Sergei Kruk. Oskars Redbergs PhD Dissertation—Review. 6 May 2018
Review of Oskars Redberg’s PhD thesis
Transformation Projects of Historic Urban Structure and Architecture in the Historic Centre of Riga (HCR) –Territory of the World Heritage Site, since 1997
Architecture’s materiality makes of it a special kind of artistic human creation. Besides subjectively evaluated aesthetic qualities it possesses objective ones determined by the material constructive structure. Even being a piece of art a historical building fulfils pragmatic functions which again can be evaluated objectively. It seems that defining and protecting historical heritage should not pose substantial difficulties for the urban planners. Analysis of Riga’s experience undertaken by Oskars Redbergs in his doctoral dissertation proves however that this is mostly a discursive process of constant redefinition of what is to be counted as heritage.
Discourse in this case turns into a real power: those who control the usage of verbal signs control the urban development. The ideas held by decision-makers shape the laws and binding regulations thereby mobilizing the state enforcement institutions for the practical implementation of these wrong or right ideas. The problem starts from the very beginning: in fact there is no a Historic Center of Riga. In various documents the boundaries of the territory are drawn in different ways. The authors mix different discursive fields when they attempt to define the HCR: history, history of arts, art criticism, architecture, engineering etc. A thorough discussion of relevant documents reveals various tools of discursive manipulation with the urban materiality. Documents give unclear, contradictory and inconsistent definitions of terms, but sometimes the definitions are absent. Problems of terminology are so fundamental that the texts cannot be translated adequately in other language. Redbergs demonstrates that Latvian originals and English translations use to offer different interpretations of reality. More problems are found reading mutually related laws and binding regulations: the norms stipulated in different documents use to contradict each other.
Another set of problems revealed by Redbergs is related to the overall structure of public institutions in Latvia and concomitant culture of public management. Institutions lack coordination of their work; public officials are unable to substantiate their binding decisions, their negligence of terminology creates interpretation problems which on its turn cannot take place because of violation of communication procedures between institutions. Rarely authors of the documents test their proposals against the current policy frameworks before implementation of projects. At the same time such ineffective institutions tend to attain more power gradually extending their rights including those leading to conflict of interests. In this legal framework, selectively institutions repudiate the duties vested in them and legitimise the breaches of binding regulations.
A systematic viewpoint on urban development turns out to be impossible in these conditions and the supervising institutions use to take ad hoc decisions. As a result Riga experiences a planless development.
Redberg’s dissertation extends beyond the scope of his business of architect. He reveals two fundamental problems of public management in Latvia.
1) Laws and binding regulations use to miss analytic consistency: an elementary discourse analysis discloses logical fallacies in the texts.
2) Institutions are unable to fulfill their functions: negligence of democratic procedures of decision-making allows circumventing the problems inherent to the flawed laws and binding regulations on the one hand, but on the other hand it opens way to one-sided decisions and corruption.
The dissertation is a must-read for Latvian legal scientists and political scientists as well as for public policy makers and public activists.
Sergei Kruk, professor, Riga Stradins University
6. maijs, 2018