The Many Sides of Moscow

25.11.2011, 15:11
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The Research Simulator week aimed not only to test out and immerse the students in the process of research it also once again brought up questions that concern different sides of Moscow. Here we attempt to shed light on some of the main problems that affect the quality of life in the city.


Moscow transport: how to get from point A to point B without getting lost or trampled under the feet of rampaging commuters

The problem of having a comfortable experience while moving around Moscow has not been discussed in depth for a while. Yet it concerns other salient aspects such as city planning and the needs of the users of the city. The lack of communication between the users and decision makers results in the creation of a series of DIY techniques to solve this pressing issue. A simple experiment in travelling from point A to point B can show just how many obstacles and routes one has to encounter in order to reach the destination. Especially so if one uses above-the-ground public transport: no maps, no routes or bus timetables, no signs telling you where you are, no ticket machines, endless queues, unreadable transport routes, not to mention the lack of information in English.

In the Soviet times, the streets were planned so as to have a good above-the-ground public transport system, while metro lines were constructed in those areas where there were fewer possibilities. But after the 1990s car ownership significantly increased, and public transport routes were reduced by force. Moscow failed to adapt to the changing lifestyle of its citizens. Old streets were not reconstructed to handle the new traffic, which created jams and other signs of a chaotic transport system.

Commercial «marshrutkas» (non-state mini-buses) took over the streets becoming an additional cause of traffic jams, even though they have certain advantages over other types of transport (they are faster, guarantee seating places and can stop anywhere). Marshrutkas became an additional hazard for the state-owned public transport: they use the space meant for buses, park at bus stops, etc. Creating separate lines for buses and trams didn’t help either. It resulted in conflicts between the drivers of marshrutkas, cars and buses, each of them claiming his/her right to the road.

The problem is they way the system of public transport is created. Planners tend to develop their systems in a generalized way, without taking into consideration the opinions of actual users of the city. The city becomes a place for an abstract resident. Can Moscow become smart in its approach to mobility?

Are Muscovites getting crowded out by the invisible people?

They sweep the streets, fix the roads, dispose of our waste. People are aware of those who maintain the city but choose not to notice them, deliberately excluding them from the society. The problem of migrant workers exists, but few know why. It actually lies in the conflict of interest between Russia as a country and big cities like Moscow. While for the country it is necessary to attract qualified skilled workers from abroad in the growing decrease of the employable population, the situation in Moscow is quite opposite. It doesn’t need this policy, as it is capable of producing its own skilled workers.

This contradiction creates tension between Moscow’s residents and the migrant workers who foremost seek jobs in big cities where salaries are higher. The Federal Migration Service itself cannot say for sure how many illegal migrants there are in Moscow – the number ranges from 200 thousand to 2 million. The problem lies in the inability of the government to state precisely what activities are undertaken by the migrants, who by some reason fall out of the government’s view.

In the Soviet Union, the permitted number of migrant workers was limited by law. The main flow was coming from inside the country. Such people were called «limitchiki» (people who received a work permit and thus fell within the work permit quota). They were specifically invited to work for factories, construction sites etc., and lived in specially created housing.  After 5 years they could apply for a «propiska» (a residential permit) and become part of the society. After 1991 this system ceased to exist; instead, the legislation boosted a wave of migrant workers from the former Soviet Republics, such as Azerbaijan, Tajikistan etc. The situation now shows that around 40% of migrants don’t have a school degree and only 20% speak some Russian.

The insufficient integration of migrant workers into society is a great obstacle. Only this year a first labor exchange centre appeared in Moscow to aid migrants in finding jobs, getting healthcare insurances and enrolling into the Russian language courses. The government also reduced the quota for migrant workers in Moscow down to 250 thousand per year in the attempt to control the overflow of illegal migrants.

Besides, a worker patent, which can be bought for 1000 roubles a month, has been introduced.

This law already garnered 1 billion 422 mln roubles for the Russian budget; however experts are worried this could create an even bigger migrant boom.

This same year a group of people outraged at the government inaction formed a public organization «Tikhiy Tsentr» (Quiet Centre) aimed at finding illegal migrant settlements in historical buildings in the centre of Moscow. This only shows that the integration of those workers, who are needed to maintain the city, is ignored and is often unnoticed by the citizens. Few know what benefit these workers produce and how to calculate the profit from them. The question is: are we prepared to acknowledge those who live behind the wall and to create a harmonious environment or are we going to continue walking with our eyes shut?


The value of public space: when shopping malls take over

Back in the USSR everything that belonged to the government was considered to be public, in comparison to other countries where public spaces belonged to different stakeholders.  Nowadays the situation slightly changed with the advent of market economy and privatization of land. Private initiatives can create public spaces to their own accord. There is still no specifically developed program on how to correctly design and evaluate public spaces that could engage the government, people and businesses.  The term «stakeholders» is completely lost when it comes to applying it to public spaces.

Today it seems that the precious pieces of land in Moscow are unceremoniously being built up with shopping and office centres, the interior and structure of which imitate outdoor spaces. So the question rises whether we really need any more spaces outdoors that can create communication between people.  On the one hand, the great example of Gorky Park, where a new environment was created and which attracts people of different social backgrounds, shows the benefits of having such spaces. But can the same method be applied in neighborhood parks, commercial squares and streets?

An effort to calculate the value of space and see what ingredients are needed for it to become successful can become a way of communicating both with the government and entrepreneurs on how to create a good public environment.  Right now the discrepancy between the people’s need and the abilities of the government is seen in the unsatisfactory design of public spaces. Think about it: would you protest if the Patriarshiye ponds were changed to, say, Patriarshie Plaza? Why would you fight to protect this place?


The real borders of Moscow: the process of Moscowisation

The process of Moscowisation — a bold term coined during the Research Simulator week at Strelka — stands for the expansion of Moscow identity, culture and infrastructure into Moscow region.

To merge or not to merge the Moscow region with Moscow? The ongoing question has been discussed for a long time now. The former mayor Yuri Luzhkov wanted to unite the two in the attempt to solve transport, social and infrastructure issues and create a mega-region.

If in terms of administrative borders Moscow ceases at the Moscow Ring Road, in terms of life it goes far beyond it.  The symptoms of Moscow, its processes, are already apparent in the Moscow region. People who live there already see themselves as Muscovites, commuting to and from Moscow every day for work and leisure. Can the official expansion cure the city’s traffic congestion disease?

The strange expansion of Moscow towards the south-east raises a lot of questions. Instead of improving the communication between the more natural continuation of Moscow, the government chose to develop a whole new spot, which completely lacks road infrastructure and risks getting into dispute with nearby garden associations and large land owners.

The top-down expansion will provoke an increase in 20% of the price of land and housing because of the propiska status (special registration). At the same time the local municipal authorities will lose 32 billion roubles worth of taxes after joining Moscow. Over a hundred territories will change their status from region to district.
Yet, despite potential problems and a sceptical public reaction to the Moscow Expansion plan, the radial structure of development has its limits. Just as the Grand Paris project (the project of the expansion of Paris), Grand Moscow will trigger a long process on improving and strengthening the legislative, executive and juridical authorities of the city.