Post-Soviet Changes

The carefully planned Soviet cities have been undergoing rapid transformation as the new post-Soviet economic realities have set in. The literature in the Further Reading list at the end of this chapter provides more details about specific patterns and processes. Here I am only briefly going to mention several tendencies that are discussed in the current research on the topic.

Soviet-style planning has not completely disappeared. Old traditions die hard, and many of the same people who planned the Soviet cities are still around. In fact, the Soviet planning of the urban areas was exemplary in its attention to public needs, green spaces, mass transit, health, and other pertinent topics. The slums and squatter settlements or ghettos so common in less developed countries were nonexistent. Nevertheless, the old system underpinning the planning process is gone. Some of the municipal layouts of the 1980s and 1990s are still being reproduced around the country, but many changes based on economics and local politics are also being made. For example, instead of complete subdivisions built according to a few basic designs, smaller, more expensive, individualized projects appeared in many cities in the 1990s. Frequently these were funded by a private developer and underwritten by a large company, such as Gazprom or the city government.

Many of the older core areas are undergoing rapid transformation. Old residential areas are being replaced with renovated office buildings, elite boutique shops, new high-rises for the truly rich (with condominiums costing over $1,000,000 in some parts of Moscow), and new corporate buildings. This process is nearly complete in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but is still in progress in more peripheral cities.

The industrial belt in many cities is undergoing renovation; for example, the ZIL truck plant is moving out of Moscow. However, many of the old factories remain, especially in the cities where they are the single main employers. Perhaps the largest renovation of recent years in an industrial belt is the high-rise business center built west of downtown Moscow on the banks of the Moscow River, with over 2 million m2 of finished office and an equal amount of elite retail space (Blinnikov & Dixon, 2010).

Many Soviet cities' sleeping quarters are likewise being redone. Much better retail services are becoming available. Some individual homes and office towers are being built, filling existing gaps in the construction of these but frequently encroaching on public spaces, parks, and squares, which leads to vocal protests from the local residents.

The suburbs of virtually all post-Soviet big cities are being rapidly privatized, as modern, detached, single-family suburban homes for the rich are being built. Much of this development is illegal or poorly regulated, and is occurring in floodplains or in forested recreation areas, which is against the law. Most of these new developments are gated communities, with 24-hour surveillance and private security guards to exclude “undesirables” (Blinnikov et al., 2006).

In many cases, recent industrial development on the cities' periphery has caused increasing pollution of water, air, and soil. The old sewer, heating, and electricity systems designed for different production patterns are not adequate for the increased load and frequently break down. At the same time, many small and medium-size cities in the European north, Siberia, or the Far East are rapidly depopulating. People either move out to better climates or die trying. Therefore, in many cities the top priority is not confining or channeling growth, but preserving the existing infrastructure. The booming cities, on the other hand, are found in the European part of the country (Moscow, Samara) and in the Urals federal district (Surgut, Tyumen).

Formerly cheap city services are rapidly increasing in price. For example, electricity and garbage disposal rates are increasing at a rate much higher than inflation (between 20 and 30% per year in some municipalities). Subsidies for these are theoretically available for some categories of residents, but they are difficult to obtain in practice, because one has to wait in long lines at a municipal office to present appropriate paperwork (and/or a bribe). There is also an increase in xenophobia in most Russian cities, and in many cities in the other FSU republics, against recent arrivals from other parts of the FSU—typically migrant workers or refugees. For example, many landscaping services in Moscow are provided by migrant Tajiks, while construction is done by large contingents of Moldovan, Belarusian, or Turkish workers. In Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, Chinese and Vietnamese workers are more common. There are as yet no ethnic ghettos or slums comparable to those in Latin American or Asian cities, but this may be changing in the near future.