Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kolvart: “We want Tallinn to be a green and global city where people look to the future”

  • 2023-07-20
  • Linas Jegelevicius

When Mihhail Kolvart became the mayor of Tallinn in 2019, he saw the need for long-term strategic goals. “Since then, we have opened the Tallinn Strategic Management Bureau (2020) and created the development strategy “Tallinn 2035” (2021), which is an important document for Tallinn’s future,” the mayor told The Baltic Times Magazine.

What are the advantages of Tallinn compared to the other Baltic capitals? And where do you believe Tallinn lags behind a little bit?

Compared to the other Baltic capitals Tallinn is smaller. This means that it takes less time to commute and walking or cycling is often a viable option. But Tallinn, with 460 134 inhabitants, is also a perfect testbed for new technologies. Whether for electric scooters or reusable food packaging for public events, testing them here gives vital data for companies and for the city government. We can use the data to improve the life quality of our citizens.

Around 30 percent of Tallinn is green and this year we are the European Green Capital. We have parks, bogs, and nature reserves within the city boundaries. This means that the city has great air quality, but also birds, bugs and smaller animals live in the city. And we are improving our green spaces to have even more biodiversity.

Of course, Tallinn and the whole of Estonia are forerunners in digital governance. Citizens can make almost all their administrative requests online. This saves time and paper for the city government and the citizens. 

What do you believe are your biggest achievements in the mayoral office?

Besides what I already told you, we want Tallinn to be a green and global city where people look to the future and value their heritage. Tallinn’s goal is to be climate neutral by mid-century and this strategy, as well as the Tallinn Climate Action Plan (2021) are the bases for this. 

Furthermore, the European Green Capital title was awarded to Tallinn because of these changes, because Tallinn has a vision and strategic goals to become this green and friendly global city.

To achieve this big goal, we must make many smaller changes and we have been working on it. We have started tackling problems with mobility, the public transport system and building new bicycle paths. Tallinn also has made big steps towards implementing circular economy principals in waste management. 

What are your biggest challenges as mayor?

Achieving change is a long process and as mentioned, this takes many smaller changes or steps. But this is one of my main goals as Mayor – changing the mindset, so that we can make the quality of life in Tallinn better. 

For this, the European Green Capital Year is also an important step – we see the year as an accelerator that will boost the green way of thinking in all areas of the city governance, as well as our citizens will be more aware of how different sustainable and green options in their daily lives will benefit them. Even in the little things, like choosing to bike or walk instead of driving to your destination, recycling or planting biodiverse flowers in their garden. 

The city itself will also take necessary steps towards greener governance. For example, during the European Green Capital year we are renewing all green office certificates, we are implementing environmentally friendly events guidelines to all events organized by the city.

What do you find to be the most fascinating about Tallinn? 

Tallinn has a long history, which exposes itself in different forms. I think this is something unique. Our old town is one of the best preserved medieval cities of Northern Europe, also a UNESCO Heritage site. 

At the same time, Tallinn has become a beacon of innovation and technological progress, attracting entrepreneurs, innovators, and tech providers from all over the world. Estonia has earned the nickname “the land of unicorns”; many of them, like Bolt, have started out in Tallinn. Tallinners are forward thinkers who, when they see a problem,  will put their brains to work and find a solution.

Tallinn has also launched the Test in Tallinn program. The initiative invites startups and companies to come and test their technologies in the city, with the promise of support, funding, and access to a network of partners and mentors.

What are major events to be held in the capital city later this year that one should be considering visiting?

One of the year's highlights will be Green Tech Week (14th-17th of November) with the international Green Tech exhibition NEXPO Tallinn, Cleantech Forum Europe, regional green technology conference Green EST Summit, Estonia’s first balanced economy conference Green Tiger Conference, and Smart City Convention, connecting the public and private sectors. Up to 500 investors, innovators and entrepreneurs of green technology. More than 30 city delegations, 80 green technology companies and over 2000 technology enthusiasts from Estonia and all over the world. 

In June we have an urban space street festival in the center of the city with many activities for everyone (10th -18th June).

This year we also have a project “Green Tracks”, which brings more greenery and interesting experimental city space projects—from a park in our town hall square to a new green area with a sauna by the cruise terminal.

We have various well-known culture events like the Black Nights Film Festival (November) that this year will focus in their program on different environmental and sustainable issues. 

One of the most beloved events in Tallinn and Estonia is the Song and Dance Festival (This year’s theme is Sacred Land, 30th June-2nd July), that in the European Green Capital year will be held environmentally friendly. For example, no single usage tableware will be used at an event of 100 000 people.  

At the end of August and beginning of September Tallinn is the lead city in an international campaign “Save our Sea” – raising awareness of the nature of our home-sea, the Baltic Sea, and organizing various events where cities around the Baltic Sea clean up small trash from their coastal areas. You are all very welcome to join us!