In April Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture hosted a group of students from Leeds Beckett University, UK. The students’ visit was a part of a study project involving improvement plans for Kaunas green zones, waterfront and historical sites.
Together with KTU’s 3rd year architecture undergraduates, students of human geography from Leeds were researching various improvement possibilities in different Kaunas sites. Upon coming back to their home university the students will prepare analytic studies of the improvement of problem areas in Kaunas.
Waterfront is Being Underused
British students were impressed by Kaunas’ location – in the confluence of two major Lithuanian rivers, and by the greenery of Santaka (eng. Confluence) park.
However, presentations from the students highlighted the issue of waterfront being underused. One possible reason of this is lack of active leisure options: there is no convenient access, no water transportation, not enough cafes, art installations or playgrounds.
Ąžuolynas (eng. Oak Grove) park near the city centre, on the contrary, has all the above mentioned features. However, the students admitted that some Kaunas citizens advised them not to visit the park at night as it might be dangerous.
“If the place is not considered safe by the citizens, maybe the local authorities could take care about it. CCTV cameras or better lighting would be some of the possible options”, proposed one of the students.
The Old Town Is Full of Life
Students from Leeds were impressed by the busy Old Town, which is without doubt one of the main attractions in the city. Vilniaus St and Rotušės Square (the town hall square) appeal to people by the combination of dense concentration of cafes, art galleries and old architecture. The students who researched Kaunas before coming here, said that the Old Town was mentioned as the most important place in the city in all the guides.
However, the lack of life in the smaller Old Town streets was also one of the issues which could be solved by renovation. Leeds Beckett University professor Evans Neil, who has been visiting Kaunas for 6 years is convinced that the situation is improving: “Every time I come I see progress”.
Problems in the Residential Areas
This is a second time for Ian Strange, professor of special planning at Leeds Becket University, in Kaunas. He said, that the same topics were analysed by the students last year, and Kaunas was chosen as the problems are of great importance and it is a convenient place to make local research in a week.
“We usually focus on the issues arising in the central part of the city. However, in the future we would like to pay more attention to the residential areas (so called “sleeping districts” from the Soviet era). I think there are much more problems, especially of social nature. I know that KTU students participate in designing plans for regeneration of those areas, and I think it is essential for Kaunas today”, said Strange.
He also emphasised the importance for students to carry out their projects in Kaunas as opposed to Leeds, as the experience gained in the city which they are not familiar with is exceptional. By researching unknown area students not only gain valuable insights into their studies, but also get to know the new country, its culture and its people.
Evans Neil, who is a coordinator of the project, said the opinion poll of graduates shows that the most noteworthy and interesting event during their studies was the trip to Lithuania. Therefore the Human Geography programme at Leeds Beckett University will continue to closely collaborate with KTU’s Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture.