Staunton, October 21 – This month marks the tenth anniversary of Sergey Sobyanin’s time as mayor of the Russian capital; and over the past ten years, both his actions and broader changes have made Muscovites feel a greater attachment to and even love for their city than they had felt earlier.
This change has been somewhat obscured by the impact of the pandemic and the negative reactions of many in the city to the harsh policies Sobyanin has adopted to try to contain and defeat it, Vladimir Polkanov of Nezavisimaya gazeta says; but it is very real and will affect the future of the city and of Russia (ng.ru/moscow/2020-10-21/2_7995_21102020.html).
Not only has the mayor helped the city climb out of the funk it was in in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis when he came to office, but the mayor has taken steps that mean that the city has found it far easier to cope with the pandemic crisis than would otherwise have been the case.
Per capita food consumption has risen, investments have continued to rise, and Moscow has remained “the major industrial and financial center” it has always thought was its position by right. That was not inevitable a decade ago, Polkanov suggests; and Sobyanin deserves credit for preventing a change.
Compared to the heads of other Russian cities, the journalist continues, Sobyanin has promoted both high-tech industries and especially small business, which occupies a significantly larger share in the city’s economy than it did a decade ago. According to one measure, the number of small enterprises has grown 61 percent since 2010.
Polkanov says that “Muscovites themselves in response have begun to rate their city more highly and love it more than they did.” Indeed, that is “the main result” of Sobyanin’s tenure, changes that have reflected not only economic development but in the expansion of public spaces.
Today, there are more than 700 theaters, museums, and exhibition halls, 8,000 cultural heritage places, 500 marks and 20,000 sports facilities, all up from a decade ago. The trends in other cities show that these might not have been true in Moscow, but they are – and residents and visitors recognize that fact.
Sobyanin has taken the lead in promoting streets given over entirely to pedestrian traffic. In 2012, Moscow had only one, the Old Arbat. “Now, there are more than 350.” That doesn’t make Moscow Paris, but it is a remarkable change in such a short time. And as far as parks are concerned, Moscow now ranks second only to Hong Kong among major cities of the world.
And there has been another change under Sobyanin that matters to residents and visitors alike. Moscow has become one of the safest cities in the world. People are no longer afraid to be on the streets after dark. That may seem a small thing but it is not unimportant. Indeed, it helps to explain why Muscovites feel better than they might otherwise.
It is easy to dismiss this as a puff piece designed to build up Sobyanin and his policies or to allow Muscovites feel superior to others as the hostility they elicit from other Russians suggest is often the case. Indeed, as many have suggested is already the case, Moscow city is providing leadership for other parts of the country at a time when the Kremlin has pulled back from that.
To the extent that that is so, Sobyanin’s role is far greater than many are inclined to think, even if his position as mayor does not prove to be a springboard to a higher position.