It may not enjoy the name recognition of Paris, Berlin, or Warsaw, but Vilnius, the capital and most populous city in Lithuania, has experienced increasing cultural significance in the 21st Century. Now, as many urban areas around Europe are preparing to relax quarantine measures, Vilnius and its 538,000 residents are leading the way. Most notably, city officials recently announced that they are giving restaurants and cafés permission to set up al fresco dining tables in most of the public spaces in the city. This includes 18 popular squares and avenues such as Town Hall Square, Vokiečių Street, and K. Sirvydas Courtyard. The city will not charge the restaurants for this privilege. Because strict social distancing regulations will stay in place, the outdoor options will be particularly helpful in Senamiestis, the bustling and crowded old town sector of Vilnius.
Various other forward-thinking initiatives have sprung up in Vilnius since the start of the pandemic. By the end of April, city officials had distributed over 5,000 computers and tablets to schoolchildren from economically disadvantaged families. At a cost of over $875,000, this effort provided a distance learning tool to almost every household that needed one. At the same time, a group called Gedimino Legionas has marshaled a volunteer force of more than 3,000 residents who are raising funds for medical equipment, supporting health workers, and providing services to seniors and others in need.
In mid-March Vladas Lašas, a local entrepreneur, organized a three-day conference called “Hack The Crisis.” The event brought together IT specialists, project managers, and experts from a variety of fields to generate innovative solutions in the areas of public health, emergency response, and economics. Relatedly, the Vilnius government has launched an internet hub (https://talonai.lt/) where residents and tourists can purchase vouchers which can later be exchanged for meals at establishments throughout the city.
In order to offer residents a public cultural outlet, the Vilnius International Airport has converted its parking lot into a drive-in cinema. Coordinated by the Vilnius International Film Festival, the venue will periodically screen popular international films until regular air travel resumes. The first show was on April 29 and featured the Korean film Parasite. It attracted 150 cars, all of which parked at least 6 feet apart.
Moreover, throughout the lockdown, Vilnius officials have pushed forward with a citywide beautification project known as “Green Islands.” Landscapers are building out 100 small verdant public squares in neighborhoods that do not have access to parks. The grassy “islands” will feature trees, shrubbery, flowers, and park benches.
Some fun facts about Vilnius
The oldest historical record of Vilnius is dated to 1323. The community was granted city rights as part of the Lithuanian kingdom in 1387. Napoleon dubbed it the “Jerusalem of the North” when he passed through in 1812. Because approximately 40% of its 397 square kilometer area is covered by forests and parks, Vilnius is considered one of the greenest capital cities in the world. In 1994, UNESCO added the old town area (Senamiestis) to its list of World Heritage sites. Well known for its street art exhibitions, Vilnius was designated a European Capital Of Culture in 2009.
The city generated controversy and boosted tourism with a salacious 2018 marketing campaign, entitled “The G-Spot of Europe.” The tourism bureau disseminated clever advertisements and promotional videos that centered around the motto, “Nobody knows where it is but when you find it – it’s amazing.” The number of visitors to Vilnius increased by 12.5% that year.