No trees in the Sahara Desert - no people in the Russian Desert?

No trees in the Sahara Desert - no people in the Russian Desert?
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A concentration of a large proportion of the population in a limited number of centers is taking place. This in its turn is influencing state city-planning policy.

This problem was the main discussion topic at the council of chief architects of the RF regions and municipalities, which took place in the Moscow regional government house.  


A catastrophe, in fact  

The profession of architect is closely connected with both the past and the future of the country. Architects form its image - all their activity is interlaced with the inner processes taking place in the country, and the events taking place at present cannot but worry them.

In the 20th century, first in the Russian Empire and then in the Soviet Union, migrations of the population to the East took place. In the 1990s, the process started to reverse. Over the last 15 years, 4.5m people have moved from the East to the West. The population of the eastern part of the country has dropped by 5%. This has resulted in an uncontrolled growth of the population in Moscow and the Moscow region.

In fact, Moscow and the Moscow region have turned into a zone of discomfort. The region is stifled by transport smog and lacks social infrastructure and adequate jobs, remarked the President of the Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Sciences, Alexander Kuzmin, at the council meeting. In Siberia and the Far East, the process is quite the opposite: formerly developed territories are being lost, villages and towns are being desolated.  

We are surviving a national catastrophe in fact, and it is impossible to cope with the problem without a clear and distinct town-planning policy, Alexander Kuzmin, who has long been Chief Architect of Moscow, thinks. If the country knows where it is going, and does not change direction depending on the leader’s desires, then there is an opportunity to develop a program for the spatial displacement of the population for many years to come.

No trees in the Sahara Desert - no people in the Russian Desert? 

Losing ourselves  

The situation regarding the spatial displacement of the population either threatens us with collapse, or an urgent search for an alternative is needed, the director of the center for the development of a city-planning regulation base of the SUE “Scientific research and design institute of the Moscow General Plan”, Georgy Yusin, thinks. The state has not dealt with the country’s spatial development for 20 years, and great problems have accumulated as a result. Even in the wealthiest Central Federal Area, they are of a very complicated nature.

30 agglomerations have been revealed there, which occupy 23% of the Area’s territory, where 75% of the population lives. Agglomerations differ in sizes: from small ones with a population of about 100,000 people, to vast ones with 17,000,000 people.

The CFA is characterized by the federal road network. It is built as follows: one may go straight from one regional center to another if they are situated on a highway to or from Moscow. Otherwise, the way between the two points will involve going through the capital.  

Such a spatial model, in its turn, creates the economic model positively affecting the capital’s growth. Outwards migration is occurring: for the past 10 years, one fifth of the population has quit territories in which there is no straight road to the capital. In the Moscow agglomeration, the annual population growth was over 2% from 1992 to 2014: the population increased from 13.5m to 17.5m people.  

With a density of 1.5 people per 1 square meter, it has 10 times as many people as in, say, the Voronezh agglomeration.

At the same time there are territories in the CFA as rarely populated as the North of Russia. In other words, the CFA, one of the most developed of Russian areas, is gradually turning into a desert regarding much of its territory. This will lead to the loss of the centuries-old national historical culture of Russia. A great number of settlements will either disappear or fall into ruins, and if a territory loses its population, economic development and economic diversification ceases.

No trees in the Sahara Desert - no people in the Russian Desert? 

The Exodus

The CFA agglomeration’s development is occuring in different ways, Georgy Yusin stresses.  The most successful is the Moscow region, as in the majority of its regional centers the population is increasing, but at the same time a third of regional capitals are losing their inhabitants.   

The next most successful agglomeration group consists of towns surrounding Moscow. All the rest of the agglomerations are in a demographic depression.

Today the state has come to terms with the great migration of people from the provinces thinking that there are objective reasons for it. As a stop-gap solution it has proposed the development of a small number of large cities where the population will settle. This will to some extent allow them improve the situation of the inhabitants being distributed all over the country.

The analysis of the proposals shows that the creation of such “reserve capitals” will result in the desolation of the lands round them, Georgy Yusin is sure. And the system is unlikely to add to the decentralization of the country. In the coming 20 years 20-40m people will migrate, leaving their homes and jobs.

But somebody must create living, communal and social infrastructures in the urban centers for those people. So, when will an innovation economy arise in these cities? We’ll have to wait…

No trees in the Sahara Desert - no people in the Russian Desert? 

Assimilating one another 

Who are the challengers striving to become subcapital centers? One of them is the dynamic Voronezh agglomeration in the south of the CFA, but it will assimilate all resources from the Russian Black Mould.  

Another claimaint is Yaroslavl, a city with definite potential. In its development, it will absorb the whole of the Kostroma region, and the Ivanovo region may also lose half of its population. And do not forget that 400 km to the east of Moscow lies Nizhny Novgorod. With such a model and tendency it, together with its agglomeration, will incorporate parts of the Vladimir and Ryazan regions.

On the whole, if all over Russia the migration potential is assessed at 20m people, in the CFA it is from 5 to 7m.

No trees in the Sahara Desert - no people in the Russian Desert? 

Alternatives for alternatives

Alternative models to such development are needed. At the start of the 20th century a theory of central places appeared in Germany. It was updated many times later: it proposes a grassroots solution to the problem.  

At present, the difference in the populations of regional capitals and other towns in a region is usually dozens-fold. The model concept suggests the development of inter-municipal spaces and centers, and inter-municipal markets for goods, services and jobs. It will allow us to develop balanced relations between the centers and the outskirts. Historical experience shows that the model works well in an economy based upon small- and medium-size business.

Another model is historically related to the creation of the general urban development plans for Moscow in the 1920s and 1970s. Its essence is the formation of the ‘ring’ structure, in which the nearest towns counterweigh the capital. This structure is developed in the nearby regional centers, and further on in all directions.  

The search for alternatives to these models led to the creation of network structures. They do not involve any check points but rather have ‘star’ patterns of settlements. This way can be seen in Europe and the USA, where 11 urbanized mega-regions exist, in which transportation infrastructure, including railroads, has been created. China has created not agglomerations but vast spaces with populations of 20-100m people.

These formations should have highly diversified economies. In the CFA, at least, several such star patterns are noticeable.

Such structures are based upon the principle of abundant communications that provide for a variety of opportunities. The development of communications will allow people living even in a very small settlement to find niches for themselves: jobs or hobbies without having to change their place of residence.

Georgy Yusin reminded us of one simple thing: communications decide everything at present. We can’t but agree.


Vladimir GURVICH