Russian Urban Planners Follow the American Road Away From Downtown

July 23, 2013 No Comments


(photo by Vokabre)

Large American cities are renowned for the difficulty you can have in walking around them. In a culture that deifies the car and venerates speed and directness, a new network of major arterial roads has taken the blame for draining the lifeblood from downtown streets, to the benefit of out of town shopping malls.

And now Russia seems to be heading in the same direction. Moscow’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, has overridden protestors to begin construction of a new road network in Russia’s capital. A Fourth Transportation Ring will encircle the city, and major thouroughfares including Yaroslavskoye, Dmitriovskyoye, Leningradskoye and Skolkovskoye Shosses.

The plans mean that the once-quiet 4-lane Bolshaya Akademicheskaya Ulitsa and adjoining streets will be turned into a 10-lane highway with no traffic lights, and passing within 10 metres of existing apartments.

One resident, who gave her name to The Moscow Times only as ‘Veronika,’ told the paper: ‘When we first heard of plans to make our street a highway we did not believe our ears; we thought, ‘this is just nonsense,’ but here we are. Work has already begun.’

All the trees in front of the houses along the intended highway route have already been cut down and the ground has been cleared. Nearby, work on tunnels for bisecting roads is already underway. In particular, one large tunnel will run under Liningradskoy Shosse and another under Mikhalovskaya Ulitsa.

In a new expression of Russian democratic spirit that will be wearily familiar to planners of Western nations who are already familiar with the ‘NIMBy’ phenomenon, residents of the streets that are to be affected bombarded Moscow City Hall with letters of protest and complaint. The reply they got stated that new windows and protective noise screens will be provided as compensation.

When public hearings on the subject were held last summer, the authorities said that residents’ complaints would be considered but the process has gone ahead without revision despite the objections of local residents.

Acitivist Vyacheslav Borodulin said in an interview that last week’s protest meeting had been ineffective because ‘there are too few of us; there needs to be more protesters for them to pay any attention.’

Mr. Borodulin pointed to the Northern Moscow Strogino road project, which was cancelled after a 700-strong protest. ‘But that was a minor road and these are mega-plans,’ Mr. Borodulin noted; ‘a lot more people have to go out into the streets to have any influence.’
The Moscow government stated via Deputy Mayor Marat Khusnullin that ‘we do not have any doubts that the project… is well thought out, optimal and feasible… the northwestern bisecting project, as well as other roads like it, are strategic decisions.’

The attempt to assert the traditional authoritarian bent of Russian government may be effective, though the future of Moscow’s ‘strategic’ road plans is symptomatic of something wider: It isn’t just the 10-lane highways that the new Moscow has borrowed from America; the fractious, dissenting communities look familiar too.

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