Urban Demographics

The FSU/Northern Eurasia is a fairly urbanized region. The average level of urbanization in the FSU (64%) is above the world's average (50%), but is considerably below the European (74%) or North American (79%) levels. Russia and Belarus are the two most urbanized countries in the region, while Tajikistan is the least urbanized. In some republics there is only one major city, and the majority of the population outside this city is distinctly rural. The level of urbanization rose through the 20th century: In 1900 almost 80% of the Russian Empire consisted of peasants; in 1950 the U.S.S.R. had an urbanization level of 52%; in 1970 it was 62%; and since 1990 Russia's level has been 74%. Within Russia today, the highest urbanization levels are observed in Slavic-settled, economically developed regions (e.g., Moscow Oblast, with 79%) and in the Urals (e.g., Khanty-Mansy Autonomous Okrug, where over 90% of the population is urban). The lowest urbanization levels are observed in the ethnic republics of the northern Caucasus (43–45% are common); in the Tyva (51%) and Altay (26%) Republics in Siberia; and in some northern autonomous districts.

In the most recent population census of 2002, there were a total of 2,938 “urban centers” in Russia. Of these, 13 had over 1 million people, while another 20 had over 500,000 people. Most, however, lost population between the 1989 and 2002 censuses—some as much as 10%. The biggest cities of Russia are primarily concentrated in the European part; Siberia has only one city, Novosibirsk, with over 1 million people. Moscow is similar in population size to Paris, London, Los Angeles, or Chicago; St. Petersburg to Toronto; and Novosibirsk and Nizhniy Novgorod to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or Memphis, Tennessee,
metropolitan areas.

Keep in mind that almost all Russian cities are unicentric and compact, while the majority of American metropolitan areas are polycentric and sprawling. Because of the Soviet emphasis on high-rise apartments and centralized services, Moscow, with 11 million residents, covers about as much area as Minneapolis–St. Paul, with only 3 million; the city of Barnaul, with 600,000 people, about the same footprint as St. Cloud, Minnesota, with 60,000! Of the cities listed in Table 11.3, only four occur in polycentric urban agglomerations: Samara, Togliatti, Novokuznetsk, and Izhevsk. Among the top 30 American metropolitan statistical areas, most are polycentric (e.g., New York–Newark–Bridgeport, Washington–Baltimore, San Francisco–San Jose–Oakland, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Minneapolis–St. Paul). The monocentric areas are in a distinct minority, perhaps five or six in all (e.g., Chicago, Houston, Atlanta). In Russia, the monocentric Moscow agglomeration includes over 70 cities and 13 million residents, almost 10% of the national total. Moscow is therefore the primate city of Russia, capturing more population than the second and third biggest cities combined. This, however, is a much lower share than those of greater Paris and London, which include almost 20% of the population of France and the United Kingdom, respectively. It is also noteworthy that the same monocentricity is expressed strongly at the local level: In each rayon (the equivalent of the U.S. county), the main city is always the largest. In fact, most rayons have only one city; the rest are towns and villages.

iggest Cities in Russia in 2002 and 2008

Outside Russia, the biggest cities of the FSU are invariably national capitals. The Soviet system of government greatly favored the concentration of political power, economic institutions, higher education, health services, and the arts in one place in each region. Thus Tallinn, Kiev, Tbilisi, Baku, Tashkent, and so forth are all indisputable primate cities in their respective republics. The only exception is the new capital of Kazakhstan, Astana; with only 600,000 inhabitants, it is half the size of the former capital, Almaty, with 1,200,000.