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Utena’s residents shared joyful smiles

During the first week of September, the residents of Utena celebrated the city’s birthday. 752 years have passed since the name of Utena was first mentioned in a written historical source, an act of Mindaugas, the King of Lithuania, in which Utena and the nearby area were considered to be within the territory belonging to the Selonians, a Baltic tribe, and were given as a gift to the Livonian Order. And although the events of the week did not mark any particular anniversary, there were plenty of new things. The motto for this year’s celebration was “Utena: a city of happiness!”, and wasn’t just any old random saying. According to data from a new Lithuanian social project, the Happiness Barometer, Utena is the city with the happiest residents in the country.

 The city’s birthday was celebrated for the 18th time, and this year the celebration began on 4 September. The festivities started with the opening concert of the 7th trio of sopranosfestival of organ music in Aukštaitija (the Highlands), in which a trio of sopranos, the Three Panthers, participated. The ceremonial opening of the Utenis athletic playing field on the evening of 5 September could be called a celebration within a celebration. Addressing the numerous residents and guests gathered for the occasion, the mayor of the Utena District Municipality, Alvydas Katinas, listed the most important reasons why we have celebrations: they bring us together for meaningful contact with each other, various groups can present themselves to the community, and, most important of all, celebrations mark the end of meaningful work. The reconstruction of the athletic playing field could be considered the most meaningful of this year’s municipal works, as it earned praise from the guests participating in the opening ceremony as well as from the residents and sports enthusiasts who will use it. During the course of this almost 5-million-euro project, the seating for 3,000 spectators was rebuilt, the playingIn the reconstructed athletic playing field surface of the football pitch (field) was renovated, an eight-lane running track was built around the pitch (field), various sectors for track and field events were built, as were warm-up areas, basketball and volleyball courts, energy-saving light fixtures, stormwater runoff cleaners, an automatic system for watering the grass, exercise equipment for adults and youth, a children’s playground, and car parks. The athletic playing field was blessed by Father Henrikas Kalpokas, the dean of the Utena deanery, and a symbolic ribbon was cut by Milda Petrauskienė, the local representative in Parliament (the Seimas), A. Katinas, the mayor, and Liuonius Purvinis, the general director of AB Utenos melioracija, the company that was primarily responsible for building the athletic playing field. The athletic playing field was put to immediate use, as various events were held: a concert by Utena’s own Augustė Vedrickaitė and the group “Išjunk šviesą”, a children’s football tournament, a show by radio-controlled-aircraft makers, a 400-metre sprint competition, and a football match between Utena’s team and the Lithuanian team U-16.
The trade show EXPO UTENA 2013, held for the fifth time, is also a part of the city’s celebration. On Friday and Saturday at the Utena multifunctional sport centre, companies from Utena and abroad came together to present their goods and services. During the trade show, visitors could sample and purchase products made by local companies UAB Utenos mėsa, UAB Rokiškio pienas, UAB Švyturys-Utenos alus, and AB Anykščių vynas. Outside the arena, farmers in the open-air market offered the best of this year’s harvest. On Friday evening, the Utena brewery opened its doors to all. The brewery’s Contemporary Brewing Centre welcomed visitors to get acquainted with the brewing process, sample a brew specially made for the city’s celebration, and watch the European basketball championship games on a large screen outdoors.
On Saturday, the festivities took place from morning to late in the evening Paradethroughout the city. A column of motorcyclists arrived in the city centre. A parade including crew members of the Klaipėda-based Lithuanian naval patrol ship Sėlis as well as pupils and students from all of Utena’s schools proceeded from Utenis Square to the Utena Culture Centre. On the shore of Dauniškis Lake, the most varied of attractions and events took place: the award ceremony for winners of the contests Most Advanced Farm in Utena District 2013 and Most Beautiful Residential Environment 2013, concerts featuring various musical genres, a fair showcasing folk art and crafts, appearances by the Utena County Police Headquarters, the local branch of the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union (a patriotic civic organisation), and the Utena County Fire and Rescue Service, and sports competitions. Several rural elderships invited guests to stop in for refreshments and a bite to eat. In the City Garden, the city’s youth demonstrated their creative talents at the Graffiti School, the “chairs” creative workshop, the Living Library, with appearances by dancers, Harness racesacrobats, karate enthusiasts, singers, and musicians. Harness races (in which horses pull riders on two-wheeled carts) took place at the Rašė horse-racing track. For those interested in visual arts, there was a show of paintings by Jonas Pleckevičius and, in Utenis Square’s outdoor glass gallery, a show of ceramic works by Giedrius Mazūras.
A new part of the celebration, the live-music project HIT PARADE, was very well-received by audiences. A concert with well-known performers Romas Dambrauskas, Giulija, Jūratė Miliauskaitė, guitarist HIT paradeGintaras Šulinskas, and percussionist Robertas Vilčinskas incorporated performances by Utena’s musical and dance groups, and showed that they could perform on stage together with professionals. After the concert, fireworks lit up the night sky, and the musical illuminated fountain in Dauniškis Lake was a pleasure for visitors’ eyes and ears.
The happy smiles of residents are proof that the city’s efforts are having an effect, that there is much to be happy about. In recent years, the city has succeeded in making a lot of progress, creating an environment in which it is convenient and enjoyable to live. Residents can be proud that Utena is known in Lithuania and abroad not only as a city with strong industry, but also as a city in which it is good to live. The city earned international recognition in 2007 at the prestigious Celebrating fireworksInternational Awards for Liveable Communities, held that year in London, with a silver award in recognition of its efforts to improve the local landscape and environment and to strengthen the local community. In 2011, in Seoul, the city again participated in the International Awards for Liveable Communities, and earned a bronze award. The city’s efforts have been recognised in Lithuania, too. The municipality’s work was recognised in 2009, when it received the Auksinė krivūlė (Golden Staff) award for best use of European Union funds. It had first received the Auksinė krivūlė (Golden Staff) award in 2005, for contributions to culture. In 2012, Utena’s parks were recognised as the best example of landscape management in Lithuania, and the municipality was awarded the Ministry of Environment’s award Už kraštovaizdį (For Landscape), which authorises Utena to represent Lithuania in the Council of Dauniskis lakeEurope’s landscape competition in 2013-2014. The district’s prospects are improved by good strategic planning, in which community self-governance, opportunities for business, increasing employment, and improving the social environment by providing quality services to the community all play an important part. Several years ago, in planning the city’s modernisation and growth, the municipality endeavoured to use the city’s natural resources, and so, having invested about 8.7 million euro, the bulk of which were European support funds, today the city can take pride in its many recreational areas, including Dauniškis and Vyžuona parks, the City Garden, and the banks of the Krašuona, in the centre of the city. In the near future, it is planned to continue to expand the park system. Recently-completed work also includes renovated buildings: nine schools, the hospital, and seven blocks of flats. An expensive water-supply project has been completed in the city. The city has become more attractive and lively, as the facades of buildings in Utenis Square were renewed and fountains were built there and at Dauniškis Lake. An active recreation zone has taken shape with the recent reconstruction of Palangos Street and the public spaces of K. Donelaičio Street, near the sport arena. Residents make use of the multifunctional summer and winter sport area, outdoor exercise equipment, BMX ramp, and children’s playground. And the work continues, as the public spaces of Aušros Street are renewed: the Utena Culture Centre is being renovated, along with the former Taurapilis theatre.
As the city’s celebration began, the mayor said that we shouldn’t rely on ratings alone, because happiness, as seen in the smiles of residents, cannot truly be measured by any measuring-stick. The most important happiness indicator is seen when we learn to work together, to do together more than what each individually could accomplish working alone.

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