Seaplane Harbour is a national Maritime Museum. It can be considered as a flagship project of Northern Tallinn planted within a formerly neglected, and both socially and physically rundown area. It thus positively contributes to local level urban transformation and, as a consequence, to the economic performance of the whole district of Northern Tallinn. The museum opened in 2012 in a waterfront area formerly used by Soviet military forces. The complex was originally built as part of Peter the Great’s naval fortress in 1916-1917. It is located in the old seaplane hangars and has remarkable architectural value. In addition to the museum, the Seaplane Harbour operates as a port offering a limited number of places for small private sailing boats and vessels for sightseeing cruises on the Bay of Tallinn. Location of the Maritime Museum in the Seaplane Harbour was rather coincidental as the Seaplane Harbour became vacant by chance. The possible effect of this landmark and the opportunity to develop a remarkable object also on an international level was recognised and its potential as a flagship project realised.
During the first 1.5 years the Seaplane Harbour has hosted 170 different events. For example, official events like the reception of NATO hosted by the Estonian Government, the Estonian Annual Design Awards 2012, the Trans-European Transport Network conference and the TEN-T Days gala dinner hosted by the European Commission. Professional maritime science and history is also developed through the Sea Forum and other professional events. For example, the exhibition ‘Titanic’ brought together many maritime archaeologists from different countries as well as naval hobbyists. The aim is to involve as many target groups as possible. The most important target group is family with kids, but also those who are interested or fanatics of the history of naval vessels. Nowadays the Seaplane Harbour is one of the top tourist destinations with more than half a million domestic and foreign tourists yearly. From the perspective of Northern Tallinn this investment is a considerable step forward to bring people to the formerly closed coastal areas and to open a former low-prestige residential-industrial district to new activities.
The entire cost of funding and construction has been around € 1,5M: 70% of it came from the European Regional Development Fund and 30% was co-financed by the state. The current expenses are covered by the Ministry of Culture, various subsidies, donations and personal incomes.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
In this initiative diversity has spatial and functional dimensions. From the spatial perspective, different neighbourhoods exist in the city and various population groups co-exist in Northern Tallinn. The Kalamaja and Kopli neighbourhoods (both located in Northern Tallinn) are very often contrasted and diversity is viewed as a two-dimensional picture: Kalamaja as a gentrified and fast developing rather secure urban environment in Northern Tallinn and thus represented positively, while Kopli is described through a negative angle as an area of social deprivation. However it is recognised that there are positive examples in socially deprived areas as well as negative examples in neighbourhoods with successful images. In the case of the Seaplane Harbour it acts as one of the incentives of gentrification in the area, therefore carrying the role of a good example in a formerly deprived area – improving the image of the area and supporting an emerging creative cluster. According to the Chief Executive Officer, from the functional perspective, an important issue pertains to enhancing the multifunctionality of the urban scape, e.g. by supporting the diversity of services and leisure opportunities, and attracting different types of people:
“Diversity in an urban environment is the affluence of different activities, mostly leisure activities. Northern Tallinn is a good example of that. You have a lot of cultural institutions, cafeterias, parks. You have many different opportunities.”
Formerly, in the late Soviet period, this was not the case. Opening the waterfront to local residents and visitors, for cultural and leisure activities diversifies the functions in urban space.
“The main principle is that the access to the museum territory and the port is for free. Local residents can visit the waterfront, a playground for children has been built. Such improvements in public space certainly increase the value of the local environment.”
Main factors influencing success or failure
The Managing Director of the Seaplane Harbour describes the success through inner factors like good team-work, result-oriented development and the presence of a sense of mission. The success of museums as government agencies derives from their employees’ personal ambitions. Seaplane Harbour as a museum is a static object, and it is also targeted beyond the local neighbourhood as a popular tourist attraction. They acknowledge that communication with local residents is an important key to getting along with the local community. When an event is arranged, they always inform local residents through various information channels, for example the local media.
“We’re trying to interact with local residents and rather be known than be a stranger. We would not want to be perceived as a massive tourist attraction exhausting local life.”
Cooperation with the locals initiated by the Seaplane Harbour can be brought out as they have explained the work process through the local newspaper and the details and info-letters were sent to neighbours. Invitations to come and make an acquaintance with the Seaplane Harbour construction works were also added. On the other hand cooperation and communication with the city government is somewhat problematic. The physical accessibility and infrastructure is underdeveloped in the area. Visitors cannot find the museum because of poor signposting and narrow road network
“I had to convince the city of Tallinn that people visit us and they do not find us! City does not support us even if we are the city’s most visited tourist target.”
Seaplane Harbour is a good example of how openness and communication on local level have contributed to developing a successful non-area-based project that is also accepted locally.
Seaplane Harbour project contributes to the upgrade of the public space. The buildings are unique and the project has a landmark status and it positively affects the local economy. The coastal areas of Tallinn were closed during the Soviet period, and they have often been commercialized in independent Estonia under the overall neoliberal social context. In this light, an important innovative aspect of the initiative is the opening of the urban space for public use. Furthermore, maybe it is one of the few examples of how spatial and functional diversity is conceptualised consciously in Estonian market-orientated urban development context. As a flagship project the museum brings with it other initiatives targeting economic performance. With new businesses, new jobs are created. As the Seaplane Harbour is located next to Kalamaja the area is ripe for creating small businesses and promoting local initiatives by local people. Much of these small businesses are already apparent in the area, e.g. bakeries, restaurants, small shops. As the Seaplane Harbour is a national museum, it attracts tourists from Estonia as well as from foreign countries. Thus, the museum provides the much needed clients for local businesses.