Thursday, April 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Agglomeration of Russian Cities By Fiat Will Destroy Local Democracy, Moscow Architect Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 18 – The Russian government’s plan to combine cities with their surrounding territories by fiat from above – a process it calls “agglomeration” -- rather than to allow such units to emerge naturally and by negotiation will destroy any possibility that these new political units will benefit the population, according to a leading Moscow architect.

            Instead, Aleksandr Boroznov argues in a commentary posted online yesterday, talk at the regional affairs ministry suggests that “agglomeration” is simply a way for the central government to find a way to allow Moscow city to absorb all or part of Moscow oblast, a plan that had been “taboo” in the past (

            And the way Russian officials are talking about implementing this idea virtually guarantees that any such new territory either at the center or elsewhere will undermine the development of local government and cost the citizenry the benefits of multiple centers of economic and political organization and power.

            Because what the Russian government appears ready to do in the case of Moscow is likely to set a precedent for other cities and regions of the Russian Federation, Boroznov argues, it is critically important to understand how real agglomerations arise and why the “Potemkin agglomerations” now being proposed are not the same thing. .

            Initially, he points out, “agglomerations arise not organizationally but geographically by the path of a gradual broadening and the development of territorial and transportation connections of neighboring administratively independent cities.” But they remain “stillborn” if the residents or bosses of one area “ignore their neighbors” in another part of the territory.

            “In civilized countries,” the Moscow architect continues, “such processes begin with the development and adoption of common documents” for what is to be the agglomeration.  And then, “the administrative fusion” and “unification of subjects” without the destruction of existing forms of self-administration requires “friendly negotiations.”

            But in the case of Russian cities in general and Moscow in particular, the hyper-centralization of city administration not only precludes the development of local municipalities within the city but inevitably drives away those that the city might absorb through its expansion to include part of what is now Moscow oblast.

             When agglomerations emerge naturally and as a result of agreement, “the problems of the border [of the agglomeration] do not arise,” he says, because they are the boundaries of the constituent elements which have decided to join together.  But when agglomerations are created from above, then the question of an agglomeration’s external borders becomes a lively one.

            “The main thing” in a real agglomeration is “joint action and development and not maps and schemes,” and if an agglomeration is formed freely and by agreement, it will both promote local organs of self-administration within it and over time attract adjoining political units to join with it.

            Given existing Russian territorial units, Boroznov argues, it is critical that units smaller than municipalities be given the chance to unite with their neighbors who want to form an agglomeration and that the municipal governments not be able to veto such changes as they would appear to have now.

            That requirement reflects the main goal of agglomeration, “the preservation and strengthening of a multiplicity of alternative centers of attraction and centers of local self-administration,” not only by ensuring that existing municipal councils and governments continue to exist but that new ones can form.

             Unfortunately, Boroznov says, what appears to be happening in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian Federation is a new wave of “Potemkin” villages but this time at the center and in cities and blessing this process with the entirely inappropriate word “agglomeration” and using it to block the emergence of democracy at the local level that the country so badly needs.

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