Wayward Pines

khvoyny-map-1

Khvoyny is located south of Krasnoye Selo, an outlying suburb of St. Petersburg
Khvoyny is located south of Krasnoye Selo, an outlying suburb of St. Petersburg

A Town’s Story
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
September 14, 2016

This is Saint Petersburg too, but there is no medical clinic, no pharmacy, no legally operating shops, and no eateries here. The roofs are hastily under repair in time for the elections, but the trash is not hauled away. Fontanka.ru took a look at how this Petersburg gets along.

История одного городка

The letter was an invitation to journey, as the old rubric in the newspapers used to be called. Fontanka.ru got a call from a woman who introduced herself, requested we tell no one she had called, and complained about her unbearable life. She said her life and the lives of her two and a half thousand neighbors were unbearable.

“Just don’t tell anyone I called you,” she repeated, switching to a whisper.

We will honor Nina Petrovna’s request, although I never did figure out whom she was hiding from. (Nina Petrovna is not her real name.) When I came to visit her, when she gave me a tour of her town’s horrors, we were gradually joined by neighbors and even a former municipal councilman who had a roll of glossy paper tucked under his arm. I would nod, rustle my notepad, and feel like a high commission, registering people’s complaints. The procession would expand, and every passerby who did not join it would happily greet us. That is right, they would say, spell them all out in the newspaper. “They” were the authorities who had reduced the whole town to misery. Towards the end, everyone asked me in unison not to identify them.  They had secrecy down pat here. This was not surprising: Khvoyny is the former military garrison town L-237. So Nina Petrovna is a composite character.

Nowadays, the place is an exclave of Petersburg known as Khvoyny (“Coniferous”). Formally part of Petersburg’s outlying Krasnoye Selo district, all the local residents are registered as residents of Petersburg. In practical terms, this village of two and a half thousand residents is stuck between two districts of the surrounding Leningrad Region, Gatchina and Lomonosov. Khvoyny has ceased being a military town, but has still not become a civilian one.

“No one needs us!” Nina Petrovna bitterly informs me. She has spelled out what the trouble is in four words.

Nearly all of Khvoyny’s residents are retired army officers, officers’ wives, and officers’ children. In the early 1960s, they were allocated flats in this spot, which was considered a paradise. There are coniferous trees here, but even more hardwoods. The three-story brick residential buildings are almost in the midst the woods. I arrived here from downtown Petersburg and almost suffered oxygen shock. Here and there, you need to take a forest path to get from one building to another. Since construction of the town was completed in the 1960s, many of the buildings are Stalin-era houses with three-meter-high ceilings. On the upper floors, the ceilings have cracked in places and are covered in mold, because the roofs have not been repaired since the sixties, apparently. But now metallic structures tower next to the buildings: the roofs are rapidly undergoing major repairs.

“Oh, yes,” Nina Petrovna nods. “It was a miracle we were put on the capital renovations program. We have been promised our roofs will be fixed by September 18 [Russian election day this year—TRR].”

Previously, the only way to get into L-237 was through a checkpoint at the invitation of a local resident, but all that remains of the checkpoint are iron gates always left open. Before Nina Petrovna can tell me about the town’s hardships, I notice evenly laid asphalt in the passages between the houses, and cheerful flowerbeds and neat playgrounds in the courtyards. There are even public exercise machines next to the school. So my first impression of Khvoyny is that only profoundly ungrateful and picky people could complain about it.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” says Nina Petrovna, waving her hand. “We planted the flowers ourselves. And our municipal councilman pushed through the playgrounds and the asphalt. What he managed to do when he was on the council is left. But then someone from Krasnoye Selo was elected instead of him. No one deals with our problems anymore.”

We won’t be coming back to how the former municipal councilman “pushed” those things  through. The story looks shady, and the so-called ex-councilman absolutely refused to share the paperwork with us. The problem is that, formally speaking, everything in Khvoyny, including the land, still belongs to the Defense Ministry, and it is not quite clear on what grounds the municipal powers that be were trying to build a garden town, complete with asphalt and exercise machines. But the residents of the former L-237 are terribly worried that the asphalt and the playgrounds and the exercise machines and even the half-repaired roofs will all be taken away. Just as the swimming pool, the bathhouse, the cafeteria, the clinic, the pharmacy, and the shops have already been taken away. Khvoyny once had all these amenities.

“The swimming pool is still there,” Nina Petrovna corrects me. “I don’t know what is in there now, but the military garrison has put it under guard, and someone stops by there from time to time.”

The medical clinic is also still standing. I am led there as if it were a local landmark.

poliklinika1
The sign reads, “Working Hours of the Khvoyny Village Medical Clinic.”

“It used to be a hospital branch,” Nina Petrovna says. “It had everything: an X-ray machine, a lab, and complete staff of doctors. You could undergo physiotherapy here.”

The door has been wide open for many years, and you can walk in. Chair legs covered with a layer of dust lie in the hallways. Books are strewn about, and computer debris crunches underfoot. When the military moved out, it looks as if they did all they could to make sure the enemy would not get their hands on these precious things. The stench testifies to the fact the building is now used as a public toilet.

Their Krasnoye Selo residence permits mean the residents of Khvoinyi are assigned to the Krasnoye Selo Medical Clinic. But, says Nina Petrovna, it takes something like an hour to get there on the minibus. But to say that the residents of Khvoyny have been left without medical care would be shamelessly slandering the authorities.

“The outpatient clinic and the district doctor come three times a week,” Nina Petrovna admits.

The “outpatient clinic” is a minivan. The doctors sees patients right in the van. The patients queue up outside the van.

“If it’s raining, we stand under umbrellas,” sighs Nina Petrovna. “Can you imagine what it’s like in winter?”

Once, she tells me, a neighbor summoned an ambulance from Krasnoye Selo. It arrived the next day.

Another building the residents of Khvoyny like to show off is the former cafeteria. The military, apparently, retreated from this building in keeping with all the regulations, trashing everything they could not take with them. The cafeteria’s doors are securely locked, so visitors get in by climbing through a shattered window.

A wise man once conversed with the people via a TV screen. A old man complained to him about awful roads, roads on which it was impossible to drive a car. The wise man’s reply was reasonable. Why, he said, do you need a car if there are no roads? It is the same thing with the residents of Khvoyny. They don’t have a pharmacy, but why do they need a pharmacy if they don’t have a medical clinic, either?

“People who have cars are alright,” sighs Nina Petrovna. “But it’s so much trouble going by bus every time to buy medications.”

But residents have to take the bus in any case because neither are there any shops in Khvoyny. There is a building in town. The sign on it says, “Store.” The windows are boarded up.

“People from one of the big retailers came here, either Pyatyorochka or Magnit,” Nina Petrovna repeats a rumor. “The military demanded such high rent they left as soon as they arrived!”

“Store”

This story of how the military “demanded” high rent conceals, apparently, the reason why there no shops and no pharmacy in Khvoyny. All the buildings are still the property of the Defense Ministry. Local residents assure me the process of transferring them to the city has been going on for fifteen years or so. The ex-councilman, mentioned earlier, knows something about this, but once again he does not want to show me the paperwork. He says the problem will be resolved quite soon.

For now, though, anyone who wants to open a shop or pharmacy in Khvoyny has to contact the military about the rent. Apparently, such people do reach out to them. And certain people seemingly manage to luck out and agree on the rent. Products are sold in a cubbyhole in the boarded-up store. In a kiosk on the next street over, an enterprising fellow sells milk, bread, vodka, sausages, and other edibles that he ships in from Petersburg. An old woman bakes him pasties to sell. So the kiosk doubles, as it were, as a “branch” of the former cafeteria. All these businesses seem to have settled with the military on terms that are not suitable for large retail chains and even less so for pharmacies. But quality control of the products is as reliable as can be. It is implemented not by some consumer watchdog agency, but by the consumers themselves. If push comes to shove, they can beat up the retailers.

Another sight to see in Khvoyny is the rubbish dump on the outskirts of town. There used to be a path here that people took when going shopping in the neighboring village of Taitsy. When the dump appeared, they had to alter their route, because the dumpsters are hauled away, at best, on the eve of big holidays, and the perpetual puddle near the dump is so large that, at all other times, residents have to toss their rubbish into dumpster from a distance of three meters. You can see, however, that accuracy is not the principal virtue of Khvoyny’s residents.

pomoyka

If you think the military are so ruthless only to the civilian population, think again. This accusation completely falls away when you see their own dormitory. It is inhabited by those in Khvoyny who do not have their own flats. The garrison continues to operate, and despite the peacetime conversion I have described, the garrison’s current headquarters is still located in the town. Soldiers and officers assigned to the garrison are housed in the dormitory as well. If you are lucky, the ceiling in your room will leak only in one spot. At most, you will need to put two buckets on the floor to catch the water. And it is not so terrible there is one toilet per floor. As we recall, the former medical clinic functions as a public toilet.

My tour of Khvoyny lasted three hours. During those three hours, the hard lives of Khvoyny’s residents and the total neglect they suffer at the hands of the powers that be filled me with compassion for them. We said our goodbyes next to an imported car with a plush toy dog in the back window. A St. George’s Ribbon was tied round the doggy’s neck. Before leaving, I decided to have a look at the glossy scroll the ex-councilman had been carrying throughout my tour. It turned out to be a campaign poster for country’s main political party. He had to hang it on wall to do his part for the campaign. I asked the residents of Khvoyny whether they were going to vote for this party.
sobachka

“Of course!” said Nina Petrovna firmly, her lips pursed. “I don’t see an alternative. Otherwise, there will be war. The country will divided up, and the Americans will grab all our riches.”

I left town with a feeling of joy. It was a good thing, after all, the residents of Khvoyny would be hanging on to their riches.

All photos by Irina Tumakova. Map images courtesy of OpenStreetMap and Google Maps. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

Red Banner Textile Factory: File under “Real Estate”

Erich Mendelsohn's power plant for the Red Banner Textile Factory, July 31, 2016. The construction site of Baltic Commerce's dubiously named Mendelsohn Housing Complex is located immediately to the left of the plant. Photo by the Russian Reader
Erich Mendelsohn’s power plant for the Red Banner Textile Factory, July 31, 2016. The construction site of Baltic Commerce’s dubiously named Mendelsohn Housing Complex is located immediately to the left of the plant. Photo by the Russian Reader

ICOMOS Asks the Smolny to Reconsider Project for Redeveloping Red Banner Factory
Fontanka.ru
September 2, 2016

Russian and German specialists from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) have published an open letter requesting plans to construct a residential building next to Erich Mendelsohn’s power station at Pionerskaya Street, 53, in Petersburg, be reconsidered and the Red Banner Textile Factory be recognized as a federally protected constructivist-era landmark.

The letter was published on the website of the Petersburg branch of ICOMOS. It was signed by six specialists from Russia and Germany, including Petersburgers Margarita Stieglitz and Sergei Gorbatenko.

The Red Banner Factory on Pionerskaya Street is “the only major work by the great German architect Erich Mendelsohn in Russia. […] Globally, it is a key work of avant-garde industrial architecture,” the specialists write in the letter.

Nevertheless, the landmark is in poor condition. Neither preservation or restoration has been carried out, noted the experts. And next to the factory’s symbol, the former power station, the company Baltic Commerce is erecting the nine-storey Mendelsohn Housing Complex.

“The residential building will be considerably taller than the ensemble’s historic centerpiece, violate its visual integrity, and reduce its value in terms of urban planning and the ensemble’s composition,” the specialists from ICOMOS argue.

They call on “responsible parties” to review the existing project, develop a concept for restoring and converting the entire factory complex, and prioritize the restoration and conservation of the factory’s buildings, as well as make the ensemble a federally listed landmark.

Currently, the building housing the factory’s former heating and power plant and several sections of the Red Banner Textile Factory are federally protected. The rest of the block can be redeveloped with buildings up to 33 meters tall. Deputy Governor Igor Albin visited the factory in August, following complaints by historical preservationists. He assured them construction of the residential building was being carried out lawfully.

Translated by the Russian Reader. The article, above, should be read as a serious follow-up to the warning bells I tried wanly to sound in “Leningrad Then, Petersburg Now,” published on August 16, 2016.

Clouds Rose Over the City: How the ZSD Has Changed the Face of Petersburg

The Western High-Speed Diameter seen from the spit of Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
The Western High-Speed Diameter (ZSD) tollway, currently nearing completion, as seen from the spit of Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

How the Western High-Speed Diameter Has Changed Petersburg’s Look
Kanoner
August 15, 2016

The central section of the ZSD (Western High-Speed Diameter) has almost been completed and looks as it will for years to come. Petersburgers are getting used to how the tollway’s tall bridges have altered familiar cityscapes.

Construction of the ZSD’s central portion was launched in 2013. By that time, the entire southern segment from the Ring Road to the Yekaterinagofka River had been opened to traffic, and a little while later, the ribbon was cut on the northern segment, which runs from Primorsky Prospect to the Scandinavian Highway. While the city built the southern and northern segments in the guise of Western High-Speed Diameter JSC, the most complicated section has been entrusted to Northern Capital Thoroughfare, Ltd., which is linked to VTB Bank and Gazprombank.

The length of the central portion is around 12 kilometers. It runs from the Yekateringofka River to Primorsky Prospect. The segment mostly consists of a series of bridges crossing the Neva Bay on high piers. It was designed by Stroyproyekt Institute JSC. The crossings over Petersburg’s two main fairways—the Petrine Fairway (in the mouth of the Malaya Neva River), and the Ship Fairway (in the mouth of the Neva River)—were built higher. The ZSD reaches its highest point when it passes over Kanonersky Island and the Sea Channel.

A map of the western edge of central Petersburg. The ZSD's 12-km central section is indicated by the dotted pink-and-white line running roughly from north to south along the shoreline. Image couresty of OpenStreetMap
A map of the western edge of central Petersburg. The ZSD’s 12-km central section is indicated by the dotted pink-and-white line running roughly from north to south along the shoreline. Image courtesy of OpenStreetMap

The height of the cable bridge across the Ship Fairway is 35 meters. The crossing is noteworthy for its inclined pylons. According to designers, they are supposed to resemble the drawbridges in Petersburg’s historic center.

Another of its distinguishing features is its visibility from the historic center. The chunks of concrete in a tight web of cables are visible over the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island if you look from the Liteiny Bridge; they can also be seen from the Admiralty.  In addition, the bridge has risen over the far end of Bolshoi Prospect on Vasilyevsky Island. The inclined pylons have had the greatest visual impact on the view down Bolshoi Prospect from northeast to southwest.

The new view down Bolshoi Prospect, Vasilyevsky Island

The cable bridge over the Petrine Fairway reaches a height of 25 meters. However, two of its pylons have risen to a height of 125 meters, which is slightly higher than the spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. In recent years, the cathedral has rapidly been losing its status as the city’s visual centerpiece. The tall pencil-like pylons can now be easily seen from the Islands.

The 125-meter-high pylons of the ZSD as it crosses the Petrine Fairway at the mouth of the Malaya Neva River. Photo courtesy of The Village
The 125-meter-high pylons of the ZSD as it crosses the Petrine Fairway at the mouth of the Malaya Neva River. Photo courtesy of The Village

The bridge crosses the Elagin Fairway at the mouth of the Bolshaya Nevka River. The bridge is situated at a height of sixteen meters, but that has sufficed to wipe out one of the oldest views of the Gulf of Finland, the view that once opened from the spit of Elagin Island. Whereas previously you could catch a glimpse of Kronstadt from the Central Park of Culture and Rest (TsPKiO) on a sunny day, you now must admire the highway.

This video provides a bird’s-eye view of construction of the ZSD over the Bolshaya Nevka River and the nearby Zenit Arena football stadium, on the spit of Krestovsky Island. Posted on YouTube by Alexander Parkhomenko on April 11, 2016, it was, apparently, filmed by a drone on October 18, 2015.

But as it crosses the Sea Channel, the bridge has come to tower over an entire island, Kanonersky. Its metal girders hang right over the island’s late-Soviet residential high-rises.  Some of the buildings will have to be resettled, but no buildings have been demolished yet and, most likely, none will be.

Путиловская набережная, ЗСД

Канонерский остров, ЗСД

This stretch of the ZSD is the highest, because the main water route to the Neva (i.e., the one with the deepest fairway) runs through this part of town. The height of the span is 52 meters. Initially, it was planned to be slightly higher, 55 meters. It was lowered “to mitigate the highway’s longitudinal profile in order to ensure traffic safety on the approaches to the highest portion of the ZSD.”

The ZSD running right over the treetops of Kanonersky Island. Photo by the Russian Reader
The ZSD running right over the treetops of Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
The ZSD under construction near the central beach on Kanonersky Island,
The ZSD under construction near the central beach on Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

The 52-meter mark was cleared with the United Construction Corporation and the management of the Port of Saint Petersburg. Nevertheless, a group of activists including Rear Admiral Igor Kolesnikov and Alexander Ivanov, Honorary Worker of the Soviet Marine Fleet, issued a statement that “the bridge clearances adopted in the draft project exclude the passage of large ships, vessels, and boats.”

Морской канал

In addition to the bridge, the face of the city has been impacted by another engineering decision made by the ZSD’s designers. As it passes the western edges of Vasilyevsky Island and the Island of the Decembrists, the road has been laid along the bottom of a ditch dug into the ground. Moreover, the road bed is essentially situated where ten years ago the waves of the Gulf of Finland washed the shoreline.

ЗСД на Васильевском острове

A tunnel was built under the mouth of the Smolenka River to construct this segment of the highway. It was built using the cut-and-cover method. Due to this fact, the Smolenka flowed into the gulf via two channels. While the tunnel was under construction, they were closed in turn to drain the water away. During the first phase, the tunnel was dug under the southern channel; during the second phase, under the northern channel.

ЗСД, тоннель под Смоленкой

The reclaimed lands to the west of the ZSD have been undergoing vigorous housing development, but they are cut off from main part of Vasilyevsky Island by the ZSD itself. The only link is Michmanskaya Street, which runs over the highway via an overpass, which was built before construction on the ZSD had begun. To improve transportation accessibility over the highway, two more bridges have been erected in the vicinity of Europe Square. For the time being, however, like the entire ZSD, they are fenced off and closed not only to traffic but also to pedestrians.

Under the investment agreement, the central section of the ZSD must be delivered this year. In the wee hours of August 9, a demonstration took place that involved securing the locking section of the road bed for the cable bridge over the Ship Fairway. Next, the final guy lines have to be adjusted and tightened, and the road bed must be asphalted.

According to the most recent statements by Petersburg city hall officials, the entire highway is scheduled to be open to traffic in November.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos by Dmitry Ratnikov, except where noted.

_________

“Clouds Rose over the City,” from the film The Man with the Gun (1938), as sung by Mark Bernes:

Clouds rose over the city,
The smell of storm was in the air.
In faraway Narvskaya Zastava
Walked a young lad.

Ahead of me is a long, long road.
Come out, my dear, and say goodbye.
We’ll say our farewells in the door.
And you wish me luck on my way.

Fußball über alles

std
The new football stadium on Petersburg’s Krestovsky Island, still unfinished after years of delays and rampant cost overruns. In the foreground is a monument to former city boss Sergei Kirov, murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1934. Photo courtesy of Pyotr Kovalyov/Delovoy Peterburg

Schools, Kindergarten, and Hospitals Sacrificed to the Stadium
Antonina Asanova
Fontanka.ru
August 15, 2016

The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] will finance construction of the football stadium on Krestovsky Island twice over. The advances of 2.6 billion rubles that have not been returned by VTB Bank and Transstroy will be issued to new contractor Metrostroy. Schools and kindergartens will have to wait.

To finish the stadium on Krestovsky, the Smolny is ready to sacrifice the completion dates of three dozen facilities, including kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. 2.6 billion rubles, earmarked for social infrastructure, will be “redeployed” to Petersburg’s construction project of the century. City hall is counting on recouping the reinvested funds later, and figures it can afford not to hurry with the construction of public facilities.

The Construction Committee has prepared a draft decree on reallocating its 2016 budget. By law, the agency can redirect up to 10% of the funds in its targeted investment program, i.e., 2.8 billion rubles, a committee spokesperson said on the record.

Off the record, sources at the Smolny have explained that the stadium’s former general contractor, Inzhtransstroy-SPb, has not run through the 3.6 billion rubles it received as an advance. The company can still deliver part of the construction work and purchased materials before August 25, a month after its contract with the city was terminated. But if the city does not succeed in offsetting the entire sum, it will have to try and collect the money either from the contractor or VTB Bank, which issued the guarantee for completion of the work.

Experience shows it is not worth counting on the good will of companies when it comes to giving back money. The Construction Committee is still in the midst of suing VTB for the return of funds issued under contracts for the construction of indoor ice rinks, which were terminated over a year ago.

A strategy of protracted litigation does not suit the Smolny at all. Completing the stadium before year’s end is a matter of honor to the city government. So the Construction Committee has decided to redeploy part of the funds allocated for new kindergartens and schools to Petersburg’s main construction project. Only facilities whose completion was planned for this year have not been touched.

The city’s calculation is simple. Construction of public facilities will be slowed down a bit for the time being. But when the stadium is delivered at the end of the year, and the monies that were advanced are returned to the budget, the long-awaited construction projects will again be accelerated to a proper speed.

Health clinics and hospitals will be most affected by the budget cuts. The Construction Committee has decided to withdraw nearly a billion rubles from construction of these facilities.

Expenditures on one of the city’s most protracted construction projects, a perinatal center at Maternity Hospital No. 9 on 47 Ordzhonikidze Street, have been reduced by a quarter billion rubles. Doctors were preparing to nurse premature and sick newborns in the facility, and spoke of modern operating rooms and a modern intensive care unit. The building, in fact, was supposed to be delivered at the end of 2015. But now the contractor, Stroykomplekt, owned by former Baltstroy top manager Dmitry Torchinsky and Alexei Torchinsky, has a new deadline: the end of 2017.

People in the suburb of Kolpino will also have to wait for the opening of the new surgical wing at Hospital No. 33. Only one million rubles has been left in this year’s budget for its completion, while 155 million rubles will be transferred to erecting the football stadium. However, the construction site on Pavlovskaya Street has already been idle for a year. The Construction Committee terminated its contract with the previous contractor, but has not yet found a new contractor.

The residents of Kolpino will not have to wait alone, however. Among the facilities where construction will be slowed down are health clinics in Strelna and Krasnoye Selo, an ambulance substation in Metallostroy, and a childen’s tuberculosis sanatorium in Ushkovo.

Funds for new school construction will not be slashed so drastically: only by half a billion rubles. Contractor ETS will have to slow down construction of a school in New Okhta, a massive housing complex on the far side of the Ring Road, near Murino. This year, financing of the construction project will be cut by 230 million rubles. New Okhta is being vigorously developed. Over the past three years, developer LSR Group has completed twenty-four residential buildings into which the city has been moving people on the affordable housing waiting list. But there are still no schools in the district. Parents have to shuttle their children over the Ring Road to the neighborhoods of Grazhdanka, built long ago.

Residents of the housing project on Badayev Street will also have to be patient. The city has stripped their future school of 90 million rubles in financing.

Finally, kindergartens will hardly suffer at all: funding of their construction will be reduced only by 310 million rubles. The biggest loser, to the tune of 130 million rubles, is the future kindergarten in the Golden Bay residential complex, near Tricentennial Park. Its completion has been postponed for a year, until the end of 2017.

The Smolny is even ready to cut funding for construction of a site directly linked to the new stadium: the waterfront near the Novokrestovskaya subway station, currently under construction. The contractor, Leokam, will have its funding for making improvements to the waterfront cut by nearly 240 million rubles. Apparently, the company will have to catch up next year. Under the terms of its contract, it has to deliver the works before the end of 2017.

The site of the new stadium was previously occupied by the Kirov Stadium, a federally listed architectural landmark, built by constructivist architect Nikolsky in
The site of the new stadium was previously occupied by the Kirov Stadium, a federally listed architectural landmark. Designed by world-famous constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky and opened in 1950, it was unceremoniously demolished in 2006. Photo courtesy of Kommersant.

However, what matters is that the stadium on Krestovsky Island will be delivered before the end of this year, and cost estimates of its construction will not increase, formally speaking.

A total of 42 billion rubles [approx. 582 million euros] have been allocated on the stadium, Petersburg’s principal protracted construction project.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Leningrad Then, Petersburg Now

Leningrad Then

Even with the Soviet visual propaganda, the city remained spacious and limpid. But the current [powers that be] have killed everything, although they did restore the gate of the Winter Palace.
—Comment on Facebook

Leningrad 1974. Footage courtesy of Footageforpro.com

Leningrad (Alexei Uchitel, dir., 1978)

Petersburg Now
What follows is a annotated, partial pictorial record of a long walk I took recently in the northern parts of inner Petersburg with a group of local psychogeographers and historical preservationists. The immediate impulse for our walk was the news developers had begun constructing a block of flats cheek by jowl with the renowned power station for the Red Banner Textile Factory, designed by the Jewish German architect Erich Mendelsohn. Worse, it transpired that the developers had the moxie to dub their little contribution to catastrophic urban redevelopment the Mendelsohn Housing Complex, as if they had received the great architect’s blessing for their vandalism from beyond the grave. Continue reading “Leningrad Then, Petersburg Now”

Chop It All Down!

Chop It All Down! Molotov Cocktails versus Woodland Defenders in the Town of Zhukovsky
Maria Klimova
Mediazona
July 13, 2016

Photo by Fyodor Karpov

Over the past month, several environmentalists in the Moscow Region town of Zhukovsky fighting against the illegal logging of trees to make way for construction have suffered at the hands of persons unknown. Two of them have had their cars set on fire and burned, while a female activist had a Molotov cocktail thrown at her windows. Municipal authorities see no reason to worry yet, although the victims are certain someone has been trying to intimidate them.

Around four o’clock in the morning on June 15, a Molotov cocktail was tossed at the windows of the flat occupied by Zhukovsky activist Olga Deyeva, who lives on the first storey of a block of flats. Hearing a bang, which set off the alarms of cars parked in the yard, she looked out the window and saw shards of glass on the pavement. What turned out to be a broken bottle was wrapped in electrical tape and a thick layer of solvent-soaked cloth. According to police summoned to the scene by Deyeva, the persons unknown had failed to ignite the cloth, which had been soaked in a flammable liquid. According to Deyeva, the assailants had aimed at her window but had missed, and the bottle had hit the window frame.

A week and a half later, on June 27, a Ford Focus owned by Mikhail Yuritsin, an environmentalist and member of the grassroots organization Lyubimy Gorod (Beloved City), was torched and burned. According to Yuritsin, he heard the loud sound of glass being broken at around three in the morning, looked out the window, and saw his car burst into flames. Yuritsin was unable to extinguish the fire, and the car was completely destroyed. Cars parked next to it were mildly damaged, as firefighters arrived quickly on the scene.

In addition, a car used Svetlana Bezlepkina, a Yabloko Party member who sits on the Zhukovsky city council, was torched in the early hours of July 7.  Although the car was registered to the council member’s sister-in-law, Bezlepkina often used it herself.

“Yes, I have used the car. I used it for business when I needed, and everyone knew it. You couldn’t think of anything more cynical: my brother and sister-in-law had their wedding that day. After celebrating at a cafe, they came home and parked the car, and during the night it was torched. Then the police showed up, took our testimony, and that was all. They didn’t really take a hard look at anything. On the other hand, what do you expect from a police force who back in the day guarded loggers chopping down a forest,” said Bezlepkina.

A suspicious incident happened the same day to Fyodor Karpov, leader of the Yabloko Party’s Zhukovsky branch. Persons unknown torched an abandoned car, which had recently been left outside the gate to his garage.

Karpov related the sequence of events.

“The abandoned car drifted around the yard for two weeks, and then it ended up in front of my gate. I gently shoved it away from the gate, but on a day I was attending a court hearing on illegal construction in the forest, it was torched.”

Except Karpov, all the victims are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Zhukovsky city hall and businesswoman Irina Gorodnova, who has been given permission to build a consumer services center on Nizhegorodskaya Street and a children’s center on Semashko Street. Both lots slated for construction are located on woodlands in the city limits.

Local residents began vigorously fighting to save their woodlands in 2012, when the authorities announced the construction of an access road from the M5 Ural Highway that would pass through the Tsagov Forest. When workers began clear-cutting a twelve-hectare site, grassroots protests erupted throughtout the city, and activists set up a camp in the woods, later dispersed by private security guards. The protesters proposed several alternate routes for the road. Several months later, Sergei Shoigu, who had recently been appointed governor of Moscow Region, intervened in the conflict. He criticized the actions of the Zhukovsky authorities and spoke of the need for dialogue with the public, but his statements had no impact on the situation. The access road to the city was built through the forest.

1109928 02.05.2012 Плакат в лагере защитников Цаговского леса в Жуковском. Гражданские активисты-экологи протестуют против вырубки леса для строительства новой трассы. Артем Житенев/РИА Новости
A placard in the camp of people defending the Tsagov Forest in Zhukovsky, May 2, 2012. The placard reads, “Occupiers! Get the hell out of Zhukovsky.” Photo: Artyom Zhitenyov/RIA Novosti

A year after the conflict over clear-cutting in the Tsagov Forest broke out, Alexander Bobovnikov, mayor of the city, lost his post. He resigned after a meeting with Andrei Vorobyov, who had succeeded Shoigu as governor of Moscow Region. Andrei Voytyuk was elected to Bobovnikov’s post. In 2013, protests against logging in Zhukovsky broke out again when it transpired that municipal authorities had issued long-term leases to woodland lots. 5,000 square meters of woodland were allocated for construction of a consumer services center on Nizhegorodskaya Street, while another lot measuring 6,000 square meters was allocated for construction of a leisure center in the woods near the railroad station. Activists entered into a prolonged legal battle with city hall and the potential developer.

“According to the documents, in 2010, Natalya Lebedeva, head of Stimul-K, Ltd., obtained preliminary permission to rent the lot. But Lebedeva herself claims she never came to Zhukovsky in 2010, and signed no rental agreement. In 2012, she decided to get rid of the company and she transferred it to another person so he would close it. But he failed to do this and, apparently, used the company. Later, the lot was transferred to Gorodnova,” explains Olga Deyeva.

According to Deyeva, permission to lease the lot had been issued, apparently, by Stanislav Suknov, Bobovnikov’s deputy, who served as acting mayor of Zhukovsky for a couple of months in 2013.

“We have been trying to prove in court there was no preliminary agreement to rent the land. The paperwork was drawn up after the fact so as not to violate the city’s General Development Plan, adopted in 2012,” explains Deyeva.

The right to rent the woodland lots now belongs to businesswoman Irina Gorodnova. Zhukovsky activists are afraid municipal authorities might try and bypass the 2012 General Development Plan and rezone the woodland lots to permit construction of residential buildings and shopping centers on them. That, ultimately, was what happened to the lot on Nizhegorodskaya Street. Without holding public hearings and without involving city council members, the Zhukovsky City Court rezoned the area from recreational use to residential use and thus suitable for redevelopment. Immediately after obtaining the construction permit, Gorodnova also obtained a permit from municipal authorities to fell deadwood. According to Deyeva, however, workers cut down healthy pine trees while clearing the deadwood.

“When this came to light, Gorodnova batted her eyes and said, ‘I don’t know how it happened. I was abroad at the time.’ Policemen guarded the logging process. Ultimately, the ‘illegal’ loggers were not located and punished, but the story made such a big splash that Gorodnova was unable to open the consumer services center she had built on the lot. On the basis of this violation, the municipal authorities went to court and terminated the lease on the land,” says Deyeva.

Now it was Gorodnova’s turn to go to court. She demanded the court recognize her ownership of the consumer services center, and in October 2015, Zhukovsky City Court granted her claim. Activists asked city hall to appeal the decisions, but the local authorities failed to do this.

“City hall was not about to challenge the ruling. They could not even explain why. So now we have been handling the litigation ourselves,” explains city council member Bezlepkina.

The appeal hearing has been scheduled for July 25.

The status of the second woodland lot, on which Gorodnova’s company had planned to build a leisure center, has not yet changed. It is still zoned for recreational uses, where it is forbidden to erect any structures.

In February 2015, however, activists discovered large round holes in the bark of pine trees on the site of a planned clear cutting. The holes had been presumably made with a drill. A total of seventy-eight trees had been damaged in this way. Local residents marked each of the trees with green paint and photographed them, subsequently filing a complaint with the police. After an inspection was carried out, police refused to open a misdemeanor investigation. Staff at the Zhukovsky municipal environmental and land management technologies department had assured police there was no danger of the trees weakening and dying. Many of the damaged pine trees that once grew on the lot slated for development have now indeed died. The forest’s defenders believe they were damaged deliberately. Developers thus decided to get rid of trees that were preventing them from launching construction.

According to Valentin Ponomar, who has been representing Gorodnova’s interests in court, the land plot rented for construction of the leisure center is now not being used by anyone in any way.

“The lease runs out soon, in 2017. During this time, the city has to issue a construction permit. There is no permit at present, just as there are no plans to build the children’s center,” Ponomar explained to Mediazona.

According to Ponomar, without such permission, the development company cannot commence construction in a green belt zone. Moreover, city authorities cannot issue such a permit due to the land plot’s status. Ponomor was unable to explain why his client concluded an agreement with the city on such conditions.

In an interview with Mediazona, Zhukovsky Mayor Andrei Voytyuk said he was unaware of the arsons of the urban activists’ cars, although he had heard about the Molotov cocktail thrown at Deyeva’s window.

“I’ll tell you this. If they had wanted to set fire to her, they would have done it,” the mayor commented on the incident.

He expressed his willingness to meet with the urban activists victimized by criminals.

“They can meet and talk with me if they wish, but so far no one has reached out to me,” said Voytyuk.

Bezlepkina is certain the torching of the cars will never be investigated.

“Now it is a matter of intimidation, but no one knows how far it might go. Our families are fearful. They have asked us not to attend the court hearings. They are afraid they might be in danger,” says the city council member.

The case of the Molotov cocktail tossed at Deyeva’s window has been assigned to the local beat cop.

“I went to see him, but, apparently, they are not planning to make any complicated moves in this connection. There was no damage either to my health or my flat. So I wouldn’t rule out the police will be working in keeping with the principle ‘No body, no case,” Deyeva admits.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Moscow District Deputies Beaten as Constructivist Quarter Demolished

A scale model of the Pogodinskaya Quarter. Courtesy of Archnadzor
A scale model of the Pogodinskaya Quarter. Courtesy of Archnadzor

Moscow Municipal District Deputies Opposed to Demolition of Pogodinskaya Quarter Beaten
Radio Svoboda
June 6, 2016

Pogodinskaya was built in the 1920s and has been recognized as a constructivist landmark. 

On Monday, municipal district council deputies Alexandra Parushina and Andrei Voronkov were beaten in Moscow’s Khamovniki District while trying to prevent the demolition of several buildings in the Pogodinskaya Quarter, a recognized constructivist landmark. Radio Svoboda got the news from Parushina herself. She was forced to seek medical attention after the assault: her leg had been injured.

parushina-voronkov
Khamovniki Municipal District Council Deputies Alexandra Parushina and Andrei Voronkov. Courtesy of mo-hamovniki.ru

Parushina said the demolition of the buildings in the Pogodinskaya Quarter had begun on Monday without warning. According to here, when the deputies arrived at the scene and demanded that the company carrying out the works show them permits for the demolitions, they were assaulted by security guards.

At the same time, the demolition continued “literally right over the heads” of the deputies, Parushina added.

The authorization for demolition of the Pogodinskaya Quarter, built in the 1920s in the constructivist style by architects V.I. Bibikov and Ya.E. Ostrovsky, and engineer A.N. Volkov, was issued in late 2015. Donstroi plans to build luxury housing on the site. In January, architectural preservationists from Archnadzor demanded the authorization be rescinded.

___________

Vandalism’s Next Address: Pogodinskaya Street
Archnadzor
May 11, 2016

IMG_20160130_134857

There has been a strange media buzz around the constructivist Pogodinskaya Quarter (Pogodinskaya Street 2/3, blgs. 1–4). It is obvious Moscow public opinion is being prepared for the quarter’s demolition.

Articles about a shelter for homeless people and asocial elements having suddenly arisen in Pogodinskaya have been published one after another in the media and blogosphere, and the articles have all followed the same pattern. According to their authors, there is only one means of solving the problem: a speedy demolition and a foundation pit in place of the constructivist buildings. For some reason there is no talk about how it would make more sense to fix up the buildings and at least provide for their normal conservation, just as there as is no talk about a “flophouse” somehow emerging on premises strictly guarded by the developer, premises that journalists could not even infiltrate. If a landmark is turned into a trash heap, it is not the landmark’s fault.

The widespread practice of conversion, successful examples of which exist in Moscow as well (in particular, the recent and current restoration projects of the constructivist complexes on Suvorovskaya Street, Matrosskaya Tishina, and Preobrazhensky Val) show that constructivist residential developments can and should be saved. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

In January 2016, despite the decision by the Moscow Municipal Commission on Urban Development in Conservation Areas (the so-called Demolition Commission), recognizing Pogodinskaya’s historical and architectural value and  disallowing its demolition, the developer was suddenly issued authorization to prepare for the quarter’s demolition. Due to public outcry, a quick demolition did not come off. The Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage confirmed that the commission’s decision remained in force.

12669604_1264988933518243_3317230597239280582_n

The issue of Pogodinskaya’s conservation status has not resolved yet. We hope the decision will take into account the opinion of the members of Department of Cultural Heritage’s Research and Methodology Council, and the negative verdict on the Taganskaya Automatic Telephone Exchange building will not be repeated, a verdict publicly contested by the presidium of this esteemed advisory body.

12654238_1264989750184828_8147529781146430951_n

As long as the houses at Pogodinskaya 2/3 are not declared landmarks, they could be demolished in the near future, demolished despite the decision of the Commission on Urban Development in Conservation Areas, which can no longer reaffirm its verdict, as it was itself abolished by city authorities in early 2016, demolished due to the lack of venue for discussion in Moscow where the issue of historical architectural preservation could examined openly and with invited experts. In the legal vacuum formed in the wake of the Demolition Commission’s disbanding, destruction of Soviet avant-garde buildings, of which demolition of the Taganskaya Automatic Telephone Exchange was a flagrant instance, will proceed apace.

The Taganskaya Automatic Telephone Exchange was destroyed despite the protests of residents and experts. There was no dialogue among the authorities, the developer, and residents. This scenario must not be repeated in the case of Pogodinskaya. It is not possible to continue deciding the continue of whether to preserve or destroy historic buildings at the closed sessions of the Urban Planning and Land Commission. We need an open dialogue in which all stakeholders would be able to voice their arguments. The example of Saint Petersburg, which managed to resolve the issue of preserving the so-called Siege Substation, shows that such dialogue is possible as part of the Heritage Council.

12642601_1264989073518229_9182307887286721928_n

Archnadzor calls on the Moscow authorities to execute the president’s instructions and establish a Moscow Mayoral Council for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, thus ensuring an open dialogue and discussion of the most important urban development issues, including the problem of preserving Moscow constructivism, with the broad involvement of experts on historical preservation. A similar appeal was made by leading experts and architects, outraged by the demolition of the Taganskaya Automatic Telephone Exchange. We fully share their position.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photographs by Maria Korobova and Natalya Melikova. Courtesy of Archnadzor. For more on this latest bit of bad news, see Ola Cichowlas, “Deconstructing Moscow’s Constructivist Legacy,” Moscow Times, June 9, 2016You can also read my numerous posts on what I have termed “catastrophic urban development” in Russia’s major cities. 

Art Clusterfuck

What would a big city and its citizens want when they already have absolutely everything a twenty-first-century city and its citizens could want, including free and fair elections, grassroots democratic governance, economic parity, high incomes, affordable housing, good schools, free, high-quality health care, incorruptible officials, a clean, safe environment, state-of-the-art public transportation, hundreds of kilometers of dedicated bike lanes, ethnic harmony, just courts, and friendly police? That’s right: they would want a new “art cluster,” and they would want it to look like this:

2-soviet-4_ver_11_0007

RBI plans to invest 3.4 billion rubles [approximately 45 million euros] in two developments in [Petersburg’s] historic center. An art cluster with spaces for temporary exhibitions and art studios is planned for 2nd Sovetskaya Street, 4, while Poltavskaya, 7, will get a residential complex. The company has spent three years obtaining permits for the projects. Due to strict legislation, investors virtually have no opportunity to reconstruct residential buildings.* All they can do is develop the remaining gaps.

The developer acquired both sites in 2013. The art cluster is planned for the site of the former labs of the Northwest Scientific Hygiene Center on 2nd Sovetskaya Street. The company Vek has drawn up plans for a nine-story, 23,000-square-meter building. Halls and special spaces for temporary exhibitions are planned for the first floor. The upper floors will feature workshops and studios for sale, 244 spaces ranging in size from 22 to 129 square meters. The company says they are not meant to serve as dwellings.

RBI received a construction permit for the building in late March of this year. It has already hired a subcontractor, Allure, to dismantle the existing one- and two-story buildings on the site. According to RBI, the former labs were built after 1917 and have no historic value.

A commercial project like this is a new thing for Petersburg. But RBI argues that research shows Petersburgers are ready to purchase several types of real estate: an apartment, a country home, and a space for self-realization or a small office to boot.**

Source: Fontanka.ru, April 25, 2016. Image courtesy of Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

* That is, demolish listed gloriously beautiful eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early twentieth-century buildings and build crap like the “art cluster,” pictured above, in their place. Despite the supposedly “strict” legislation, local developers have been doing plenty of slash-and-burn-style development of this sort in the historic center over the past ten years, as readers of this blog will know.

** According to Petrostat, the average per capita monthly income in Petersburg in February 2014 was 34,129 rubles, when the Russian ruble was still trading at a rate of approximately 35 rubles to the dollar. Today, the ruble was trading at 66 rubles to the dollar, and there is no evidence, in the midst of a severe, prolonged economic crisis, that the average monthly incomes of Petersburgers have risen since February 2014. So who is going to buy those 244 “spaces for self-realization”? Or is some kind of economic miracle planned for the near future?

Avenger

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Puskhin Street, Petrograd, October 14, 2015. Photos by the Russian Reader

__________

“Stockmann to sell its department store business in Russia,” Nasdaq GlobeNewswire, November 27, 2015

__________

The St. Petersburg Times
February 2, 2011
Governor Tries to Remove City’s Historic Status
By Sergey Chernov, Staff Writer

Actor Oleg Basilashvili and author Boris Strugatsky were among artists, teachers and rights activists who wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday asking him to deny City Governor Valentina Matviyenko’s request to exclude St. Petersburg from the Register of Historic Settlements.

“Recent years have demonstrated convincingly that the city authorities are not capable and, more importantly, do not want to protect the historic center of St. Petersburg,” they wrote in the letter.

“The ‘planning mistakes’ that appear one after another, distorting the unique appearance of our city, are a direct consequence of the permits and authorizations issued by the city authorities.”

The letter cites the new Stockmann building erected in place of two historic buildings demolished to make way for the Finnish department store, which has altered the view of the portion of Nevsky Prospekt close to Ploshchad Vosstaniya, and the 19th-century Literary House on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka River that is being demolished right now, as the most recent examples.

[…]

Source: Chtodelat News; the emphasis is mine.

59°54’32″N 30°29’49″E (Okkervil River)

The Okkervil River

Wikimapia euphemistically refers to the bridge, pictured above, as a “new bridge over the Okkervil River” and claims that “construction is underway at present.”

When, the other day, some friends and I strolled from the Dybenko Street subway station to the now-thriving former village of Kudrovo, just across the city lines in neighboring Lenoblast (Leningrad Region), we took a short cut through this semi-wild scrub land, transversed by the Okkervil River. The maps identify this place, just as euphemistically, as Ingria Technopark.

One of our companions was a local. He recalled when Ingria Technopark was a forest, and he went there with his school class to do orienteering, map and compass in hand.

okkervil map
Ingria Technopark (left) and the western edge of the village Kudrovo (right), with the Okkervil River running across their northern reaches

He claimed, perhaps facetiously, that the village of Kudrovo was all that remained of the ancient Kudrian civilization. The Kudrians had been defeated by the more aggressive Petersburgians from the west, but had not entirely succumbed to their dominion. The strange semi-circular pattern you see in the lower left corner of the map, above, was imprinted there by a giant Kudrian megalith, he ventured. Bits and shards of this now-vanished sacred complex were scattered all over the barren urban wilderness we were crossing.

It seemed as if the developers now lazily developing (or no longer developing, probably) Ingria Technopark had tried to lay out a road on the template left by the megalith.

Megalith-inspired road in Ingria Technopark

Finally, after an hour or so of ditch jumping and bushwhacking, and with the help of some timely advice given to us by a young couple with a feisty pit bull grilling shashliki in the woods, we emerged from the outer darkness into the village of Kudrovo. In the last few years, the once-sleepy village has been transformed into a series of eye-poppingly bright new housing estates.

The remnants of the old village of Kudrovo are visible against the new estates rising to the east and south.
New Kudrovo
New Kudrovo

According to the Real Estate Bulletin, New Kudrovo was originally conceived as a new administrative center for Lenoblast. Somewhere along the way, that scheme was scrapped, and in 2009, developers Setl City announced they would transform Kudrovo into a series of “European”-inspired housing blocks collectively dubbed Seven Capitals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entrance to the former Seven Capitals estates, New Kudrovo

In the event, Setl City managed to build the first of the Seven Capitals, Vienna, and is scheduled to complete the second block in the project, London, in the third quarter of 2017. But it has ceded development of the rest of New Kudrovo to eight other developers, who are in the midst of building eleven other estates, with names as varied as New Okkervil, Austrian Quarter, Progress, Capital, Spring, and Kudrov House.

All of these estates should be completed between 2016 and 2017. Prices for flats in the blocks (including resold units) range from 62,000 rubles to 125,00 rubles per square meter (i.e., between 880 and 1,770 euros, approximately).

There are many advantages to living in New Kudrovo. The new estates are literally a stone’s throw from MEGA Dybenko, an IKEA-centered shopping mall that opened in 2006. (The mall used to look quite out of place next to the then-distinctly rural-looking village of Kudrovo.)

New Kudrovo is also a brisk fifteen minutes’ walk or a very short marshrutka ride from the Dybenko Street subway station, whence you can get to central Petrograd in something like fifteen or twenty minutes. And it literally abuts on the KAD, the Saint Petersburg Ring Road, which opened in 2011.

But the place is still lacking in some essential infrastructure, given its ever-burgeoning population. According to the Real Estate Bulletin, the New Okkervil estate has a commercial kindergarten, with capacity for 230 children, and a municipal school and kindergarten with room for 1,600 pupils are set to open soon. In New Kudrovo’s southern blocks, there is only one kindergarten, with capacity for 110 children, but by the end of the year there should be two more kindergartens and a school in the Vienna estate.

More seriously, it appears that the New Kudrians will not be getting a subway station of their own until 2026, although our local companion claimed that the tunnel from Dybenko Street to the new station, tentatively dubbed Narodnaya, had more or less been dug already and the station platform itself had been built. All that was lacking was an aboveground pavilion or lobby and the shaft for the escalators down to the station. But since Kudrovo is outside the city limits, in Lenoblast, it is, apparently, not a priority for the city, which runs the subway system, to open a new station there. Although Deyvatkino station, the northern terminus of the First Line, which has been happily operating since 1978, is also located across the city lines in Lenoblast.

In any case, as we made our way to the Okkervil River, Ingria, and Kudrovo, we passed this sign, indicating that some kind of subway construction was underway in the neighborhood. The sign promised a 2017 completion date.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whatever else it might lack, New Kudrovo has three things in spades. The first is splashy façades, something utterly untypical in the Northern Venice and environs.

A resident purchases fresh artesian well water amidst a splashy block in New Kudrovo.
A resident purchases fresh artesian well water from an automatic, state-subsidized dispenser amidst splashy apartment blocks in New Kudrovo.
A colorfully finished block of flats in the Vienna estate
A colorfully finished block of flats in the Vienna estate

The second thing that meets the eye are the slightly over-the-top Viennese-themed murals in the Vienna estate.

Johan Strauss, The Viennese Waltz
Johan Strauss, Jr., The Viennese Waltz (?)
Gustav Klimt, The Kiss
Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss towers over yet another fresh water dispenser

The third thing in no short supply in New Kudrovo, oddly enough, is pleasant hipsterish drinking establishments, all of them manned by extremely friendly bartenders, serving top-shelf Belgian beer.

The Beer Store (European Boulevard, 11) has a large selection of draft and bottled beers.
The Beer Store (European Boulevard, 11) has a large selection of draft and bottled beers.
La Bière Bar & Shop, New Kudrovo
La Bière Bar & Shop, New Kudrovo

Since our little band of amateur urbanists was neither looking to get drunk nor go broke, we asked the bartenders to split half-liters of their finest brews four ways, a request they were all perfectly happily to oblige. We were thus able to sample Mort Subite, which was on the menu in all three bars we visited, and Duchesse de Bourgogne, which some of us found a bit too sour. (I thought it was fabulous.)

So if Will Sheff & Co. ever do decide to visit their spiritual homeland, here is what I would suggest. First, a big, open-air concert, amplifiers blaring, in Ingria Technopark, with the unfinished bridge serving as the bandstand. Then, the next day, an acoustic set in one of Kudrovo’s fine Belgian beer halls.

It has to happen someday.

All photos by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrades AS, MR, and DV for the company, and Comrade RF for suggesting that we trek to Kudrovo.