Staunton, Oct. 3 – Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s proposal to build a series of large new cities in Siberia and the Far East has already led other Russian officials to offer similar proposals for the construction of new urban center. But all these suffer from the same shortcoming that has caused similar cities built in Soviet times to die, Vadim Shtepa says.
Across the Russian Federation, there are more than 300 cities built almost or completely from scratch in Soviet times to develop particular industries. All of them are now dying because they were based on Moscow decisions giving primacy to the economy over the population, the Russian regionalist says (reforum.io/blog/2021/10/01/komu-nuzhny-novye-goroda-v-sibiri/).
There is absolutely nothing in the proposals of Shoygu or his emulators that suggests the authors of the idea of building new cities have anything different in mind. Indeed, they seem inspired largely by a mythological past in which monogorods, as such company towns are called, dominated the landscape.
Those places began to die as soon as Stalinist controls ebbed because people did not want to live in them even if salaries were as high or higher than in Moscow, Shtepa says. They wanted and want more than that and have deserted these places in droves, leaving many of them ghost towns.
Now, Russia is left both with monuments to a failed past and also cities that have a more natural basis for existing but desperately need investment, and the government has been compelled to spend money to try to save what can’t be saved, something it appears to be setting itself up to do again.
(On the sad history of company towns in the Russian Federation, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/moscows-billion-dollar-program-to-save.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/01/another-fatal-flaw-in-russias-company.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/12/one-russian-monogorod-may-soon-drop-off.html, and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/05/russias-one-industry-towns-continue-on.html.)
Ruslan Dokhan, an economic geographer at Moscow State University, argues that despite all “the superficial innovative aspects” of what Shoygu and the others are proposing, their ideas are both archaic and anachronistic and will end in much the same way (meduza.io/feature/2021/09/06/sergey-shoygu-hochet-postroit-novye-goroda-v-sibiri-i-perenesti-tuda-stolitsu).
And Geogry Kulakov, a Russian historian in the Far East, agrees. Wouldn’t it be far wiser, he suggests to give the regions the opportunities and the resources to decide how to develop urban areas. That way they would thrive. Doing it Shoygu’s way will create more ghost towns (meduza.io/feature/2021/09/06/sergey-shoygu-hochet-postroit-novye-goroda-v-sibiri-i-perenesti-tuda-stolitsu).
Shtepa for his part points out that “it is impossible to imagine that the central government of the US would suddenly order the construction of new cities in Alaska without discerning anything about the interest of the people of that state. But today, Russian oblasts, krays and republics do not have even their own institutes for regional development.”
“All programs for them are drawn up at the center, and the interests of local residents aren’t considered at all,” the regionalist says. Real federalism is the only real protection against such wasteful and destructive ideas as Shoygu’s. But unfortunately, those in power in Moscow today aren’t interested in that. They are interested only in the earnings from corruption.