22.01.2013, 15:09
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Gert Urhahn is designer of the urban environment, former head of Urhahn Urban Design, author of “Spontaneous City” (2010). Recently he participated in “The New Life of Microrayons” session of Moscow Urban Forum.

— What are the main challenges in transformation of megacities?

— Thinking about the main challenges there is especially one thing coming to my mind – the need for a major turn from extension to transformation, which also means from plan to process. After decades of never ending extensions and growth, the transformation of the existing megacities becomes more and more obvious. Megacities should change attitude and try to consolidate within their boundaries. Extending the city is the easiest way the market wants to go avoiding existing boundaries and constrains as much as possible.
The ongoing trend of extension will make collapse the mobility and other elementary symbols of freedoms, and more over will influence the quality of life of people. It concerns at the same time the city centre and sub centres, the huge microrayons as well as industrial areas. Although by definition transformation is more complex, there are clear advantages in terms of more urban, differentiated and layered. Transformation is the sustainable alternative to city extension.

— Moscow microrayons with their the rigid structure and low degree of diversification are obviously belonging to the past. Still, 90% of Moscow residents have to live in microrayons. Is it possible to increase quality of life there?

— Not knowing precisely the circumstances of the Moscow microrayons, I would argue that all kind of interventions in the Moscow’s microrayons should start with a good understanding and acknowledgement of the (sometimes uneasy) reality: the property situation, the existing physical and structure, the way how people live. One thing seems to be quite obvious: The microrayon as a concept created in the Soviet era as model for mass housing with idealistic goals is limited in terms of flexibility and adaptability. While shifting demographics and global trends in terms of economy, mobility, lifestyle are effecting huge changes in the physical structure of the city and in the behaviour of the people worldwide, the microrayons in Moscow seem to be quite critical to adapt to those changes.
The ultimate challenge is to turning the microrayons into places of belonging and liveable neighbourhoods and into a diverse and competitive environment. The key word is decentralization. Here we have an enormous task for Moscow. For me, decentralization means a switch from closed to more open systems as a primer condition for changes, fresh ideas, more diversity, new initiatives and a new culture of the microrayons. It starts with trust in people.

— What are the ways to work with different ownerships and municipalities?

— Any change of the existing microrayons has to deal with the very particular circumstances of the large scale ownership situation of the present microrayons of Moscow. And any change of the existing structure such as introducing more opportunities for different owners cannot be successful without redefining what the public and private values are. Defining shared ambition is an integral part of the game. It is a process that must be developed both by the experts as well as the public. It is more holistic and recognises the fact that some values are intangible, not well measurable, but matters anyway, for example the public space, the public accessibility, landscape, nature, water and cultural heritage.
Public value is a sustainable answer to urban pressure. It’s what is important for us all on long term, and is specific to each context and scale. Value is never only intrinsic, it arrives out of what we value, what the public values, and is therefore open to discussion. Here we have a task for all parties involved in the site, negotiation between all the parties involved to find out site-specific strategies. Let’s have that discussion, be open and collaborative, start with people and their dreams. And let’s think about the future.