For the entire month of July, the Estonian city of Tartu transformed one of its main streets in the heart of the city into the Autovabaduse (Car-Free) Avenue, a popular pedestrian-friendly paradise. The project not only observed COVID-19 social distancing guidelines but also gave local businesses a much-needed economic boost. Commissioned by the local government, the Car-Free Avenue 2020 project was designed by Tõnis Arjus, Ragnar Kekkonen, Maris Peebo and Anna-Liisa Unt. The area used for the urban intervention spanned approximately 8,000 square meters and accommodated a wide range of programming, from dance courses and morning yoga to national radio broadcast pop-ups, concerts and more.

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aerial view of road closed for cars

Tartu is the second-largest city in Estonia and is slated to become the European Capital of Culture in 2024 with the slogan “Arts of Survival.” The recent Car-Free Avenue project fits in perfectly with the city’s agenda for development, which prioritizes sustainability. The main street that was closed — known as Vabaduse (Freedom) Avenue — was selected for its location between the classical old town and the river Emajogi that flows through the city. The Car-Free Avenue helped to better connect the old town and river and provided a jumping-off point for revitalizing the riverside.

Related: London creates massive car-free zones as the city reopens

kids playing in foam bubbles outdoors
red hammocks hanging from large red cube structures

“It [also] created a public discussion all over Estonia on climate change, excessive car ownership and different methods in tackling the issues of building a sustainable future,” the designers explained in a project statement. The month-long urban intervention attracted people from all over Estonia and abroad, counting around 18,000 visitors in the first three days.

people sitting on red benches
people dancing in grassy area

The road was completely redesigned to create a versatile, car-free public space that abided by social distancing rules. All of the design elements follow a 2-by-2-meter module, including the grass portions, which were cut into 2-meter stripes.

+ Tartu Autovabaduse

Images by Mana Kaasik, Maanus Kullamaa, Tõnis Arjus, Eva-Maria Tartu