TALLINN - A conference on the future of Tallinn, featuring several current and former city officials, floated a number of novel ideas 's including making English an official language and turning the city into a banking center 's in an attempt to boost the Estonian capital's chances to better compete in the 21st century.
One of the most striking proposals at the Nov. 19 gathering came from Toomas Vitsut, deputy chairman of the Tallinn City Council, who said that by adopting English as an official language Tallinn would improve its competitiveness in attracting foreign investment.
"This, however, would require as radical an approach from state Estonian institutions as with the demand for commanding the official state language (Estonian 's ed.)," said Vitsut, a member of the Center Party.
But English as an official language in Tallinn "would ensure higher incomes for residents of Tallinn and Estonia as a whole," he said.
Vitsut argued that since the April riots Russian businessmen have packed their bags and left, leaving the English language to fill the language gap in the capital.
The proposal was by far the most radical to come out of the conference "Tallinn Without Borders," which was organized to brainstorm about how to reinvigorate the Estonian capital.
Deputy Mayor Ivi Eenmaa, a member of the Reform Party, said Tallinn should be more assertive in both public relations and business opportunities, to the point that the city should transform itself into the premier financial capital of the Baltic Sea region.
Eenmaa called for transforming the city's expansive coastline and opening it up to maritime activity. "When will we be able to organize an international marathon along Tallinn's nearly 40 kilometer coastline?" she asked rhetorically.
Former Mayor Tonis Palts, who also spoke at the conference, did not offer any concrete vision, but he did sound the warning bell about the loss of competitiveness and making hasty decisions.
Speaking of the April riots, he said, "In one night we made a big step backward, which cost us more than 4 billion kroonsâ€¦ We're incurring much bigger costs as a result of the loss of tolerance, which finds its expression in the departure of talented individuals."
In an interview with ETV, Palts said that before any specific vision could materialize authorities needed to work with the population to found out its wishes. "If we were to ask a resident of Lasnamae what he liked more 's a bus ticket that he could use in Helsinki (and Tallinn) or three new skyscrapers 's he will choose the ticket," said Palts.
In the past, one of the long-distance visions for Tallinn often discussed called for uniting the city's administration and public services with Helsinki's to create a common megalopolis connected by the Gulf of Finland.
The theme of a yawning population deficit was touched upon by Juri Mois, also a former Tallinn mayor.
"Compared to Helsinki, Stockholm and Riga, Tallinn has surpassed its frontiers very little, and the population density here is significantly lower," he said.
"If we do have a problem here, it is that there are too few people living in the city's environs," he stressed.
Mois took a jibe at the Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar, saying that the current administration was too politicized and therefore ineffective in carrying out its core duties of ensuring trash collection and running kindergartens. The city's current leadership was also spending money ineffectively on unjustifiably high pensions and developing professional schools.
As Mois said, in Helsinki the city mayor is not a party member. Savisaar, by contrast, is head of the populist Center Party.
Savisaar struck back, saying that Helsinki was quite politicized.