The Palanga transformation

Impact StoriesELEVATE

Image of a Palanga beach and boardwalk

Over the next several weeks, we will share stories from CIVITAS projects on-the-ground that implemented sustainable neighbourhood planning and SUMP solutions, both as news items, and later in a podcast episode, compilation publication and infographic.

In this story, we share an example from SUITS, which aimed to substantially increase the capacity of small- and medium-sized local authorities to develop and implement sustainable, inclusive, integrated, and accessible transport strategies and systems, with attention paid to policies, technologies, practices, procedures, tools, and measures.

Read all short stories as they are published at: https://bit.ly/Impact-Stories

 


 

Sustainability is a way of thinking, which cannot change overnight. That way of thinking must develop, and awareness has to evolve. This will, in turn, help ensure that mobility planning becomes more sustainable in long-term. SUITS has helped smaller cities to build this awareness among communities, and to feel better understood in their challenges. The developments in Palanga (LT) make it one of the most striking success stories of the project, regarding fostering sustainable thinking and SUMP development.

Local context

Palanga, a seaside resort town in western Lithuania and a port city on the shore of the Baltic Sea, has a population of slightly more than 15,000 people. However, during the summer tourism increases the number of inhabitants to over 120,000 people! Furthermore, the most popular way to travel to Palanga is by private car.

Since 2016 in Lithuania, a ministerial decree has made it mandatory for cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants and resort areas to have local SUMPs. Furthermore, SUMPs are also a condition for accessing EU structural funds. It is thus perhaps no surprise that many cities in Lithuania have started to draft SUMPs (20 cities in total). However, since most of these cities do not have a dedicated transport planning department due to their small size, they generally hire urban planning consultants to design their plans.

Smart Continent, a Lithuanian consultancy, designed 7 out of the 20 SUMPs in the country, including Palanga’s, which it began in May 2016. The work on their SUMP had already kicked off before Palanga was invited to join the SUITS project in December 2016. Palanga’s first SUMP was then approved in early 2017, and its full implementation is expected by 2030.

Palanga and SUITS

Given this timeline, SUITS’ objective was not to get this smaller city to start developing a SUMP immediately, but rather to strengthen their capacity to implement their SUMP, and to demonstrate how sustainability could be made more central to their mobility planning and to the implementation of concrete measures.

SUITS has helped them to visualise a path forward and to map out small steps that can be taken to achieve change. It has also increased the capacity of the municipality’s employees, who have been involved in all planning processes thanks to the project. For example, Palanga’s Head of Investments and its Chief Architect benefited from exchanges and site visits with other SUITS cities, such as Torino (IT) and West Midlands (UK).

Thanks to these capacity-building opportunities, local planners better understood how other European municipalities are organised and how they carry out consultation processes. This has contributed to changing the mindset of the city administration, and to encourage a shift away from top-down decision-making, towards meaningfully involving citizens in planning processes.

When these interventions were first rolled out, civil society was rather unresponsive to consultations. As a result, initial inputs from citizens to the 2017 Palanga SUMP were rather limited. However, this work has nonetheless marked a first step towards a new participative culture, which contributed to a long-lasting change in mindsets.

In addition to a new citizen-focused participatory approach, SUMP innovations brought in by SUITS have included, for instance, the implementation of universal design principles in the transport system (including implementation of mobility opportunities in the sandy beach), and infrastructure modifications to improve and promote bicycle and pedestrian mobility.

Palanga after SUITS

Now that the SUMP is in its implementation phase and that SUITS has come to an end, Palanga is shifting its focus to monitoring and reporting results. Data on modal share or traffic flow is of particular concern. During the SUITS project, Smart Continent collected this data to assemble baseline measurements, including for CO2 emissions, modal shares, shifts from cars to public transport, etc. Following the end of SUITS, there is no structure in place by the municipality for data collection to check improvements against these baselines, which has made it hard to report progress to the national government. This is an area of concern and of focus for the municipality.

SUITS’ influence in Palanga has led the city to draft a general Urban Development Strategy 2030. Smart Continent was awarded a contract to lead on this task, which is being done with stronger citizen participation; in fact, Smart Continent welcomes that local interest in participating is growing. One of the targets of the strategy includes the full implementation of the SUMP by 2030.

Understanding the value of seizing this momentum, the municipality of Palanga is increasingly rolling out new efforts to include citizens and businesses into the planning process, which is seen locally as an indirect result of SUITS.

In sum, SUITS not only helped shape Palanga’s SUMP and built capacity among Palanga officials to plan and monitor transport planning. It has also helped change mindsets among locals and municipality administration.

Further reading

 


 

Photo Credits

Travelsewhere.com

Local Contributors

Dr. Andrius Jarzemskis, Smart Continent LT, Palanga project manager

 


 

Read all short stories as they are published at: https://bit.ly/Impact-Stories

Authors: TRT TRASPORTI E TERRITORIO, ICLEI Europe

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