Vilnius beyond Urban vs Non-Urban Opposition: A Few Entry Points to the Planetary Urban Futures

Siarhei Liubimau (European Humanities University)

One of the recent tendencies in urbanist research, its practice and discourse is that instead of the buzzwords ‘globe’ or ‘global,’ we hear more about the ‘planet,’ ‘planetary,’ or the ‘earth.’ The major underlying cause of this shift is the climate crisis and the need for profound infrastructural re-organization of the modes of living on this planet: energy sources and resource extraction, consumption and lifestyle, new modes of mobility and inhabiting space in general. Instead of frictionless movement across the globe, the new type of sensitivity is to be cultivated—the sensitivity to the fragility of the planet in trouble (Latour 2018). The globe is defined first of all in terms of growth and unlimited opportunities where the central framework of human experience is about the control of the environment through expanded and fused markets and the boom of connective infrastructures. This growth creates not only very understandable human expectations and meanings of comfort but also foundations for desirable political institutions and cultures, however, resting on the massive expanding use of fossil fuel (Mitchell 2013). In contrast to the globe, the planet is defined in terms of crisis and fragility, whereas humans start to be considered as a trouble.

If globalization is about the competition around the globe as the main rule, with elimination of barriers as the main goal, then planetarity is about the sensitivity to the planet’s natural processes as the main rule, with setting the principles for such sensitivity as the main goal. In this regard, some suggest we need to reconsider the foundational notions of human subjectivity—to stop seeing “hypersubjectivity” as a convention and to look for the forms of “hyposubjectivity” to cultivate (Morton and Boyer 2021). One could also notice emerging experimental ways of writing history of socio-political environmental formations by de-centering the human, i.e., in a style where a human is no longer the main focus of the narrative (Demuth 2019).

This paper proposes to look at Vilnius urban futures, guided by the notion of “planetarity” and by its implications for understanding and practicing space. In particular, it focuses on how the notion of “planetarity” allows cultivating a new, less confrontational, type of relationship between nature and society/culture or between natural environment and built environment. It proposes both conceptual and empirical entry points for repealing urban vs non-urban opposition.

The paper is divided into three parts. The first part scrutinizes the difference between “globalization” and “planetarity” from an urbanist perspective. The second part proposes to look at Vilnius as both ‘focus and locus’ of a planetary urban research (as opposed to global urban research, which for the last two decades tended to be the dominant lens in the region). The third part regards Karoliniškės Landscape Reserve as a showcase of doing planetary urban research by looking at its three dimensions: as more-than-urban heritage, as non-human-centered public space, and as potential ‘green’ commodification frontier.