Cities and Villages

This chapter examines settlements of Northern Eurasia, with the main focus on Russia as usual. A major distinction must be made between urban (city) and rural (village) settlements. In the United States, urbanized areas generally have over 1,000 people per square mile (400 per square kilometer). An informal way to think about the urban–rural distinction is to look at the services available to residents. You live in a city if you are getting “city services”: water, sewer, natural gas, and curbside recycling. You live in a rural area when you have a well, a septic tank, a propane tank, and no recycling.

Soviet geographers recognized seven types of settlements (Table 11.1), two of which were rural and five were urban. Besides numbers of people, the difference between a town and a big village was based on the main economic activity: either nonfarming or farming, fishing, and/or forestry. In Russia today, a city has at least 12,000 people, at least 85% of whom must have nonfarming occupations (the corresponding percentage is 65% in U.S. metropolitan statistical areas). The size thresholds for cities are lower in more agrarian Ukraine (10,000) or Georgia (5,000). Large villages of a few thousand residents are still fairly common in Ukraine, but are now rare in Russia. The classification in Table 11.1 was derived in part from differences in mass transit needs. The Soviet system of transportation heavily favored mass transit to move masses of workers cheaply. It was presumed that few people would ever own a car. In a village one could walk or bicycle almost anywhere, and motorcycles and tractors were also frequently used on the rutted, unpaved roads. In a small town of 10,000 people, a bus would take workers to the nearby factory or state farm. In a city of over 20,000 but under 50,000, there would be a few different bus routes. In a city of over 100,000, an electric tram or trolley would be available in addition to buses; and in a city approaching 1 million, a subway (metro) system could be built. The distinction between a selo and a derevnya was historical: Before the Soviet period, the largest of about five villages would get a parish church and thus achieve the status of a selo. In many cases, the local landlord's mansion would be located not far from the selo as well, although not directly in it. When churches were closed by the Communists, many were converted into village clubs, thus ensuring continuation of the selo's higher status. The headquarters of the local state farm would later be located there as well.

he Soviet Typology of Settlements

There is another important difference between U.S. and FSU cities. All cities in the U.S.S.R. were developed under comprehensive plans focused on maximum efficiency in housing and transporting large numbers of workers. By contrast, each U.S. jurisdiction has different zoning rules pertaining to planning, and the development is market-driven. Thus a Soviet-built city of 50,000 will look very different from its American counterpart.

History of Urbanization and City Functional Types in Russia and the U.S.S.R.

Urban Demographics

Urban Structure

Post-Soviet Changes

Rural Settlements: The Woes of the Russian Village

Cities and Villages in Other Countries of the FSU