Co-Founder, NGO studio 54°+
Šančiai is one of the oldest districts of Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania. On the riverfront and close to the historic center, Šančiai is perched in a paradoxical position: retaining a stigma from its industrial past – while also having become a hot spot for new development, subject to displacement pressures.
In the face of these challenges, Team Kaunas took on the mission of strengthening community members’ sense of belonging and their capacity for self-organization.
The focus was initially on launching a physical hub for group activities in Šančiai. After months of prep work and neighborhood outreach, Team Kaunas initiated a crowdfunding campaign to raise funding for a kiosk and convinced a local church to provide land in a central location. The successful launch — a major event comprising a market and live music — generated great visibility for the space and the broader project of strengthening the community’s identity.
Team Kaunas added guided neighborhood tours and forums on topics significant to the development of Kaunas and of Šančiai. The Actors team produced and published maps of the neighborhood. They offered workshops on useful skills like bike-repair for kids and adults. Local business began to take an interest, contributing materials, staff time and space for community activities organized at the kiosk. It wasn’t long before many initiatives were taken over by local residents; others began organizing their own original programming. Community members now form the core membership and organizers of the kiosk initiative group.
The project created a new sense of hope and possibility in the district. It showed what the community could bring about together. It spurred residents to seek new opportunities to be community stewards. They grew in confidence, gained new skills and methods of collaboration, and formed lasting relationships — with neighbors, institutional partners and peers working on similar community center projects across Europe. Covered by national and international press, the project gained a high level of visibility in Kaunas and across Lithuania.
Today the kiosk has been the launch site for more than 50 guided tours of the neighborhood (and counting); the Šančiai flea market still happens every weekend, and new activities continue to be added. The kiosk is an icon for community involvement: the symbolic center of a growing network of proudly active Šančiai citizens.