Saturday, June 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: The Passing of a Soviet Landmark – Last Khrushchev Apartments Coming Down at Least in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – More than 80 percent of the five-story apartment buildings in Moscow constructed under Nikita Khrushchev have now been torn down, and the remaining ones are scheduled to be. But the program, begun in 1999, is slowing because private firms are no longer willing to take the risks involved, and the government is having to take the lead.

            Initially, these apartment blocks were welcomed by the population as a dramatic improvement over what they had been forced to live in earlier, but over time, the shortcomings in their design meant that many Soviet citizens referred to them as slums, playing on the similarity of the words “Khrushchevki” and “trushchoby.”

            According to Yerlan Zhurabayev, a specialist on consumer goods in the Russian Federation, 1451 of these buildings have now been torn down, including all those in the Central, Southern and Zelenograd districts of the Russian capital.  Some 271 remain but are slated to come down as well (
            Andrey Bochkarev, head of the city’s construction department, says that 147 of these blocks will come down this year and that the last will “disappear” within the borders of Old Moscow by the beginning of 2016. Their destruction will free up space for new construction and also lead to demands for demolishing the aging panel-buildings that replaced the Khrushchevki.

            From 1999 to the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, private developers were eager to assume the costs of tearing down these buildings because they typically received the right to build new and larger buildings on the vacated land.  But after the crisis hit and after the city changed the rules, such private firms fled and the program slowed down.

            According to new rules, put in place in early 2013, Zhurubayev says, “city officials no longer in any circumstances had the right to transfer” the land on which these blocks had sat” without competitive bidding and without getting the agreement of residents, arrangements that were less corrupt and more consumer friendly but that have slowed things down.

            And because private developers no longer view the destruction of these apartment blocks as opening the way to enormous profits, few of them are willing to get involved.  As a result, the government has re-entered this sector, tearing down some itself and allowing in some cases the blocks to be updated into more modern apartments.

            The passing of these apartment blocks in Moscow but far from everywhere else in the Russian Federation not only eliminates the places familiar to millions of Russians and visitors as the sites of the famous kitchen conversations but opens the way to construction patterns that take into consideration far more factors than the original builders did.

            The new blocks going up, Zhurubayev said, are not just replacing the old ones but giving people better apartments with more amenities but also promoting neighborhoods and pointing toward a “polycentric” city with numerous shopping areas and other focal points, changes in the physical environment of Muscovites that will change their mental architecture as well.

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