Mark Gurary: renovation of Khruschev era houses may become an urban development mistake 

— What are the most significant arguments against renovation?

— According to developers, it is necessary to build 1.5-2-fold more housing on the same territory in order to not run up losses. Some experts give the figure of a 4-fold increase — to receive income.

Being city planners, we know it will demand creating anew all engineering networks, such as water and heat supply systems, etc. There will be more cars and the residents will feel the lack of transport infrastructure. The construction of additional parking zones, including underground ones, will take additional money paid by residents. The developed territory will lack infrastructure. 

The volume of work will demand attracting about 3—4 m people to Moscow, but Moscow is already overloaded. Authorities in other countries try to challenge such mega-metropolises. In France, for example, million-cities are built not to overload the metropolises. We do not have such a program. 

I have been writing for five years that further development of Moscow must be carried out along with its de-urbanisation: the population should be stimulated to leave the city, and functions that are not obligatory for the capital should be taken out of the city. Thus, in the USA and Italy large transnational companies do not have headquarters in Washington or Rome. They know that it is economically more profitable to have open offices in smaller cities. Russian companies should be aware of it as well, particularly as the use of computer technologies gives an opportunity to connect with any part of the country and the world. The Russian governmental authorities should find stimuli for it to become profitable to build in regions. Of course, it is not easy.

Each transportation juncture, an industrial premises built in provinces,  will produce the effect of synergy: the territory will develop. And the population will migrate from the centre to other regions. And then we won’t have to lay highways for which there is no place right now. The problem of the terrible transport condition should be solved, and, presently, Moscow is lacking 20% of the land necessary for a good transportation network.

 

— So, is the renovation needed at all?

— Of course, it is! The problem of dilapidated housing must be solved. But the renovation should be carried out with elaborate studying where it is useful. The  point that it is cheaper to dismount old houses and build new ones does not seem very reasonable.

It should also be taken into account that the increase of the population density will aggravate the urban crisis in Moscow. And I cannot but repeat that the investment of every rouble, dollar or yuan in Moscow's construction, transport and improvement of territory must be evaluated according to its load increment or reduction.

It is also very doubtful if dismounting is cheaper. The existing experience should be analysed. For example, architect Krotov designed a project with a five-storey building’s reconstruction in Khimki, and it was cheaper than constructing a new house. The residents were satisfied as they stayed in the same house.

Increasing the number of floors is followed by the increase in population density, which leads to the environment’s deterioration. Besides, the lack of social objects will lower the quality of life.

 

— What should authorities do?

— Everything must be carefully studied. There might be places where one cannot do without dismounting, but the quality of people’s lives must be retained, as the President put it.

The Architects Union insist that such a large-scale city-planning program should be discussed with the professional community and population, as it will be important not only for Moscow, but for other regions of Russia. Alternative variants should be considered.

But everything is going on straight away, especially before the coming elections. According to experts, about 40m people in the country do not have warm lavatories, so how will they react to dismounting a house with modern conveniences, concrete slabs and 2.5-thick brick walls? These are good houses and they should be repaired regularly. But the system of repair and overhaul is on the wane.

And our economic condition is not strong enough to calmly watch residential quarters being ruined. It impacts people.

All consequences, including social and psychological, should be analysed carefully, in line with the Constitution (lawyers have a lot of remarks). Such a serious action must be thoroughly executed, otherwise it might become a serious urban development mistake. 

Mark Gurary: renovation of Khruschev era houses may become an urban development mistake

— Is it probable that the opinions of experts and citizen's action groups speaking against renovation would be taken into account? Is it possible to cease the triggered process?

— This is not in my capacity — you should ask deputies. In June the bill draft will be considered in the Duma State, and it will be good if the draft is reported in light of all of the propositions and reasons.

Visual and landscape analysis should be carried out to check how 17- or 25-storey houses might change the general outlook of Moscow and historical views.  After all, Moscow is the capital of Russia, and it needn’t look like Manhattan. However, there are skyscrapers in this district of New-York and the majority of Americans live in one- or two-storey houses, and only 25% in skyscrapers. We have the reverse proportion in Russia, although the territory of the country is larger. 

Actually, multi-storey houses appeared in ancient Rome for housing poor people. A developed state must have real estates, and we should strive for it. And there are people who prefer living in multi-storied blocks of flats…

So, everything should be analysed: the existing cities demand delicate work rather than with a bulldozer. Let’s work together because there are highly experienced architects in the Architects Union. They all understand well what crude renovation might result in.

Anna ZHURBA

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