When I visited Tallinn a few summers ago, as part of a two-week adventure with my dad through the Baltic states, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the one hand, Tallinn’s historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the area has been settled since 5000 BC. On the other hand, the city only gained its independence from the USSR in 1991. What we discovered was a post-soviet Medieval city with an entirely progressive edge.
Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia have been referred to as the “Baltic Tigers,” given their rapid growth since independence, and in establishing itself so rapidly Talinn and the rest of Estonia has bounded over some of the more embedded governmental parameters (or inefficiencies?) of its Western European counterparts. For example, with its need to be lightweight and maneuverable, they have an “e-government” with online voting and free public transportation with residents’ digital IDs. Internet and technology are they country’s major exports; Skype was founded in Talinn. They’ve even been offering free-wifi citywide since 2005!
The city’s progressive edge doesn’t stop in cyberspace though- while the city has been actively preserving its magnificent historic buildings in recent decades, its also home to an impressive collection of forward-looking contemporary architecture- constructed both by a growing cadre of young local designers and such international A-listers as BIG (who recently won the competition for the city’s new town hall design). By coexisting of historicity with innovation Talinn exemplifies a truly progressive model of urbanism.