Ukraine needs designers, not only economists & lawyers

Print version
Sept. 6, 2012, 10:22 p.m. | Op-ed — by Oksana Faryna

Youth rest on the green lawn on Museum Island near Berlin Cathedral in downtown Berlin. Some think that Ukrainian cities lack such well-designed public space.
© Oksana Faryna

 Oksana Faryna writes:

Returning from a summer vacation in Europe, I understood that adding more economists or lawyers is not enough to make Ukraine a better place to live. Instead, the country needs better and more empowered urban designers to make public spaces more comfortable, accessible and open.

Europe’s streets, squares and parks are designed for the people. They are full of life and attract crowds. Most importantly, they are a testament to different way of thinking, where the comfort of citizens is the utmost goal.

Don’t get me wrong. Ukraine has plenty of parks, town squares and open spaces. But they mainly function as stages to monuments rather than places for people to enjoy life. Rarely are they closed off for traffic so citizens can quietly sip their coffee, more often being clogged with cars and smog.
Effective use of public space determines quality of life. It can aid communication and build communities. It’s what makes Europe European.

The lack of high quality public space is what keeps Ukraine a post-Soviet state, tainted by gray and cluttered city streets, with uncomfortable, gargantuan squares unsuitable for human use.
What would I like to see more of in Ukraine?

A couple rest on a green lawn outside Berlin Cathedral.

Take, for example, the lawn in front of Berlin Cathedral, the main Protestant church in Germany. I saw it crowded with  tourists and locals sitting and lying on perfectly trimmed grass, reading books or talking with friends, enjoying the slight breeze from a nearby fountain. There were no “do not walk” signs on the lawn; it was like an oasis in a hot and bustling city.

Are Ukrainians warned not to lounge on park lawns? Not usually. Perhaps Soviet mentality still reigns, with people thinking: “If there is no sign saying I can sit on the lawn, perhaps I can’t.”

Whatever the problem, Ukraine’s cities either need more European-style space, or citizens willing to use it.

While admiring a glass and metal dome on top of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament reconstructed after World War II, people practiced  yoga in the twilight sun on a lawn facing the building.

Moreover, many European cities have downtown squares closed off to traffic. People can come to rest on a bench or under the umbrella of a cozy summer cafe. You can see this in the eastern Polish city of Krakow, the small Dutch towns of Haarlem or Netherland's Delft, or a piazza in the Mediterranean city of Rome.

A playground in Amsterdam is a perfect example of how public space can be designed.

Playgrounds for kids are a separate topic. One I saw in downtown Berlin consisted of quaint colorful figures and resembled a cubist piece of modern art rather than a simple playground.
Meanwhile, downtown Amsterdam houses a chaotic wooden composition, with a metal slide and a few swings made out of a decorative fisherman’s net. It fits well with the rest of the square where one can see the famous "I Amsterdam" letters, an artificial pool, metal benches in minimalist style and pebbles instead of asphalt.

A playground in Rotterdam, Netherlands’ main port, is shaped like a bright blue-and-yellow ship.

The railway station in Holland’s Leiden was also impressive. It was not busy and stressful like many others, but rather feels like a comfortable living room. There are soft benches on a green carpet and swings for kids. There was a TV screen on which people calmly watched the London Summer Olympics while waiting for their train.

A railway station in Leiden, the Netherlands, impresses with its superior comfort for travelers.

It is not difficult to transform Ukraine's post-Soviet streets, squares and parks into inviting and cozy open spaces. But we need people who will design this new space.

Do many universities in Ukraine offer courses in urban design and urban studies? I am not sure. Or is it that they do exist, but their graduates are redrafted to satisfy the profiteering interests of tycoons and politicians who care little for public needs.

If I had to choose my future profession now, I would seriously consider becoming an urban designer, one with an activist streak needed to overcome vested interests so that Ukraine can become free society with lots of open, free space for use by ordinary citizens.
Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Faryna can be reached at

The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively debate. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. If you think that a posted comment violates these standards, please flag it and alert us. We will take steps to block violators.
Brunislav Sept. 6, 2012, 11:45 p.m.    

Great public spaces are a must for any society that wants to call itself egalitarian and anti-elitist. Places where attention is turned inward toward private space only reflect a larger problem of selfishness and being out of touch with one's community.

I don't think it's all bad news when it comes to Ukraine. Before coming here, I would have expected the Soviet flats that dominate so many Ukrainian cities to seem gloomy and despotic. True, they, by themselves, are quite ugly pieces of architecture, but the spaces in between them can be quite vibrant and full of life. Often they create park like settings, with children playing on play grounds, older people hanging laundry, and others walking to the bazaar. The roads in these neighborhoods are typically narrow, which slow down car traffic and make these places the realm of the pedestrian, not the automobile.

Lviv's downtown is most similar to what the author describes here. The streets all around the city hall are pedestrian only and car traffic isn't allowed on Prospect Svoboda, the wide avenue in front of the Opera Theater, on Sundays. The main problems downtown are that cars are allowed to park on sidewalks, harassing pedestrians even when they're not speeding through the streets. If the authorities actually ticketed those who park on sidewalks, maybe they could increase revenue for the city and simultaneously make a more welcoming public space. But, again, public space reflects the values and priorities of a society. In this case it is a reflection of how the wealthy car owners can openly break the law while the pedestrian is left to dodge cars both on the street and the sidewalk.

{# <-- parent id goes here
IvanovPetrovSidorov Sept. 7, 2012, 2:10 p.m.    

Problem is that in the Ukraine you are not allowed to even step, let alone sit, on lawns :)))

{# <-- parent id goes here
Mykhayl Sept. 7, 2012, 5:16 p.m.    

Слава Ісу~

The problem is that the people are thought of as serfs, the property belonging to an estate. Unlike the Cathedral Spuare infront of Notre-Dome de Paris as utalized in the 1939 Mivie Drama

Claude Frollo's portentous phrase, ‘Ceci tuera cela’ ("This will kill that", as he looks from a printed book to the cathedral building), sums up this thesis, which is expounded on in Book V, chapter 2. Hugo writes that ‘quiconque naissait poète se faisait architecte’ ("whoever is born a poet becomes an architect"), arguing that while the written word was heavily censored and difficult to reproduce, architecture was extremely prominent and enjoyed considerable freedom.

Il existe à cette époque, pour la pensée écrite en pierre, un privilège tout-à-fait comparable à notre liberté actuelle de la presse. C'est la liberté de l'architecture.
There exists in this era, for thoughts written in stone, a privilege absolutely comparable to our current freedom of the press. It is the freedom of architecture.
—Book V, Chapter 2

{# <-- parent id goes here


© 1995–2014 Public Media

Web links to Kyiv Post material are allowed provided that they contain a URL hyperlink to the material and a maximum 500-character extract of the story. Otherwise, all materials contained on this site are protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced without the prior written permission of Public Media at
All information of the Interfax-Ukraine news agency placed on this web site is designed for internal use only. Its reproduction or distribution in any form is prohibited without a written permission of Interfax-Ukraine.