Riga has a new Mayor: Mārtiņš Staķis. He leads a broad coalition of parties, following a very close fought campaign. Now that the dust has settled, we caught up with Staķis to find out how this new team is pulling together and laying down plans for the coming years.
As the head of a new coalition administration, have you agreed a joint programme with the other parties or is it still a work in progress? What will be your priorities?
Yes, we have agreed on an Action Plan for Riga City. It is our common programme, which sets targets for 2025. The Action Plan sets out priorities and work for Riga in eight general areas: governance, education, culture, mobility and infrastructure, urban environment, environmental protection, housing, social inclusion, economy and entrepreneurship.
As a key priority, I would emphasise our infrastructure renewal plan, which will go hand in hand with improving the urban environment. Other keys areas include new investment projects and attracting investments, focusing on climate neutrality as well the implementation of good governance and anti-corruption measures.
How will you ensure that citizen’s voices are heard?
We are convinced that the 60 elected members of the Riga City Council must work very closely with the public on a daily basis. Not listening to residents of Riga was one of the main shortcomings in the work of the previous Riga City Council. Our goal is to create a broad cooperation platform in the form of an advisory council, where non-governmental organisations and neighbourhood associations will represent the interests of citizens. This advisory council will be involved in municipal key decisions and we already have started to work on it.
One obvious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on employment, leading to loss of income for many. What will your new administration be doing to help support the most vulnerable?
There are several new initiatives, that we have launched on top of previously ongoing ones, e.g., until now, students received free lunches at schools, but now, when many are learning from a distance, we are providing food packages for those who need them.
We are also providing one-time crisis payments for citizens and coordinating the distribution of face masks to all low-income residents of Riga.
We have developed cooperation with voluntary organisations, which provide assistance to people in self-isolation, mostly elderly people who need help, e.g., with walking their pets or buying food. In regards to support for the entrepreneurs affected by crises, companies can apply for ‘tax holidays’, which will be granted.
We are also using a creative approach during the Covid-19 crisis – coffee shops and restaurants have permission from the city to keep their outdoor terraces open even in winter, which in a way facilitates staying outdoors and supports the industry, which has been badly affected by the crisis.
People are very tired from Covid-19, therefore this year during the holidays season we have planned a special financial grant programme for additional decoration of city parks. In this way, we are creating a happier mood and supporting a creative industry, with companies having an opportunity to apply for grants.
This situation has also given us an opportunity to speed up a number of processes, e.g., there are fewer cars on streets, so we have introduced experimental bike lanes, where previously car traffic was dominant.
Many cities are turning their attention to 2030 and 2050 in the quest for zero emissions. Does Riga share in these goals and what specifically are you working on?
Yes, we have the same goals. If we look at Riga and Latvia in general, decarbonisation wasn’t a priority in elections so far. The Riga City Council elections this year was the first time when we managed to bring forward the climate neutrality agenda, and it turned out that this topic is very relevant to our voters.
Until now, there has been no systematic approach in Riga towards the climate goals defined in the Latvian National Energy and Climate Plan, as well as EU policies. It means changing people’s habits, responding to the population’s desire for more green areas and more bicycle lanes. Also, investments in modern infrastructure to prioritise public transport and implement various micro mobility solutions. Many Western European cities have already done it in recent years, while we are starting to do it now. We are also working on improvements for energy efficiency of buildings, bio-waste management systems and other measures.
The newly elected Riga city councillors have also set up a Climate Neutrality Committee, which will coordinate our climate and emission reduction goals, involving Riga City Council departments and agencies, who are responsible for these areas. Our goal is to make Riga the 1st climate neutral city in Baltic States.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Yes, indeed, the newly elected Riga leadership aims for openness, and amongst other things that also means openness to the international business and service environment. Riga has all the preconditions to be a great place for investments as Riga and its’ metropolitan area has over a million inhabitants, the largest airport in the Baltic States and the second largest port.
We have also started setting up the Riga Investment Agency, which will deal directly with successful “landing” of investments in the city, providing informative, practical and service support.
I will take personal responsibility for this area. Therefore, I can announce that, starting from today, new investments in Riga will always be welcome.