Lithuanian towns race each other in building more and larger fountains. An easy way to beautify public spaces with EU funding, they may become a burden on public resources in the future.
In recent years, the number of public fountains in Lithuania surpassed 500.
Utena, a town in north-east Lithuania with a population of 25,000, is called “the fountain capital” and has five. In Vilnius, there are 18 fountains, while the second-largest city Kaunas has 16.
Mantvydas Šakalys, head of the fountain construction company Poolservice, said that building one can cost from several thousand euros to millions.
The most intricate fountain in the country was built in the Lukiškės Square of Vilnius, with a price tag of 350,000 euros. The fifth-largest Lithuanian city Panevėžys is looking to spend around 500,000 euros on a dancing, singing, and floating fountain in the middle of a pond.
“We have a suitable pond, so we decided that Panevėžys needs an exceptional fountain,” Tomas Jukna, the director of Panevėžys municipality administration, said.
Historically, cities built fountains for more convenient water delivery. Today, they mostly serve as decorations and attraction sites.
“Fountains are aesthetically pleasing, but they also help nearby businesses – cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, museums – attract customers,” Aušra Pažėraitė, an associate professor of management at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, said.
But there might be other reasons for their popularity. According to the economist Žygimantas Mauricas, building new fountains is the easiest way for towns to get EU funding and show they are taking care of public spaces.
But the fountain boom is getting out of control, he said.
“There is a risk because it is only the beginning. Cities receive EU funding which increases their budgets, their financial situation is also improving because of the growing economy. So, this creates an incentive to invest extra money into fountains,” according to Mauricas.
But maintaining a fountain is also expensive, once it is built.
At least eight municipalities in Lithuania are currently preparing new fountain projects. Instead, Mauricas suggests, city authorities should ask their residents if they would prefer other public infrastructure, such as sports fields, to fountains.
If there is a need for fountains, they could be built by private benefactors, he believes.
“I think there are businesses that would like to have their names on the fountains. That would allow building fountains” without taking resources away from basic social services, Mauricas said.