaarsild by trimming trees, enhancing lighting, and adding a small amphitheater.

At the end of the assignment, the students presented their results to Tartu officials. “The purpose of the exercise is to generate new ideas for Tartu,” said Dr. Hess, “while giving students the experience of working at a fast pace and in a dynamic environment.”  The teams were interdisciplinary, with bachelor and masters students in architecture, environmental design, geography, and urban planning. “I especially enjoyed working closely in this challenge with the Estonian students. It was an unforgettable experience, and when we combined our talents, we created projects that I am proud of,” said Constance Strother from Buffalo. “It was fascinating to learn about how visitors view our city and their suggestions for improving public space,” added Taavi Rebane of Tartu.