Mark Harold, who in 2014 became the first non-Lithuanian member of Vilnius City Council, and who leads the association representing Vilnius’ nightlife, evaluated the outdoor campaign in the recently published Global Nightlife Recovery Plan, a collaborative practical guide to saving nightlife industries by academics and activists around the world. He says the city, by focusing on one kind of nightlife option and creating the “illusion of vibrancy”, ended up reducing public support across the broader hospitality sector. “The measures failed the major players of the local economy and worked just for bars in a few major Old Town arteries,” he says.
‘Hear more from citizens’
The mayor describes the outdoor café initiative as “very successful” and his advisor says the decision to continue the campaign until the end of the season was made “to help businesses climb out of losses”.
Evalda Šiškauskienė, president of the Lithuanian Hotel and Restaurant Association, the country’s most powerful hospitality alliance, thinks that the initiative attracted more customers, adding: “Additional spaces for outdoor cafés proved to be useful, mostly because it helped to maintain 2m distance.” Raimundas Pranka, head of the Association of Bars and Cafés, which represents small businesses, says he believes that the initiative helped business stay afloat but acknowledges that the municipality did not consult him on it. “Even if it resulted in more competition to me, it was a very good initiative and I am glad about it,” he says.
Tomas S. Butkus, an urbanist, humanities PhD and poet, has a different perspective. He suggests that cities need to become more resilient so they can withstand crises, and that creating this kind of resilience, or social immunity, requires engagement with communities, rather than top-down policy-making. “Chaotic outdoor cafés are much better than an empty city but if Vilnius wants to build economic and social resilience, it needs to hear more from its citizens,” he says.
Since 1 August, masks have become mandatory at some indoor locations in Lithuania again, amid concerns infection rates are rising. Indoor cafés remain open, but could be closed any day. Some businesses feel safer because they can use deregulated public spaces. For the next few months at least, unless municipal officials modify their policy, the peace of mind of Old Town residents will hinge on the virus-case curve.
For more updates on this story, see bbc.com.