Sunday, October 2, 2016

‘Sleeping Districts’ in Moscow a Bigger Problem than Corruption, Novikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 2 – Sleeping districts in Moscow and other major cities, an artefact of Soviet urban planning in which people are forced to live far from the city centers and from where they work, are today a greater burden on Russia’s economic development than corruption, according to Aleksey Novikov, the dean of Moscow’ Higher School of Urban Studies.

            Speaking at a Skolkovo conference on “The City as Innovation,” Novikov said that “the main problem” Moscow faces with regard to urban planning are precisely the existence and continuing expansion of this pattern of residential living, one that makes population densities at the center low and those around it high (

            This pattern wouldn’t be a problem, the urbanist said, “if the density of business and commercial activity were distributed in the same way. But [their densities] are in exactly the opposite direction: the peak concentration is in the center and there is a deficit of such activity on the periphery” of Russian cities.

            Another problem with the sleeping districts is that the construction “boom” is continuing “despite the crisis.”  Those energy companies that are earning any money are parking it in safe havens by building more housing in these districts, confident that they will ultimately make a profit given the influx of people into the cities.

            But they aren’t building the necessary infrastructure, and so residents have to spend enormous amounts of time travelling to stores, “a colossal waste of time” and something that is “ecologically” harmful.  Business faces many problems, but failures in Russian city planning are a greater one that corruption. 

            “If the urban milieu in Moscow were organized differently, corruption would be reduced to zero. By its density of population, Moscow has always caught up with Dacca, the most densely populated city in the world.” But the Russian capital’s infrastructure is inadequate, the urban studies expert says.

            Businesses and stores need to be shifted to the regions where people life, and urban transport has to be redesigned so that people can move from one region along the rim of the city to another without passing through the city center, as is all too often the case at present, Novikov says.

            Moscow has certain clear advantages as far as its future development is concerned, he continues. It has enormous unused space, its population remains large mixed rather than ghettoized, and it is a place of fantastic vitality. But it has a major disadvantage: there are no other urban centers in Russia to take the pressure off of it.

            In a country as large as Russia, “there should be more million-resident cities and some of them should be the equal of Moscow in terms of quality. This isn’t happening.” Only if cities like Samara, Petersburg, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and so on development in that way can Moscow “become more comfortable.”   

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