When asked by The Baltic Times Magazine to name his biggest accomplishments in mayoral office, Martins Stakis, the mayor of Riga, the Latvian capital, does not hesitate for a single second: “We started with the very basics, which is implementing good governance. We set strategic goals for the city's companies and appointed professional management who are working according to the best principles of corporate governance. At the same time, we restarted the municipality's cooperation with our residents by creating neighbourhood centres that work with local communities and cooperate with NGOs.”
What are the advantages of Riga compared to the other Baltic capitals? And where do you believe Riga lags behind a little?
Riga is an international, knowledge-oriented city with the largest number of foreign students in the Baltic cities. Multilingual, well-educated and talented people live here. Also, in conversations, investors often tell me: we invest where at least a million inhabitants live. The Riga metropolitan area is the only one in the Baltics with a million inhabitants.
There are still plenty of opportunities to develop real estate close to the city centre. The city has a lot to offer in terms of available land for Commercial, Industrial or Residential in combination with growing demand and projects that the city has to offer for development.
Riga Airport is also the largest in the Baltic States – airlines fly directly from Riga to over 100 destinations.
We have to continue working to make the urban environment as livable and people-friendly as possible. This means more green areas, calmer traffic, road infrastructure improvements and cleaner air. We implement each of these tasks and have set measurable goals for them.
What do you believe are your biggest achievements in the mayoral office?
First, we started with the very basics, which is implementing good governance.
Secondly, I want to mention renovating the city's infrastructure and creating a more people-friendly, greener environment in Riga. We have implemented several large traffic infrastructure projects that relieve the city centre of road transport and especially freight transport. We are carrying out traffic calming reforms, and introducing a new bicycle infrastructure - we plan to build a total of 100 km during this term. We are building a large park for citizens and their families on the site of the recently dismantled Soviet monument.
Thirdly, opening the city to the world. Investors, newcomers and international events in the city are our priority. The Riga Investment and Tourism Agency was created – this raised cooperation with potential investors to a whole new level. The agency helps new investors to start operations in the city. Because of this, the global biotechnology company Roche is opening its business services office here, and a further influx of investment is expected. We have created relocation programs for young professionals from abroad. And very important work is being done at the Ukrainian refugee support centre, accepting and integrating the 20 thousand new residents of Riga who are taking refuge here from the war.
What are your biggest challenges?
In two years, we took the city through three crises: Covid-19, the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in the city, and the jump in energy prices and inflation, which required the concentration of resources to aid the people affected by these crises.
Also, Riga is a large municipality, the structure of which required a lot of good governance reforms – we are glad that many believed in our desire to introduce positive changes in the city, so we have managed to find professional people for leading positions in order to carry out important work for the benefit of our city's residents.
What do you find to be the most fascinating about Riga?
The people of Riga. At the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, residents of Riga showed their solidarity and care by organising Ukrainian support events, working as volunteers in the Ukrainian refugee support centre established by the city of Riga, and by themselves organising aid convoys to Ukraine. I was really touched by how the inhabitants of Riga have together created a safe haven for women, children and elderly people who are taking refuge from the war in the capital of Latvia.
What are major events to be held in the capital city later this year that one should consider visiting?
More and more global events are being held and planned in Riga as it is a central city in the region. Two hockey championships, the World Running Championship, a stage of the Rally World Championship, the 2025 European Basketball Championship, music festivals and even more events which attract international attention & visitors.
PS: Martins Stakis resigned as the mayor in early July 2023