The story of Telliskivi Creative City
A Perfectly Adequate Industrial Wasteland, Turned Into A Damn Community
Locomotives, transformers and soviet mechanics may be gone, but their industrial echo remains. As the 21st century landed, the former factory was an impenetrable colossus at the intersection of Kalamaja and Pelgulinn districts. Commoners had no business here. Walls helped.
Modest construction in what would become Telliskivi Loomelinnak, or Creative City, started in 2007. By 2009, we had our first long term tenant, the HQ of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. They were followed by a weekly flea market and a skate park. If you felt ordinary and mainstream, its ramps cured it fast. In the so-called Band Building, dozens of bands started to practice their chops.
The gravity of Loomelinnak pulled in more people. The world became a better place, but the community’s bellies were empty. Restaurant F-hoone solved that in 2010. The first months were awkward. As massive trucks wiggled their way into the neighbouring building complex, patrons sitting outside had to pull in their guts and tables. Lest you wanted tires with your steak.
We’re a friendly space for fragile thoughts and projects. We give them shelter, discount their rent, and help them get on their feet. All rooted in the belief that instead of razing this somewhat ugly place to the ground, we should salvage it and breathe some soul into its industrial lungs.
In 2009, we told a journalist that we’re building a self-sufficient city. One made of people who, while different, share a vision of what a friendly, open, and creative community should be like. Not just in these 10 buildings, but across the country.
Somehow, it worked. Loomelinnak is a massive draw. Over 300 creative industry companies and NGO’ s, 2,000 people, and countless visitors. From the festivals to flea markets, from concerts, standup gigs and experimental theater to many galleries, this place is alive. Culture and business, entwined in a friendly embrace.
“The most interesting example of commercial clustering I have seen on the spectrum between coordinated malls and fragmented, independent Main Streets.”
– Andres Sevtsuk, MIT associate professor of urban studies
Spirit over reason
That a naive dream became reality is almost a happy accident. Sure, we ran the numbers. But what little experience we had, it was enthusiasm that kept us going. We believed that culture can be sustained without subsidies. That culture, creativity, business, and real estate could work in unison.
A naive dream supported by naive trust on all sides, it worked. We now host over 800 cultural events each year, attracting over 1,5 million visitors. Insane.
All this is proof that instead of cold calculations, it pays to focus on developing not real estate, but community and culture. It’s good for the soul and financially viable. We stumbled onto a success model for community development. With one crucial ingredient: a belief in open civic society, and a humane idea of modern urban space — physical, social, and spiritual.
The Excel paradox
It helps to have personal values that guide our corporate ones. It’s a luxury that an average developer doesn’t have. Sure, everyone’s got a CSR entry in the annual report. But how many shareholders would let CSR guide their company’s entire moral and ethical compass?
Surely, we’ve needed government, city, or EU subsidies!? Far from it. Telliskivi Creative City is 100% privately owned and privately funded. In spite — or perhaps because — of this, we’ve had to make our model work. Loomelinnak has been self-sufficient since birth. All profits have gone right back into the community.
We’re lucky that fresh winds have been blowing in nearby residential communities. Kalamaja is again a young, reborn district bursting with life. A place where the local heart is wrapped in a curious soul that’s open to the world.