In Sigulda modernization and innovation starts early in one’s lifespan and is part of our everyday life
An interview with Mr. Uģis Mitrevics, mayor of the Latvian city of Sigulda
- May 09, 2019 14:30
Sigulda is a member of the Douzelage, a unique town twinning association of 24 towns across the European Union. What are the benefits to your city from such international cooperation?
We believe that „Douzelage” network, by twinning small municipalities in European Union, promotes mutual collaboration and cultural exchange among the member-states. Sigulda joined „Douzelage” in 2004 and during these years, thanks to the participation in the project, young people of the municipality and school representatives have had the opportunity to gain valuable experience in other member-states of the EU. We highly appreciate that „Douzelage” fosters cooperation in education, economics, tourism, sports and culture among towns in EU and enables the use EU funds for the implementation of various joint projects.
Latvia and Sweden signed a memorandum providing for cooperation on Stockholm’s bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. The Sigulda track will be used for the Olympic luge, bobsleigh and skeleton events. How do you prepare the city for the hosting of such a big event?
The City of Sigulda is developing rapidly, including a significant growth of inhabitants every year. This leads to long-term housing strategy that municipality team has been working towards during previous years. The municipality has purchased a land plot for the eventual construction of the Olympic Village, which will not only serve for Olympic athletes during the Olympic Winter Games 2026, but afterwards will be used to boost the development of the town’s residential fund: it is planned to build there more than 100 apartments, and the Olympic plaza will be adjusted to become a kindergarten for approximately 120 children.
Hosting Olympic Games in Sigulda fits in our housing strategy as well as specialization of the city for sport tourism. Such a global event will ensure future for our sport traditions and infrastructure that is tested every year during World Cups and World Championships.
Another important development is the reconstruction of the Bobsleigh, skeleton and luge track in order to adapt the track to suit the races of bobsleigh quads, and, although the reconstruction of the track will be financed by the state funds, the municipality and the government of Latvia are working hand in hand to get ready for the possible hosting of the Olympic games. Both municipality and government have provided all the guaranties to the International Olympic Committee, so now we look forward to June 24th when the Olympic host city will be selected by International Olympic Committee.
Sigulda is Baltic’s top destination for adventure activities. Tell us more about the opportunities of tourism in your city.
Located on the both sides of the river Gauja valley, Sigulda has always been one of the most beautiful areas in Latvia. For centuries it has captivated visitors from around the world who wish to experience breath-taking views across the valley and discover the unique objects that are, in large numbers, located right next to each other all across Sigulda and its surroundings. Sigulda is a heart of largest nature protection area – Gauja National Park with biggest net of nature trails for hikers and mountain-bikers across Baltics. There are plenty of sandstone cliffs and caves as well as cultural and historical monuments existing side by side with a well-developed tourism industry.
Sigulda is a capital of adventures starting from true winter joys with a ride in Bobsleigh and Luge track that is available both in winter and in summer and continuing with list full of adrenaline: bungee jumping, ziplining, flying in vertical wind tunnel „Aerodium” (that by the way had great cooperation with Tom Cruise in his latest „Mission: Impossible” movie), adventure parks and more, ensuring that every visitor enjoys their own unique experience of visiting Sigulda.
The city has a rich cultural program - the annual Summer Solstice ceremony, Sigulda Opera Festival, Sigulda City Festival, the Plant Parade, the Easter Festival and others. Could you tell us more about the culture program of the city?
Being located in such beautiful surroundings, Sigulda has huge offer of outdoor events all year around – starting with Winter Food Festival and celebrating local gastronomy, moving on to more than 100 of original swing constructions on Easter Festival, spring opening with the biggest Plant Parade that is beloved not only by Latvians, but also Estonians and Finns.
Number of visitors to the events has increased three (!) times – from roughly 52 000 in 2017 to 162 000 last year. Also, the number of culture events has increased significantly during the last year, and one of the main reasons is the opening of the Culture Centre „Siguldas Devons” in September 2018. Municipality invested more than 8 million euros to renovate the Center, and during the period as short as four months after the opening more than 10 000 people had attended shows, concerts and other events in „Siguldas Devons”. The number of events has increased both in the field of professional art and the field of amateur art.
Last year Sigulda was hosting 15 international performances, including concerts of such well known world class musicians as Zuchero, „A-ha”, Rita Ora, „The Dire Straits Experience” etc. Part of the concerts took place in the outdoor stage of medieval Sigulda Castle, and we have worked purposefully to develop this area into perfect place for a vibrant and rich cultural life. In line with the strategy of the development of Sigulda Castle complex, we are shaping the area to a creative quarter – a place for culture and creative entrepreneurship.
This year, for the 27th time, Sigulda will host the annual International Sigulda Opera Music Festival, which traditionally is one of the peaks of cultural life in Latvia. In July, Laura Pergolicci or LP will come back to Sigulda with a concert. So, as our slogan says – Sigulda thrills!
Your program is focusing on modernizations and innovations. A school in Sigulda has started using robots in the learning process. Please tell us more about this project and what you plan in this direction.
The world is constantly developing and modern technologies now is a normal part of our everyday lives. Of course, we are increasingly using technologies in our schools and kindergartens. Sigulda State Gymnasium employs robots and integrates tablets in its education program which, by the way, is bilingual. The use of technologies is targeted and diverse also in Laurenči elementary school where students are offered one additional hour per week in sciences and information technologies. Another school, Sigulda City Secondary school, was awarded with the status of Microsoft Innovative School a couple of years ago. The school offers innovative choice programs – robotics or creative industries. In the robotics technology class, students learn to master robotics, mechatronics, programming and 3D modeling and printing. Since late 2018 Lego robotics classes are available also in five kindergartens of Sigulda county. Recently, in February 2019, with an impressive number of participants, Sigulda hosted the national robotics competition of Latvia: 373 schoolchildren with 420 robots participated from all over the country and from Lithuania and Belarus as well. So, to sum it up, we can say that in Sigulda modernization and innovation starts early in one’s lifespan and is part of our everyday life.
Please share with us some other interesting projects or good practices of your municipality. How do you manage to finance them?
As from 30 May 2011, the registered residents of Sigulda municipality are entitled to receive a Sigulda citizen’s ID card. Owners of this ID receive different benefits when they visit cultural and sport events or use municipal services. Thanks to the cooperation with business owners, ID card holders can purchase goods and services with discounts. Many groups, such as pupils, low-income residents, disabled people, retired seniors and families with 3 or more children, receive the ID cards free of charge. For others, the price of the card is €5.
ID cards for residents declared in the county is an excellent opportunity for the municipality to thank its residents for the taxes paid and a good way to encourage register those who actually live here, but pay taxes to another municipality. By creating an identification card program, we wanted to raise public awareness of where the taxes paid by declared citizens go. We use the income tax, which forms a very large part of the county’s budget, to provide necessary services to the citizens, improve county infrastructure, carry out repairs of educational and cultural institutions, provide social benefits and services, offer high-quality education, cultural and sports life, as well as sort out other spheres. It is only natural that the municipality, in cooperation with business owners, provides advantages to the declared residents who have paid taxes for that. As of 1 February 2019, 12 455 people have already received new ID cards (out of 18 661 declared inhabitants of Sigulda county).
How do you find the idea of a unified platform for all European cities where European citizens can get information about everything happening in the Union? How could this platform be useful for your projects?
I believe cooperation of local authorities within Europe is very important – it enables exchange of information and allows to communicate examples of good practices in municipalities. One of the directions we in Sigulda are interested to work towards is the development of the smart city, and this platform is a great source of inspiration for that. Besides, it is very positive that the portal brings municipalities closer to each other and policies – closer to people.
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