The Gated Community

DSCN9429Courtyard gate in Petersburg’s Central District. Photo by the Russian Reader

Behind a Fence
Dmitry Ratnikov
Delovoi Peterburg
September 27, 2018

Remember the golden days when you could walk into any courtyard in central Petersburg and get a taste of the city’s flip side, or simply shorten your way from one alley to another by taking the backstreets? Yes, you would find yourself in the midst of unsightly façades, graffitti, and smells. But these things have not gone away, while navigating the city on foot has been made more complicated by endless gates and intercoms.

After the terrorist siege of the school in Beslan, large numbers of educational institutions suddenly fenced off their grounds, as if the cause of the tragedy had been the absence of a fence. Consequently, the numerous footpaths in the bedroom communities which ordinary folk had used for decades to shorten their way from subway to home, for example, vanished.

It was not only schools that hid themselves behind bars. Nearly all state institutions did the same thing. The Russian National Library is a vivid example of this. Its old building on Moscow Avenue can be freely approached, while its new building on Warsaw Street is protected by a metal fence that cuts off the library’s paved footpaths. I would urge the library’s director, Alexander Vershinin, to remove the fence. No one is planning to steal your books. It’s stupid.

ratnikov-warsawkaRussian National Library building on Warsaw Street in Petersburg. Photo by Dmitry Ratnikov. Courtesy of Kanoner

Fenced lawns have been proliferating at an incredible rate in the yards and on the streets. The lawns are not protected from wayward drivers, but from planned footpaths. People find it convenient to walk directly from a traffic light to a store, but thanks to thoughtless officials, they have all instantly become potential lawbreakers, because planners designed a path with a ninety-degree angle.

And what do you make of the fences around gardens and parks? One would imagine these are places of public access, but no, entrance is strictly limited. Why is a fence now being erected around the park of the Orlov-Denisov Estate in Kolomyagi? People got along fine without it. Why was the grille around the Upper Garden in Krasnoye Selo restored? Why is the garden outside Vladimir Cathedral nearly always closed to parishioners?

“To keep drunks from staggering around there,” a female attendant at the cathedral once told me.

The argument is absurd. What is the percentage of drunks amongst those who would enjoying sitting on a bench in the cathedral garden? It’s tiny.

gate-2Courtyard gate in Petersburg’s Central District. Photo by the Russian Reader

There are other cases when public green spaces are completely fenced off from the public. You cannot enter Edward Hill Square, for example. The question begs itself. Why did Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko endow the square with that name when there was an intercom on the gate? You cannot get into the little garden on the corner of Kirillovskaya and Moiseyenko Streets, or the little square at 6 Svechnoy Alley. How do local officials respond to these problems? They either postpone making a decision for years, as happened in Svechnoy Alley, or they make a great show of opening the gate during an official inspection, as happened on Moiseyenko Street.

There are also positive examples, however. The unauthorized DIY fences at 3–5 Troitsky Avenue have recently been dismantled.

A scandal has, allegedly, erupted in the new, densely populated area between Kushelev Road and Laboratory Avenue. The local property owners association voiced the desire to erect a fence around the perimeter of its grounds, thus cutting off the way to the local school. Ultimately, the locals report, they would have had to take their children more than a kilometer around the fence instead of walking a few hundred meters in a straight line, as they do now. Residents wrote things like “If they put it up, I’ll cut it down at night with an angle grinder” on the local internet forum.  This is not to mention the stupidity of the planned fence. It is no problem to gain access to the courtyard due to the huge numbers of residents going back and forth through the gate every thirty seconds, if not more frequently.

kushelev-laboratoryA satellite view of the new estate between Kushelev Road and Laboratory Avenue, in the north of Petersburg. Courtesy of Google Maps

In southwest Petersburg, a petition is making the rounds to close the entire courtyard of a new residential complex to cars. But what does that mean now that many developers are themselves advertising such monstrous car-free courtyards? You wonder why I have used the word “monstrous”? Because developers should solve the parking problems in their new estates, not the municipal government. If developers build a hundred flats, they should provide a hundred free parking spots. Due to the fact that Seven Suns Development erected a huge “anthill” on Krylenko Street, featuring a “car-free courtyard,” all the lawns and clumps of land in the vicinity have been turned into a single hefty parking lot that has made it difficult to drive down the street to boot. Why should the city permit a commercial firm to generate a problem from scratch that the city will have to solve, for example, by spending public monies on parking barriers?

seven suns krylenkoAn artist’s rendering of the “anthill” on Krylenko Street. Courtesy of Kanoner

And what kind of fences do we build at our summer cottages? Instead of pretty, cozy hedgerows, many of us prefer sheets of corrugated steel without a single break in them.

Given our maniacal, senseless desire to hide from the world around us, what will become of us? Are we headed towards the city-state depicted in Zamyatin’s novel We?

Dmitry Ratnikov is editor of Kanoner, an online newspaper that indefatigably reports on developments in architecture, city planning, and historical preservation in Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

Krasnodar Environmentalist Diana Smirnova Detained by Police in Act of Revenge by Relatives of Kremlin Insider and Russian Latifundist Alexander Tkachov

Diana Smirnova, Defender of the Woodlands in the Lenin’s Farm District of Krasnodar, Detained: Police Crackdown Continues
Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus
August 25, 2018

Diana-Smirnova-2 Diana Smirnova

Last night, in the Lenin’s Farm district of Krasnodar, police raided the home of yet another defender of the district’s forest belt, clear-cut in July of this year at the behest of the Coastal Noncommercial Dacha Association, owned by Nikolai Tkachov and Anastasia Krattli, relatives of former Krasnodar Territory Governor and former Russian Federal Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachov.

Mastyaeva.previewAnzhelika Mastyayeva, after she allegedly “assaulted” a logger in July 2018.

The police had previously filed trumped-up charges against environmentalist Anzhelika Mastyayeva, claiming she had assaulted a logger. Prior to this, they had detained Mastyayeva without any legal grounds and held her for six hours in the lock-up at a police station.

This time,  the police targeted Diana Smirnova, who had also vigorously defended the forest belt from the Tkachov family’s loggers and had testified at Mastyayeva’s court hearing.

At seven in the evening yesterday, two policemen arrived at Smirnova’s home. One of the officers was beat cop Alexander Sergiyenko, who had cooked up the case against Mastyayeva. The policemen asked Smirnova to come to the station with them for questioning regarding an allegedly unpaid fine. They assured here they would bring her back home in short order. However, Smirnova had no idea about any outstanding fines, since she had not been convicted of any administrative offenses.

Smirnova’s three-year-old daughter cried when her mother was driven away, but this did not stop the policemen.

However, instead of questioning Smirnova about the nonexistent unpaid fine, they took her from the Lenin’s Farm district to Karasunsky District Police Precinct at 205 Stavropol Street in Krasnodar and arrested. Smirnova was jailed overnight in the precinct’s detention facility. She was told she would be jailed until her court hearing.

An EWNC activist was able to phone the front desk of the Karasunsky District Police Precinct at +7 (861) 231-7071. He received confirmation Smirnova had been detained and charged with violating Article 20.25 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code (“Evasion of an  Administrative Punishment”), although a search of the database of enforcement proceedings showed Smirnova had no outstanding fines.

Andrey Rudomakha, EWNC coordinator, had this to say about the incident.

“The people who run the Coastal Noncommercial Dacha Association are extremely vindictive. It was not enough they did not give a damn about the law, the wishes of local residents, and the deal they made with Krasnodar city hall, and cut down the forest belt. Now they have been harassing people who had the moxie to defend their own environment, since the forest belt that was cut down was the only green area near their homes.

2018-07-13_Lenina-Rubka_DSC03466.preview

“However, judging by the actions taken against Mastyayeva and Smirnova, who were charged with administrative offenses out of the blue by the beat cop Sergiyenko, the police are being used as a tool of revenge. The police used a special trick in their lawless raids on the homes of Mastyayeva and Smirnova. The former was arrested on a Saturday, while the latter was arrested on a Friday evening, times of the week when  it is extremely hard to find defense lawyers. Why arrest a very young woman and mother of a small child late in the evening and jail her overnight in the pretrial holding tank, even if it were true she hadn’t paid a fine? The only point of all this is to intimidate the locals, to discourage them from wanting to defend their rights,” Rudomakha said.

Read more articles on ENWC’s website about the destruction of the woodlands in Lenin’s Farm (in Russian). For more information on the case of Diana Smirnova, call Anzhelika Mastyayeva, member of the Lenin’s Farm residents pressure group,  at  +7 (965) 470-8444, or Police Inspector Alexander Sergiyenko, who detained Diana Smirnova, at +7 (999) 437-3516.

Thanks to Andrey Rudomakha for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of EWNC. Translated by the Russian Reader

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This realtor’s video about the charms of Lenin’s Farm makes it clear why sharks like the Tkachov family have sunk their teeth into the neighborhood.

The Cabbies Left While the Cossacks Stayed: Rostov-on-Don on the Eve of the World Cup

rostov arena-2Rostov Arena. Photo courtesy of ftbl.ru

The Cabbies Left, The Cossacks Stayed
Gleb Golod
Takie Dela
June 8, 2018

The banks of the Don River in Rostov were always quite different. The right bank was landscaped, featuring bars and restaurants suited to every taste, singing fountains, and amusements. The left bank featured a wild beach chockablock with sand and trees. It was a favorite spot for picnickers and outdoor shish kebab cookouts. People used to swim there until the Don was completely polluted.

The new Rostov Arena has been built on the the left bank. Nine months and 913 million rubles [approx. 123 million euros] turned the wild beach into a landscaped park and river embankment. All that is left of the levberdon, as Rostovians call it, is a pier that extends nearly to the middle of the mighty river.  Over the long years it has been there, it has rusted, and there are holes in its covering here and there. The locals loved it, however. In the evenings, you would always find a couple in love, a photographer and his model, a small group of friends, and an old fisherman who had good luck catching herring in the middle of the Don.

Since May 1, when the park on the left bank officially opened, it has been standing room only on the pier. Locals stroll there with their children, joined by the foreigners who have arrived earlier in Rostov-on-Don. Someone worried about safety decided to limit the number of people on the pier and welded an iron grille to the entrance, but this has not stopped the flood of visitors. Cyclists toss their bikes over it, men help their female companions climb over it, and parents ferry their children from one side of the grille to the other.

Every half hour, an improvised river taxi docks alongside the pier. It charges adults 500 rubles for a ride. Children sail for free.

“Business? What business? The main thing we sell are emotions. River cruises are soothing. Adults can relax while the kids doze,” a man in a sailor’s hat and striped shirt advertises a short cruise on the Don while docking at the pier.

“Business has been good, of course, since so many people started coming here,” he admits. “I would give the embankment a ‘C’ for now. There is not much in the way of infrastructure or development. We’ll see how it looks a year from now.”

The boat pilot does not waste any time. He has struck up a conversation with a young boy, whom he has given a tennis ball. The boy persuades his parents to go for a ride on the boat. They quickly give in. The vessel weighs anchor and speeds off toward the other shore.

The Stadium and the Park
The boat pilot gave the new park a “C,” but the locals like the new sports facilities and playgrounds, and the fact the park is well maintained. But it lacks trees, many of which were cut down during the beautification.

“There is a lot of exercise equipment, and the air is fresh, but I probably won’t be coming here in the summer. There are few trees and little shade. But you know what the heat is like here in July. You could kick the bucket,” says a young woman in workout gear.

The local are not imagining things. There really are many fewer trees. The park was built without consideration of the place’s specific features. Consequently, the “city’s green shield” was left with huge gaps in it, says Alexander Vodyanik, environmentalist and assistant secretary of the Russian Public Chamber.

The “wild” green area on the left bank, which stretched all the way to Bataysk, a suburb of Rostov-on-Don, moistened the winds sweeping in from the Kalmyk steppes, winds that are especially palpable in the spring. It was the primary source of fresh air, supplying it just as ably as a forest, says Vodyanik. The place had to be beautified, but a completely different park should have been built, a wetlands park.

“Historically, this place functioned as a city beach, and it should have been turned into a city beach. People swim at a beach, but the Don has been so badly polluted for so long that swimming was definitely off limits in this part. In that case, swimming pools could have been set up while simultaneously purifying the water. This has been done in Germany on the Rhine, which is much dirtier than the Don, and the project has been a success,” says Vodyankik. “But a park was built here instead. An instant lawn, which has already gone bad, was rolled out. Eighty percent of the poplars were cut down. We had problems with our woodlands as it was, but they were damaged even further.”

The so-called Tourist Police are identified as such on the armbands they wear. A female student from Namibia leads a tour for her friends, who have arrived to enroll at the Don State Technical University. A young man named Aman hopes to get a ticket to the match between Brazil and Switzerland. If it does not work out, however, he will just go for a stroll around the city.

“I really like it here. The city is pretty and has an interesting history. Things are good, the park is good. Everything is terrific and cozy,” he says in English. “By the way, could you tell me where the stadium is? All the signs are in Russian, which I don’t actually understand.”

Rostov Arena was built at a distance from residential areas, so loud fans will not bother locals even on match days. The stadium is accessible by bus and taxi. True, fans will have to walk the last 500 meters to the turnstiles. This decision was made for security reasons.

Cabbies Leave the Fan Zone
Specially accredited taxi drivers will ferry fans from the left bank to the right bank and the fan zone on Theater Square. The most popular taxi services in Rostov-on-Don, Uber and Leader, accessible on the Rutaxi app, will not be working during the World Cup because they are not officially registered as commercial transport services.

Among the major cab companies, Yandex Taxi and Taxi 306 have been accredited to work during the World Cup. Roman Glushchenko, executive director of Taxi 306, told us  a total of 500 cars had been accredited in Rostov-on-Don, but he refused to discuss whether that would be enough cars to handle all comers.

According to gypsy cab driver Leonid, around 150 drivers of the ten thousand drivers affiliated with the company 2-306-306 have been accredited. Cabbies like Leonid mainly work for themselves rather than licensed carriers, which are practically nonexistent in the city, he explains. The gypsy cabbies use Yandex, Uber, Gett, and Leader as dispatchers, either directly or through small intermediary firms. So, when the issue of accreditation for the World Cup arose, it was a problem for drivers, who had to obtain permits, sign a contract with a licensed carrier, and paint their cars yellow or white. The Rostov Regional Transport Ministry issued the full list of requirements for accreditation.

“I’m not going to lift a finger to get accreditation,” Leonid admits. “Why should I give myself a headache by getting permits that would mean I would start making a loss? Licensed cars must be stickered with the taxi company’s ID tag. I don’t want to have this for a number of reasons. I would also have to register as an independent entrepreneur, get a license from the Transport Ministry, which was free until this year, and insure my cab, although premiums are higher than usual. And that’s over and above the 25% cut I give to Yandex. I know lots of gypsy cabbies. Not a single one of them has bothered to get accreditation. It’s just bad business for them.”

To prevent the few accredited taxis from jacking up rates for Rostovians and fans, the Transport Ministry has established a single rate for the entire World Cup.

Leonid plans to spend the World Cup in Sochi. He says the transport system there is better, applying for a license is easier, and the city is generally better prepared after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Who wants to sit in traffic jams driving back and forth to the stadium?” he grumbles.

Although the World Cup lasts only four weeks, Theater Square, which will house a fan zone that can accommodate 22,000 fans, was closed to car traffic and public transport on May 13 and will remain closed until July 21. In the mornings and evenings, buses are already stuck in traffic on Sholokhov Avenue. When the World Cup kicks off, share taxis (marshrutki) will be removed from Red Army Street. Officials have promised they will be replaced with new buses.

There are plans to show all the matches on giant screens, organize entertainment for fans, and open food courts on Theater Square. The fan zone is a few hundred meters from the ruins of an entire residential neighborhood, destroyed by fire last year.

The square itself is home of the Gorky Drama Theater, hence the square’s name. It is one of two Russian buildings whose models are exhibited in the Museum of Architecture in London. (The other is St. Basil’s Cathedral.) The late constructivist landmark resembles a stylized caterpillar tractor. Corbusier called it a “gem of Soviet architecture.” Unfortunately, the fan will not be able to see it. The theater could not be cleaned up in time for the World Cup and has been draped with several banners.

Rostov-on-Don-Maxim-Gorky-Drama-TheatreThe Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don. Postcard image courtesy of Colnect

Painted Residents Greet Cossacks
The authorities promised to repair and reconstruct many historic buildings and entire streets in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, but with a few weeks left before the championship, it was clear they would run out time.

Residents of Stanislavsky Street, in the downtown, recount how workers have been laboring outside their houses round the clock, trying to finish their work not by June 1, as city officials had promised, but at least by June 14, when the World Cup kicks off. When you are in a hurry, mistakes are inevitable: a female pensioner was unable to exit her building because the door was blocked by paving slabs. Other houses wound up a meter lower than the newly beautified street, and residents have had to jury-rig stairways to the pavements.

Around fifty buildings in Rostov-on-Don’s historic center have been hung with giant photographs of the buildings or World Cup banners because they could not be repaired in time. Among them is the famous house of Baron Wrangel, where the leader of the Whites during the Russian Civil War spent his childhood and youth. The house is a neoclassical architectural landmark. The mansion was nationalized during the Soviet period and turned into a kindergarten. The kindergarten shut down in the nineties, and the building was abandoned. Over the years, it has become quite dilapidated and has been repeatedly vandalized, so it looks hideous.

But when only a few months remained until the World Cup, no one had any brighter idea than to drape the landmark with a picture.

2010_04_24_domvrangelyaThe Wrangel House in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of RostovNews.Net

The Rostov branch of the Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK) tried to persuade city officials a dilapidated Wrangel House would look better than a picture emblazoned on a tarp. They circulated a petition and sent a letter to Governor Vasily Golubev, all to no avail.

“We got a reply less than half a page long. It acknowledged receipt of our letter, but there had been an onsite meeting of a commission chaired by Deputy Governor Sergei Sidash. On the basis of arguments made by commission members, they had decided to drape it in banners,” says Alexander Kozhin, head of VOOPIK’s Rostov branch.

800px-Гостиница__Московская_The Moscow Hotel, in downtown Rostov-on-Don, before the 2007 fire. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same plight befell the Moscow Hotel, a nineteenth-century eclecticist building. In 2007, it was badly damaged in a fire and has been awaiting reconstruction ever since. The dilapidated Gorky Library (originally the Sagiyev Family Tenement House, an Art Nouveau landmark) is covered in scaffolding. It has been decided to demolish the Pavlenkova Tenement House, on long-suffering Stanislavsky Street, altogether.

sar-htosThe Sagiyev Family Tenement House aka the Gorky Library, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of voopiik-don.ru

 

1526621588_pavlenkovoyThe ruins of the Pavlenkova Tenement House, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Rostov.ru

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, images of a building on Sholokhov Avenue appeared in the news and social media. Happy residents peered from the windows: a fiddler holding his instrument, an artist at an easel, a girl blowing soap bubbles, a football fan wearing a Spartak FC scarf, and patriots with the Russian tricolor draped on their backs. The balconies are adorned with balloons and potted plants.

All of them were painted images on yet another banner covering up unfinished repairs.

The upcoming championship has not changed the life of Rostov-on-Don’s real residents all that much. Schoolchildren and university students started and finished their final exams earlier, so schools and universities would be closed when the World Cup kicked off. The old airport was shut down, replaced by the new Platov Airport outside the city. All political rallies and marches have been prohibited during the World Cup.

The police will not be alone in enforcing this and other prohibitions. In early May, Don Cossacks in Rostov announced that three hundred Cossacks, included mounted Cossacks, would be keeping the peace on the streets as “volunteers.” They have assured the public that, at their own behest, they would not engage in violence and would leave their whips at home. If the police, however, are breaking up a fight, the Cossacks will back them up. The volunteers in papakha hats will pay particular attention to LGBT fans.

TASS_1044980_673“Cossacks.” Photo courtesy of Russia Beyond

“If two men kiss at the World Cup, we will tell the police to check them out,” they said.

The first World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don kicks off on June 17. A total of five matches will be played on the left bank of the Don: four matches in the group stage and one match in the round of sixteen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Subtle Art of Vanganizing

Human languages are amazing things. In English, for example, it is relatively easy to change a word’s part of speech simply by using it as a different part of speech. So, we can wonder (verb) when I will publish something really worthy of wonder (noun) on this blog.

Since Russian, on the other hand, is a so-called synthetic language (i.e., a language whose nouns, verbs, adjectives, and pronoun are fully declined and conjugated) you have to do a bit of prestidigitation to turn, say, a noun into a verb. The easiest (though by no means the only) way to do this is to add the verbalizing suffix -ovat’ to the noun or other part of speech in question.

One of my favorite such newfangled verbs is vangovat’, which means “to predict, to prophesy.” It has a heavily ironic connotation, since it was formed from the familiarized Christian name of the blind Bulgarian mystic and clairvoyant Vangelia Gushterova, née Dimitrova (1911–1996), more popularly known as Baba Vanga or Grandmother Vanga.

Despite having passed away over twenty years ago, Baba Vanga and her prophecies are still extraordinarily popular amongst Russians who go in for a what an old friend once referred to as “spooky knowledge,” while she is an object of ridicule amongst sane Russians. I have no evidence to prove it, but I take it that it was a member of the latter group who coined the verb vangovat’, which we will translate as “to vanganize.”

I thought of the verb this morning as I was perusing the electronic edition of one of Russia’s most respectable newspapers, the liberal business daily Vedomosti. Today’s edition features a gallery of photos of the stadiums in major Russian cities that will host the 2018 World Cup later this year.

An innocent enough feature, you would think, before I realized that Vedomosti‘s caption writer might have engaged in some full-blown vanganizing, to wit:

default-1d86“The arena in St. Petersburg is meant for 67,000 spectators. Here, the Russian team will play one match in the group stage and will get through the semifinals.” Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Yegorov/Vedomosti

But maybe not. The original caption (“Арена в Петербурге рассчитана на 67 000 зрителей. Здесь сборная России сыграет один из матчей группового этапа и пройдет полуфинал”) could also be translated as follows: “The arena in St. Petersburg is designed for 67,000 spectators. Here, the Russian team will play one match in the group stage, and the semifinals will take place.” That is, with or (probably) without the Russian team.

Whatever the case, the so-called Zenit Arena, situated on the western tip of Krestovsky Island, has been like a bad Baba Vanga prophecy from the very start. First of all, to make way for its eventual construction, the old Kirov Stadium, a lovely immense thing designed by the great constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky, a grand oval open to the sky, the sea, the sun, and all the elements, and surrounded by a beautiful park, was demolished in 2006. Quite illegally, I might add, because it was a federally listed historical and architectural landmark.

IMG_2019

The Kirov Stadium in the summer of 2006, when it briefly served as the site of a sparsely attended alterglobalist counterforum, organized in response to a G8 summit, hosted by President Putin in the far south of the city, in the newly restored Constantine Palace in the suburb of Strelna. Enclosing the alterglobalists in the already condemned Kirov Stadium was a brilliant move on the part of local authorities, who thus invisibilized the entire event and made it nearly inaccessible to the general public. Although a subway station has been planned for the new stadium, it was not in operation in 2006 and probably will not be online in time for the World Cup, either. Photo by the Russian Reader

Since then, the project to construct the new stadium has been a raucous debacle, involving endless delays and extreme cost overruns; the employment of North Korean slave laborers, one of whom was killed on the job; the multiple firings and hirings of general contractors and subcontractors; and numerous revelations of newly discovered structural defects.

The construction of Zenit Arena has also been part of the general uglification and rampant redevelopment of the so-called Islands, a series of parklands situated on several smallish islands in Petersburg’s far north. It now seems that city officials and developers thought all those parks and all that greenspace were taking up too much valuable potential real estate and pumping too much oxygen into the atmosphere, because in recent years they have gone after the Islands and their environs with a vengeance.

Zenit Arena, the Western High-Speed Diameter (ZSD), and Gazprom’s Lakhta Center skyscraper are merely the most visible aspects of this mad greedfest, its crowning jewels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGazprom’s Lakhta Centre skyscraper, under construction, as seen in April 2017 from another site of urban planning greed and madness, a nearly 500-hectare “reclaimed” island plopped in the Neva Bay immediately west of Vasilyevsky Island. The new island, which remains nameless, will eventually be built up with high-rise apartment blocks. Local residents vigorously protested the land reclamation project in the planning stages, but the authorities roundly ignored them. Photo by the Russian Reader

Getting back to my original topic, I think the Vedomosti captioner might have been taking the piss out of readers, after all. Here is another photo and caption in the series:

default-1huy

“The stadium in Yekaterinburg is a cultural heritage site. Part of the historical façade has remained after the reconstruction.” Photo courtesy of Sport Engineering Federal Unitary Enterprise

When I slipped this photograph onto my desktop, the filename caught my eye: “default-1huy.jpg.” I took this to mean that someone at Vedomosti was not terribly impressed with Yekaterinburg’s blatantly criminal attempt at “historical preservation” and decided to tag it with one of the most powerful cursewords in a language positively crawling with them. But since this a family-oriented, Christian-values website, I will let the experts explain the particulars.

Like the Sochi Olympics, I vanganize that the 2018 World Cup will be an unmitigated disaster for any and all locals who do not manage to escape the vicinity of the venues in time. I would also vanganize that the World Cup has already been a disaster for cities such as Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, which had venerable, heritage-listed stadiums put to death for the purpose, but I don’t think you can vanganize retroactively. TRR

This Is Russia

DSCN0810

“This is Russia. This is the Russia that Americans are so scared of.”

In the background of this photo, you can make out the Galeria Shopping Center, located in downtown Petersburg. It’s gigantic, covering the land once occupied by five or six graceful tenement buildings and a cultural center and cinema. They were demolished in the mid 1990s, not to make way for the shopping mall, but so a new train station could be built there, jeek by jowl with the existing Moscow Station, because federal and regional officials wanted to build a high-speed train line between Petersburg and Moscow. Millions of dollars were allocated for the project, but ultimately, the train line was never built nor was the new station erected. No one knows what happened to the millions of dollars allocated for the project. They simply vanished into thin air.

The site of the former-future high-speed train station sat vacant for many years behind a tall, ugly construction-site fence. No one could figure out what do to with all that wasteland, which was in the very heart of the city, not in some forgotten outskirts. However, before the money had vanished, and the project was abandoned, construction workers had managed not only to demolish all the tenement buildings on the site but had also dug a foundation pit. Over the long years, this pit filled up with water. Some time after Google Maps had become all the rage, I took a look at our neighborhood via satellite, as it were, and discovered to my great surprise it now had a small lake in it. It was the foundation pit of the former-future high-speed train station, filled to the brim with water.

Good times came to Petersburg in the 2000s, when the country was flush with cash, generated by high oil prices, a flat tax rate of 13%, and runaway corruption. It was then the city’s mothers and fathers (I’m not being ironic: most of Petersburg’s “revival” was presided over by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, a former Communist Youth League functionary who had converted to the gospel of what she herself called “aggressive development”) decided that Petersburg, one of the world’s most beautiful, haunting, enchanting cities, should be extensively redeveloped, despite its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mecca of consumerism that would give pride of place to cars and new highways, since cars had become the new status symbol among the city’s rich and poor alike. They also decided that, since other big cities in the world had lots of high-rise buildings, their city, which did not have almost any high-rise buildings, should have lots of them, too.

Basically, they decided to demolish as much of the inner and outer city as they could get away with—and they could get away with a lot, because they had nearly unlimited political power and lots of the country’s money at their disposal—and redevelop it with high-rise apartment buildings, superhighways, big box stores, and shopping and entertainment centers, each one uglier and bigger than the last. Thanks to their efforts, in a mere fifteen years or so they have gone a long way toward turning a Unesco World Heritage Site into an impossible, unsightly mess.

But let’s get back to our miniature inner-city lake. Finally, developers came up with a plan to convert the site into a giant shopping mall. Even better, the architects who designed the mall were clearly inspired by Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect and a leading Nazi Party member, to turn a rather oversized mall into a celebration of kitsch faux-neoclassicism, precisely the sort of thing Speer had championed in his projects. This, indeed, was a bit ironic, because Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, had survived a 900-day siege by the German army during the Second World War. Considered the longest and most destructive siege in history, it killed at least 800,000 civilians, that is, it killed the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of the people who now enjoy visiting this mall, with its distinctly neo-fascist aesthetic.

Along the sides of the street running down towards the photographer from the Albert Speer Memorial Shopping Center, you see lots of shiny new, fairly expensive cars, parked bumper to bumper. In fact, the Albert Speer has a huge underground car park where you can park your car relatively inexpensively (our neighbor lady, a sensible woman, does it), but most Petersburg car owners actually think parking their cars wherever they want—especially either right next to their residential buildings or, worse, in the tiny, labyrinthine, incredibly charming inner courtyards of these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings—is their legal right. It isn’t, but they don’t know it or don’t want to know it. I know they think this way because many Petersburg car owners have told me so.

To my mind, the precipitous rise in personal car ownership in Petersburg has done more to degrade the city’s beauty than all the underinspired colossal high-rises put together, because the city was purposely designed by its original builders, beginning with Peter the Great, to have a good number of intersecting and radiating, awe-inspiring, long and clear sightlines or “perspectives.” Hence, many of the city’s longest avenues are called “prospects,” such as Nevsky Prospect (the title of one of Nikolai Gogol’s best stories) and Moskovsky Prospect. Nowadays, however, you gaze down these “perspectives” only to see traffic jams and hectares of other visual pollution in the shape of signs, billboards, banners, and marquees. It’s not a pretty sight.

On the right of the picture, somewhere near the middle, you should be able to spot a small shop sign with the letters “AM” emblazoned on it. It’s one of the dozens of liquor stores that have popped up in our neighborhood after the Kremlin introduced its countersanctions against US and EU sanctions, which were instituted in response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. The US and EU sanctions targeted individuals and companies closely allied with the regime. Putin’s countersanctions, in a manner that has come to seem typical of how the Russian president for life’s mind works, were targeted against Russian consumers by banning the import of most western produce into the country. An exception was made for western alcoholic beverages, especially wines and beers, and this meant it was suddenly profitable again to get into the liquor business. The upshot has been that you can exit our house, walk in any direction, even putting on a blindfold if you like, and you will find yourself in a liquor store in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Last summer, I tried painting a little verbal and photographic sketch of the effect this massive re-alcoholization has had on our neighborhood, along with other, mostly negative trends in the use and abuse of commercial space in the city.

Finally, there is one other thing you should know about all those new, mostly oversized cars parked on the street. Since the average monthly salary in Russia barely crawls above 600 or 700 euros a month, even in a seemingly wealthy city like Petersburg, most of those gas-guzzling, air-polluting status symbols were bought with borrowed money.

Just the other day, in fact, I translated and posted a tiny article, originally published in the business daily Kommersant, about how people in the Voronezh Region currently owed banks approximately two billion euros in outstanding loans. In 2015, the region’s estimated population was around 2,300,000, so, theoretically, each resident of Voronezh Region now owes the banks 870 euros, which I am sure is more than most people there earn in two or three months. Of course, not every single resident of Voronezh Region has taken out a loan, so the real damage incurred by real individual borrowers is a lot worse.

I could be wrong, but I think what I have just written gives you a rough idea of how you go about reading photographs of today’s Russian cities, their visible aspect in general, turning a snapshot into something meaningful, rather than assuming its meaning is obvious, right there on the surface. You don’t just tweet a photo of a new football stadium or fancy restaurant or street jammed with expensive cars and make that stand for progress, when progress, whether political, economic or social, really has not occurred yet in Russia, despite all the money that has been sloshing around here the last fifteen years. Instead, you talk about the real economic, political, and social relations, which are often quite oppressive, murky, and criminal, that have produced the visible reality you want to highlight.

Doing anything less is tantamount to engaging in boosterism, whataboutism, Russian Worldism, and crypto-Putinism, but certainly not in journalism. That so many journalists, western and Russian, have abandoned real journalism for one or all of the isms I have listed is the really scary thing. TRR

Photograph by the Russian Reader

 

 

 

Voices of Russians, Unsorted into Boxes

DSCN0457
Two Russians walking down a sunny street in central Petersburg, 17 September 2017. Do we know what they’re thinking? Unless we talk to them and get to know a good deal about them and their lives, of course we won’t know what they’re thinking. And there are 144 million other Russians like them. Each an individual, not a statistic, they are complete mysteries, like people anywhere else in the world, unless we spend a lot of time in their company, talking to some of them, and living lives much like they live. Photograph by the Russian Reader

Contrary to what Samuel Greene wonders in his recent blog post, namely, “Can we learn to listen to the voices of Russians without first sorting them into boxes that reflect our own insecurities more than their complex realities?”, most “Russia experts” are only interested in listening to other “Russian experts” (especially the ones they agree with) and otherwise promoting themselves as “Russia experts,” a term I define broadly, because it includes, I think, not only the usual suspects, but the relatively small cliques of activists, journalists, writers, scholars, and artists who try very hard to control the discourse about Russia to their own advantage.

I think the best thing I’ve ever done on a blog is this long piece. I won’t say anything more about it here. You can either read it or not read it. But you might notice, if you do read it, that it is chockablock with raw Russian voices, unsorted into any boxes, although I don’t hide my own views in the piece in any way.

But when the group of activist artists whose name the blog on which the piece was first published bore had the chance to do a big show at a super famous contemporary art institution in London, my request to include this piece in a journal of texts by the art group’s authors (which, supposedly, included me at the time) that would accompany the show, I was flatly turned down by the group’s leader, who explained this text didn’t “fit the format” of the publication they were planning.

Not only that but I was later disinvited from attending the show with the group by this same leader.

After you’ve had several dozen experiences like that, you realize the vast majority of “Russian experts” are in the business for their own professional advancement, not to give anyone a clearer picture of the real Russia, which, I’ve discovered over the years, interests almost no one, least of all the tiny cliques of “Russia experts” in academia, art, and journalism.

People like the ones depicted and heard in my blog post from nine years ago actually frighten most “Russia experts.”

And yet there they are, real Russians, willing to fight the regime tooth and nail, and perfectly clear about the regime’s true nature.

At least half of the world’s “Russia experts” don’t understand even a tenth of what these “simple” Russians understand.

So what do we need “Russia experts” for? TRR

We’re Celebrating the 1917 Revolution by Staging a Counterrevolution

Overview of the Moscow renovation program’s showroom, opened yesterday, July 6, 2017, by Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. Photo courtesy of Sergei Vedyashkin/Moskva News Agency & Meduza

Authorities Plan to Divide Moscow into Private and Public Areas
Anna Trunina
RBC
June 26, 2017

Moscow’s renovation program provides for the complete redevelopment of residential building courtyards. The mayor’s office argues that these spaces should not be passages, so for the first they will delineated into private [privatnye] and public spaces.

By autumn, the Moscow authorities expect to adopt new regional urban planning norms that will divide residential districts into private and public areas for the first time. The mayor’s office has proposed rejecting the idea of communicating courtywards, Marat Khusnullin, Moscow’s deputy mayor for urban policy and construction, said in an “interview” published on the mayor’s official website.

According to Khusnullin, the renovation program not only consists in updating the city’s housing stock but also in creating a “full-fledged integrated urban environment,” in redeveloping and landscape the courtyards.

“The concrete jungles, as Moscow’s bedroom communities were rightly dubbed, were erected over decades. Now they must become a thing of the past,” Khusnullin argues.

According to preliminary calculations by the authorities, says Khusnullin, after neighborhoods are replanned and space is freed up by the demolition of five-story houses in Moscow, the number of parking spots will double. The project for public spaces will not be uniform, but will be unique in each of Moscow’s districts. The standards of comfort and improvement will be identical, however.

The space in the renovated neighborhoods, Khusnullin notes, will be divided into residential and public areas.

“For example, when they go into their courtywards, residents will enter a zone of a peace and comfort where there will be minimum of strangers and cars. Naturally, the entrances to the shops on the first floors will be located on the streetside. There will be no walk-through yards [prokhodnye dvory]. We will provide convenient pedestrian walkways from residential buildings to subway stations and bus stops, so that residents won’t have to blaze their own trails through lawns,” claims Khusnullin.

“Five-Storey Russia: An RBC Major Investigation of Renovation,” Published June 22, 2017 on RBC’s YouTube Channel

Khusnullin says that development and construction in Moscow during the Soviet era was “very uneven and disorganized.” It was this that caused the emergence of “strange, unused spaces” within neighborhoods.

City authorities also plan to increase the number of green spaces in the districts.

“Our proposal is to construct gardens, lay down paths, and set up benches on the same sites. But this in no way means all the old trees will be cut down. There will be more greenery. Planners have been tasked with taking care of the existing green areas while finding places for the additional planting of trees and shrubbery,” says Khusnullin.

Currently, the law bill on renovation has passed its third and final reading in the State Duma. Subsequently, the Moscow mayor’s office summed up the votes of Muscovites, which showed that 90% of the buildings initially slated for the program would be demolished and rebuilt.

Translated by the Russian Reader. See Leonid Bershidsky, “Why Putin Is Tearing Down My Childhood Home,” Bloomberg, May 4, 2017, for an excellent, brief explanation of the whys and wherefores of Moscow’s urban planning counter-revolution.

Urban Renewal as the Road to Serfdom

Tatiana Nalitch
Facebook
April 9, 2017

Friends,

It recently transpired that a good many quite progressive consumers and producers of the news haven’t entirely understood that the so-called law bill on renovation (No. 120505-7), which the press has dubbed the “five-storey apartment building law” doesn’t exactly deal with five-storey apartment buildings.

It deals with everything. With any residential building (brick, pre-engineered, and prefab) containing any number of storeys (three, five, nine, seventeen, etc.). If the law is passed, then later it will also be applied to any city, not just to Moscow.

This is what it’s about. If a city feels like grabbing the block where your building is located (a quiet spot with a leafy-green courtyard, five to seven minutes from the subway, in walking distance of shops, a stadium, playgrounds, a school, a kindergarten, an outpatient medical clinic), it will do it. You will be supplied with one option: an apartment of the same size, wherevever they want to send you. If you’re not okay with that, the court will evict you.

Read the draft law bill, please. It’s on the State Duma’s website.

If you have questions, the website zanashdom.ru and the Facebook group Muscovites against Demolition are there to help you.

The picture, above, summarizes the contents of the bill. [See the translation of the diagram,  below.*]

Tell your friends about it. This is really serious.

UPDATE. Today, April 10, the Federation Council proposed applying the Moscow law bill to the entire country.

*What does resettlement under the new law threaten?

Old Law

New Law
Only dilapidated and hazardous buildings are demolished. Any residential building in an urban renewal block can be demolished (even if it’s a brick building and nine- or twelve-stories high.) The law does not describe what residential buildings can be demolished.
Residents are informed a year before resettlement. You have two months to think it over, after which you are evicted by court order, which cannot be appealed.
You choose from three types of apartments. You take the first apartment you are shown.
Possible monetary compensation. No monetary compensation possible.
You get an apartment of equal value in exchange. You are given a comparable apartment (an apartment of the same size).
Apartment near a park, in a quiet, familiar neighborhood.

Seventeen-story concrete building in an industrial district with violations of safety and sanitary rules and regulations. (They are permitted under the new law.)

The Bottom Line

  • You pay for renovations and moving costs.
  • If you sell within five years, you are obliged to pay a 13% tax.
  • Population density will increase by two or three times.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up

The Two Towers

akhmat-tower
Artist’s rendering of Akhmat Tower, Grozny, Chechnya. Courtesy of The Village

Price Tag of Grozny’s Akhmat Tower Rises to One Billion Dollars
Anton Pogorelsky
RBC
October 21, 2016

The cost of building Chechyna’s tallest tower has doubled

The final cost of building the Akhmat Tower, the tallest building in Grozny, will be one billion US dollars or 66 billion rubles, reports Rambler News Service, quoting Muslim Khuchiyev, the city’s mayor. This is twice the earlier announced amount of five hundred million US dollars. The reason for the increase in the skyscraper’s price was not specified.

“This is nothing other than [private] investments. Not a kopeck of the budget [will be spent],” Rambler News Service quoted Khuchiyev as saying.

The 102-storey Akhmat Tower will be 435 meters high, 35 meters more than was planned initially. According to Khuchiyev, after construction of the Akhmat Tower has been completed, it will be the tallest building in Europe. At the moment, the title belongs to the 374-meter-high Federation Tower in Moscow. However, the title of the tallest building on the continent should pass to the Lakhta Center in Petersburg. It will be 462 meters tall, 27 meters more than the Chechen tower.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Vadim F. Lurie, Lahta Center (under construction) seen through the Western High-Speed Diameter (ZSD) highway, Petersburg, September 30, 2016. Photo courtesy of the photographer
Lakhta Center (under construction), as seen over the Western High-Speed Diameter (ZSD) highway, Petersburg, September 30, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie. Reprinted with his kind permission

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.