A Lost Childhood Stream

Riga, Latvia, the city of my birth is an urban explorer’s dream. With more than 800 years of history, it has structures that represent the conquerors who ruled this city: the Teutonic Knights, the Poles, Swedes, Russians, Nazis, Soviets, and the independent Latvian state. Although the borders of the city cover 117 square miles, the urban core is relatively small. Most of the city is comprised of suburbs, tight apartment complexes along the periphery and virgin pine forests. Numerous hidden waterways flow throughout the city, some of which I had explored in my brief childhood in Riga.

riga gardening

One of them was a ditch that flowed near my father’s garden plot near Jaunmoku Iela in the Pleskodale neighborhood.

In a policy instituted during the Soviet administration, former landed estates were subdivided into 300 square meter gardens that were given to residents of apartment complexes so that they would have an opportunity to be one with the earth and grow their own produce. As residents of the massive Zolitude development, my family qualified for an allotment garden. Today, nearly 70 percent of Latvians own a gardening plot and with a third of the country’s population residing in Riga, it makes the city unique. One can live in an apartment and still have a place to grow plants.

riga garden 1
COST Action TU1201 “Urban Allotment Gardens in European Cities Future, Challenges and Lessons Learned Riga Joint MC and WG Meeting September 4 – 6, 2014” Page 80

The Soviet policy adopted an existing Latvian custom as allotment gardens had existed on Lucavsala Island since the late 19th century. As cities worldwide look to become greener, Latvia’s example is being studied by European Union researchers.

lucavsala 1

One location whose future is in doubt are the gardens of Lucavsala, so close to the city’s center, and threatened by development.

Jaunmoku today

Looking at the map of the city’s gardening plots from the EU report, I circled the location of Jaumoku Iela, but the garden has greatly shrunken over the decades.

Riga Garden aerial.png

In 1981, the construction of Vanšu Tilts (Cable Bridge) included laying out Lielirbes Iela through some of the gardens. Following independence in 1991, new industries and apartments also reduced the gardens’ footprint. What else has been reduced in the development of Pleskodale was an unnamed brook that ran past the gardens, which drained into the Marupite brook.

Riga Garden 1

As far as gardens went, the Pleskodale plot was very convenient for my family, being located halfway between my maternal grandparents’ home (green triangle), my parents’ home (purple triangle) and my paternal grandparents, who lived in the nearby Kalnciems. neighborhood. In the 1983 map above shows the city’s western side with the unnamed brook that flowed past the garden. Near the green triangle is the Marupite, which I mentioned earlier.

riga garden 2

Most of the Pleskodale gardens are gone, but thanks to Google Street View, a ditch in the backyard of 10 Jaunmoku Iela. A remnant of the garden stream.

Exploring Riga’s streams

Among the hidden Riga streams that resonated in my childhood, others include:

  • Beberbeki: the lake on the city’s western edge. Part of a nature park where we went ice fishing and swimming.
  • Juglas Ezers: a large lake on the city’s eastern border, home to the Ethnographic Museum. A reconstructed medieval village with folk costumes and basket weaving. When my school did not have the buses to take us there, my father used his connections to make the trip happen.
  • Milgravis: an inlet connecting Ķīšezers lake to the Daugava River. When my grandparents took me to my uncle’s summer home by train, we crossed this river.
  • Pilsētas Kanāls: The City Canal. The most historic of the city’s hidden streams, it was once a moat that protected Vecriga (Old Riga) from invaders. These days, it is the centerpiece of Bastejkalns (Bastion Hill) Park, the city’s version of New York’s Central Park.

All of which I will write about in the future.

Historical Note: This week is the 25th anniversary of the Barricades protests that rocked downtown Riga. The event sped up the separation of Latvia from the Soviet Union.




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