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Territory renovation may turn into a conflict zone

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Territory renovation may turn into a conflict zone

A new source of tension connected with the renovation of built-up territories has come about in Russia. Many citizens are displeased with the way the authorities and developers are conducting it.

A number of conflicts in the sphere of urban development are forecast in Russia. The main reasons for this are large cities running out of land for development, and constructors re-developing already built-up areas... so conflicts with local residents are very likely. The second controversial factor is connected with the latest amendments to the law focusing on militant solutions to issues arising during reconstruction.

Territory renovation may turn into a conflict zone

Stop the absurd construction! 

An example to teach

Saint Petersburg may serve as an example of developing events. Valery Veremeichik, a campaigner for the “Beautiful Petersburg” urban environment improvement movement, said that, in 2008, the city authorities adopted a renovation program for 26 urban territories built up at the beginning of the 1960s. But a number of mistakes were made from the very beginning: plot boundaries were not determined, preliminary detailed investigation was not carried out, and nobody discussed with local residents what social development the areas would receive.

The city authorities concluded contracts on the reconstruction of the areas with two investors. 8 years have passed since then, and what are the results? The program failed. Only 60,000 square meters of housing have been built, which is less than 1% of the planned volume. 9 houses instead of the planned 1,100 have been knocked down. According to the plan, all work is to be completed by 2018, but investors have asked for the deadline to be extended to 2025. In 10 areas construction has not even started yet.

Back in the day, the areas’ residents were promised a lot, and now people are very displeased with the authorities not having kept their word.

According to Valery Veremeichik, a number of potential and real controversial situations may/will arise.

The residents are disgruntled that everything has been decided without their participation. In 10 areas there is actually no place for the construction of houses. It was decided not to knock down a number of houses, and residents were disappointed.

Investors have badly calculated economic performances. When they understood that the renovations would not bring them the expected income, they started to break their promises. As the areas are to be renovated, they were excluded from the capital repair program – but nothing has been done. And the local authorities have distanced themselves from the problem.  

Local residents have protested more than once against the way the program is being implemented. They have even blocked traffic. There are 20 court decisions in the population’s favour, but constructors are ignoring them.

Besides this, the constructors are not keeping to the schedule, and the local authorities cannot influence them.

One of the reasons for the program’s failure, and the growth in social tension, was lack of control. The city authorities should become a general customer especially as far as the regions where investors do not want get involved are concerned.

Territory renovation may turn into a conflict zone 

Go where you are sent

The executive director of the City Economy Institute Foundation, Tatiana Polidi, forecasts that what is being observed in Saint Petersburg will soon happen in many other large cities.

The trouble is that current laws offer this solution to the issue of people’s rehousing by force: they must go where they are assigned to, or sell their realty for a low price.  

There are situations in which, while constructing an object (a road, for example), one must take into account that there is a private house on the route and find a way to by-pass it.  

However, another mechanism is usually used: the majority of a house’s residents (90—95%) gather and agree upon the price for their realty to be bought out, and the minority has to obey the majority’s solution. The City Economy Institute proposes the entrenchment of this idea in Russian law.  

What should be done to avoid urban development conflicts? The quality of renovation projects should be raised. It is especially important to pay attention to the territorial boundaries in order for illiquid plots not to appear: it is quite probable that they will never be taken to court.  

It is high time for developers to learn to determine the efficiency of such projects, but they still cannot calculate finances. All over the world such projects are worked out by developers, whereas in Russia municipal authorities do it.

A special issue is the public discussion of the renovation program. The adopted 373-FL has significantly narrowed down the opportunities for this: only general plans are to be discussed, and planning designs have been removed from this field.

Meanwhile, the situation is very dangerous, experts warn, as the law stimulates infill development.

But even legitimate public hearings are of little use. In cities with a population of over half a million people, public representatives are included in only 27% of committees, and in only 14% of cities do these committees determine the issues for public discussion. According to Tatiana Polidi, the adoption of 373-FL increases the danger of urban development conflicts in Russia, as no real preventative measures are included in the document.

Territory renovation may turn into a conflict zone

This is no way to live and other protesting slogans 

Power methods because of powerlessness

In the 1950-1960s, when the campaign against racial segregation was going on in the USA, efforts to dismantle ghettos were made. They were supposed to be changed into quarters with good quality living standards.  

For the aims to be achieved, a new type of city planning appeared — advocacy planning, the main task of which was to make city planning a process of rivalry and provide for independent expert assessment.

One of the quarters to be reconstructed was in Manhattan. The local authorities decided to dismantle residential multifamily houses and to build housing for middle class people. Representatives of advocacy planning were against the idea. They managed to convince municipals to implement their project, and in two years the area was reconstructed, with 80% of its residents able to buy new housing there.

What is the main point of this? The Head of Group in the Advocacy Planning Lab in the Higher School of Urban Development of HSE, Pavel Akimov, explains that it is targeted at the support of less wealthy social groups, paying special attention to the problem of justice within city management.

The latter is especially important: even if a country has a real developed democracy, it is weakly represented in urban management. But the population should have an opportunity to influence the situation. Urban conflicts are inevitable, and offer evidence for the system’s development, but there must be a mechanism for their solution.

Residents should have full information on what is going on and an opportunity to meet challenges. Advocacy planning provides for the solution of disputed points constructively.

There are elements of advocacy planning in Russia, but it is necessary that a full-scale system should be created. It is not by chance that one of the protocols of the RF Presidential Human Rights Council includes the necessity of the creation of special committees on urban development conflicts solutions.

But these are only wishes. There is no real mechanism for the solution of urban development conflicts, and the authorities think brute power to be the simplest and most efficient.  

Vladimir GURVICH

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