A House in the Post-Socialist Suburb as Consumption of Status at Heterotopias

Gunta Darbiņa (Rīga Stradiņš University)

Transformation of urban space due to suburbanization has been among the key processes marking the end of socialism. Suburban residential areas are a new phenomenon in most post-socialist countries. In Latvia, it is first of all Pierīga, the suburban zone surrounding the capital city of Riga, that corresponds to the concept of suburb as developed in classic theories of urban space. An active property development in Pierīga began at the turn of the new millennium when the real estate market was booming. Many local government authorities envisaged an unprecedented rise in the quantity of real property and hurried to plan the development of their territories accordingly. The outcome was dozens of scattered real property clusters, built with no overarching communal development plan and underdeveloped infrastructure. A folk term for such a type of settlement was soon coined – pļavu ciemi (“the meadow villages”).  New private housing in these areas in Pierīga can be compared to heterotopias [described by Foucault (1967)]. These are places that actually exist, are not utopic, but their contents are completely different from the surrounding environment. In many places in Pierīga the architectural styles of new houses are a stark contrast to the surrounding post-socialist infrastructure. The prices for these houses are high but Pierīga has become a desired place of residence. In summer 2011, the author visited households in Pierīga and conducted semi-structured interviews with their dwellers. The narratives reveal both advantageous and disadvantageous consequences that interviewees’ attribute to their decision made several years ago, to acquire real property in a suburb.

Keyword: Darbina

Comments are closed.