The Vilnius city municipality (Vilniaus miesto savivaldybė) is one of 60 municipalities in Lithuania. It is in the southeastern part of country, in Vilnius County and consists of the city of Vilnius, the town of Grigiškės and some rural areas.
During the Soviet era, Vilnius was given the unique status of a city, that was not controlled by local governments, but was responsible directly to the central government of the Lithuanian SSR. Officially, it remained a part of the Vilnius district.
After independence the system of districts and republican administered cities was reorganized into that of municipalities. Therefore the territory that formerly included Vilnius, became the Vilnius city municipality, while the remaining areas of Vilnius district became Vilnius district municipality. Although whole area is considered Vilnius , it has some areas that are actually suburbs, separated from the city by forests and such.
Under the municipality reform of 2000, the town of Grigiškės was separated from the Trakai district municipality, and made part of the Vilnius city municipality. It became an elderate,(a unique Lithuanian designation), of this municipality. However, Grigiškės is not considered part of Vilnius, only of the municipality; that is because joining it with Vilnius, would require renaming many streets in both cities, and it would be too costly at this time.
The government of Vilnius city municipality also would like that the town of Lentvaris, currently part of Trakai district municipality, would be attached to the Vilnius city municipality (which is allegedly supported by people of Lentvaris, according to surveys done by Vilnius city municipality). This is opposed by the government of Trakai district municipality.
The population density of the municipality is almost 1,400 people per square kilometer). In spite of this, however, almost a half of it is covered by woods and greenery. Parks separate the different districts and forests separate Vilnius from its suburbs. There are recreational places such as lakes in the municipality (water makes up almost 3% of the area). Outside of the Vilnius city limits it is also possible to swim in the Neris River. Forests are also prevalent in the northern part of the municipality.
The Vilnius city municipality is the most populous municipality in Lithuania and is one of the most diverse municipalities, with Lithuanians making up less than 60% population. The minority communities are Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Gypsies, Karaites and others; most of them have resided there for centuries. There are many Lithuanian, Polish and Russian schools, as well as some other minority schools. There are also various religious communities in the municipality (also many atheists, as in other urban municipalities), including various Christian denominations, the largest number of Jews of any Lithuanian municipality, relatively large number of Muslims, also some Karaites (who have a temple in the city). In addition to traditional religions, there are many new ones practiced. Such diversity comes from the turbulent history of the region. The percentage of Poles is largest in the suburbs of Vilnius, such as Naujoji Vilnia; most Russians live in Vilnius itself.
As the municipality is the most populous, and as it includes the capital city of Lithuania, it is very important. It has the largest city council. Traditionally, people from the municipality supports rightist parties; especially people from Vilnius. Inhabitants of suburbs more frequently votes for leftist parties. The Lithuanian Liberal Party (now merged into Liberal and Center Union) has been traditionally the most popular, and is also the currently ruling party, led by the charismatic young mayor (the youngest mayor of a European capital city) Artūras Zuokas. However, he was involved in a corruption scandal recently. The court found him not guilty, but the President asked for his resignation. He refused to resign however, and the municipality council refused to vote on his removal.
Because of the political climate and other factors, the municipality has thrived economically (see economics section), but some people oppose how this economic success has been obtained. Therefore there has recently been more polarization , and many people have chosen to vote for the opposition.
Some of the actions of the municipality government were pioneering the ideas in Lithuania or even the world. The innovative actions were such as letting people always see the mayor's office online over a webcam, giving people free bikes to ride with and otherwise promoting bike travel (which was not popular before), banning of any public alcohol consumption (previously not done in Lithuania), installing TV sets in public transportation, allowing tall skyscrapers near city centre (previously undone in Lithuania) and others. As mayor Artūras Zuokas said, it is a problem of Lithuania and other Eastern European societies that one has to prove that the idea has been done in different western European or American cities before anyone takes you seriously that it would work in Lithuania; he thinks that instead Lithuanians should not be afraid to be the first in the world to do various things and let others to follow.
Declared political goals of Vilnius city municipality are quite ambitions; they includes trying to make the Vilnius city as a major commercial hub in the region which includes Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Poland (as Vilnius is a center of area inhabited by tens of millions of people, and cities of Kaunas, Riga, Minsk are not far away.
The new city center of Vilnius, a commercial and residential modern district, is being established in formerly empty areas, or areas currently occupied by outdated and obsolete sports facilities and wooden buildings, on the right bank of river Neris. To further establish the stance of the area as the center, the municipality itself moved to a newly built high rise building there. The former Municipality Palace in the Gediminas Avenue was sold and now there is a shopping centre. Although one of reasons for the new center of Vilnius is that it would move away traffic from the old town, the project is still regarded by some as controversial, due to skyscrapers being visible from the old town and supposedly destroying the medieval atmosphere there, skyscrapers being more impressive visually than the traditional symbols of Vilnius such as the Castle of Gediminas and the new districts destroying the wooden architecture of Šnipiškės district, a rare case of XIX age former suburb of Vilnius still remaining as it was unchanged. The municipality government however discounts such arguments as being old-fashioned and states that the municipality must move forward together with time.
Inside Lithuania, the dvimiestis (literally "twocity") idea is a common work between Vilnius city municipality and Kaunas city municipality (second most populous municipality of Lithuania (includes Kaunas city), which is about 100 km from Vilnius city municipality). It includes cooperation such as planning a single major airport between municipalities, also plans are for fast train which would connect them in half an hour so it would make viable to live in one municipality and work in another (currently it takes 1 hour and 20 minutes to go Vilnius-Kaunas by express train and 1 hour and 40 minutes to go by express bus). Overall both municipalities would then have almost a million of people and this would make it easier to advertise it as a common market to possible investors. Currently in major exhibitions and tourist booklets both municipalities already advertises together.
Another idea is that of expansion of the municipality by including town of Lentvaris into it which is currently part of Trakai district municipality. Allegedly, that is supported by people of Lentvaris, according to surveys organised by Vilnius city municipality, mostly because utilities (such as water) are cheaper in Vilnius city municipality as it is highly urban. Trakai district municipality, which already had Elektrėnai municipality seceded from it in 2000 and Grigiškės attached to Vilnius city municipality previously, disagrees with possible secession of Lentvaris, claiming that then the municipality would remain primarily rural and costs for utilities would get even larger for those who'd remain. Also, some opponents of the idea claims that Vilnius city municipality needs Lentvaris only as a cheap ground to plan industry in, as Vilnius city municipality itself is highly urban and large parts of remaining areas are protected as regional parks.
Vilnius city municipality council is the governing body of the Vilnius city municipality. It is responsible for municipality laws. The council is the member of the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania. Vilnius city municipality council overall has 51 seats. Last elections were held in December 2002, terms are 4 years. The results are here:
Due to the rightist policies the municipality thrives economically, unemployment is among the lowest and average wage is among the highest in Lithuania. Economic policies however criticised by some people because such things as green areas and old buildings are being sacrificed for skyscrapers and other commercial objects. The government of municipality however envisions Vilnius as a modern European city and during past few years it rapidly changed. Other parts of the municipality are developing too. Due to good economic policies, municipality is attractive to investors; it already houses tallest skyscraper Europa Tower, largest shopping center Akropolis in the Baltic States and other such objects.
Municipality has largest international airport in Lithuania (Vilnius International Airport), is connected by major roads and railways. There are plans to build Light rail system in the municipality to promote public transportation. Currently the public transportation consists of buses and trolleybusses, as well shared taxis and taxis.
Cultural life is very active in the municipality. There are several theaters (some of which are world famous and takes part in various international festivals), cinemas, art galleries and other cultural institutions.