Friday, March 12, 2021

Kremlin Encouraging Formation of Ten Megalopolises Surrounded by Empty Land, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 10 – Russian officials are celebrating the fact that their country built more than 80 million square meters of housing in 2020, but they are not highlighting the most important thing: almost all of this new housing was concentrated in just ten major cities. Elsewhere, the amount of new housing stock was negligible.

            That arrangement, experts Andrey Zakharchenko of Svobodnaya pressa surveyed say, makes it easier for the Kremlin to run the country because the megalopolises will be standardized and raw materials can be extracted from the vacant lands around them without any opposition (

            The Russian state statistical agency, Rosstat, reports that construction was concentrated in only ten centers, most of them already large cities; and the Construction Complex Rating Agency says that active construction projects occurred only in 27.5 percent of the country’s 1117 Russian cities. Elsewhere, such projects have been suspended or never even began.

            Mariya Litvinetskaya, a specialist on construction at the Metrium Company, says that the growth of metropolitan centers is a worldwide phenomenon and that major Russian cities have a long way to go before catching up with the patterns in Japan for example where Tokyo’s population accounts for a third of the country’s.

            The real question, she continues, is how these agglomerations will develop. “If urban norms about infrastructure, social facilities, parks and green zones are observed, then nothing terrible will occur.” But whether that is possible under Russian conditions is difficult if not impossible to say.

            According to Litvinetskaya, “demand for housing in small cities with populations of 100,000 should be greater.” But economic develop there is too slow to support the higher incomes that will allow people to buy new apartments and to allow such cities to collect taxes from businesses to build public spaces. That only accelerates outmigration from them.

            Unless there is a fundamental reordering of the economy, she suggests, these cities will follow the company towns into oblivion, while the current megalopolises will grow ever larger, even if the latter do not build the infrastructure required to maintain or promote adequate conditions for a good life.

            And Aleksey Nezhivoy, head of the Moscow Laboratory of Political and Social Technologies, says that what is going is the product not only of objective processes but government policies and recalls that Dmitry Medvedev several years ago called of the transformation of Russia into 20 megalopolises, a call others have echoed.

            Such a development, he says, works to the benefit of the powers that be in two ways. On the one hand, it produces chaos and leads people to become more individualistic and competitive and to view all those around them as their enemies rather than as partners, thus reducing the possibility of the formation of horizontal ties.

            And on the other, it leaves an enormous part of the country empty for raw materials development. If there are no people in these regions, there will be no one to object to what the government and its business partners are doing to the environment, allowing Moscow to maximize profits by minimizing money spent on protecting it, Nezhivov adds.

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