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Bits of the past: ways to save St. Petersburg’s Riviera

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The government of St. Petersburg has made a decision to cancel a decree which urged the city to build infrastructure for the creation of alluvial territories in the Gulf of Finland. That’s according to vice-governor Marat Oganesyan

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Yuriy Zinchuk, host: “It’s estimated that the alluvial territories project next to the Lisiy Nos village will be fulfilled in 5 years. But here’s the 1st bit of news which gives hopes to those protecting the city that this idea will come to a halt. And, thus, the pearl of St. Petersburg’s outskirts by the Gulf of Finland coast would be saved. Saved like a resort or state-protected conservation area, not as another urban suburb.

Unfortunately, the image of a resort which existed 30 years ago has been lost now. Its impossible to get on a train at the “Staraya Derevnya” station and after a 20-minute ride find oneself in the end of the 19th century – where not just blocks, but entire villages have been somewhat frozen in time. This was a unique phenomenon of Leningrad-St. Petersburg. There are, however, little spots and reminders of those wonderful times. And we would really want to preserve at least those. Resident of those coastal places, our observer Alexey Mikhalev with more on this”

Bits of the past are scattered all over. A flower bin with engravings from the Stalin era – a kindergarten used to be here. Pre-revolution dachas of the Russian Finland survived the Empire, three wars and, being refurbished into children summer camps, lasted until the end of the 20th century. They were destroyed by negligence of the last two decades – and are now being replaced by concrete cottages.

Elena Travina, coordinator of research group “Starye Dachi”: “Those are comfortable, those are excellent, those are of European standard. But tourists won’t come here to see those. Because there are plenty of those across the world. We have lost the unique face of Komarovo, we have long lost the unique face of Repino”

To a certain extent, Sestroretsk got lucky – in the 1920s only simple dachas were relocated to what was originally Finland, which could be easily taken down. The true masterpieces have stayed intact. For example, Vozhievskaya’s dacha – excellent example of the neo-Russian style. Even architraves were made on Vasnetsov’s blueprints. Today this house is dying – the roof has a glaring hole. Documents say that it belongs to a sports camp, but its director doesn’t have a clue what to do with this treasure.

Elena Travina, coordinator of research group “Starye Dachi”: “Imagine yourself in this man’s shoes – he has to put children somewhere, but he can’t do it in this building. There is no money to restore it, and I don’t understand at all why it can’t be sold to someone who does. Eventually – this is the first contender for a blaze”

Blazes. In the last 15 years, fires have diminished the number of protected buildings two-fold. Unofficially it’s the most effective way to clear space for new houses. Parties and sleepovers are welcomed.

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “Here is how it happens. Some gentlemen live here. Here they have a bedroom together with a dining room. We now know that they like mayonnaise, smoke a lot and are generally negligent about making fire. In our TV building at Chaplygina you won’t get away with such fire non-safety”

But its not only about architecture. Riviera will disappear as a sea resort if alluvium kicks off in the Gorskaya vicinity. There are places of habitat for rare species of birds and plants here. In Finland, a strikingly similar place close to Helsinki was made a national park. It is even being deliberately swamped to enrich the wildlife

Andrey Reznikov, ecologist: “If the primary value of this territory is its location by the sea, then why would you put soil on it? I don’t understand the logic of having a sea here and wanting to destroy it”

Moreover, the sea here defined the image of these places, equating them with Brighton in England. Melancholy and comfort. Zinaida Kurbatova saw one of this play’s actresses back in the 1980s. Here is how close the beautiful past is to us, in reality.

Zinaida Kurbatova, journalist: “She sat on the beach, and she was wearing what was then called a lacy petticoat, and had an umbrella. So she cordially walked into the water with her umbrella and returned – just as cordially. They wanted to keep those traditions alive”

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “And there’s a different story with the beach. Its not deep here. So here’s how they did then – hired a carriage, it brought the swimmers deep into the Gulf – like 150-200 meters. And when a flag was raised above the carriage, he brought them back. Where else would you be able to create such an attraction for considerable money?”

By destroying the resort’s image, its capitalization is being destroyed too. Theme hotels exist globally. You can spend a night in a cell of the famous Alcatraz prison. Trading in emotions is the basis of tourism

Elena Travina, coordinator of research group “Starye Dachi”: “You can do mini-hotels here with a descend to the past – guest come, pay money, they are served by maids in old-fashion aprons who bring them milk fresh from the cows of a nearby field. Children run around playing, wearing seamen’s uniforms. You can make money out of it”

Violations of law and civic rights are also evident. The symbol of today’s resort is the endless fence. In the past, it was considered as bad taste. Today, entire blocks close a free access to the Gulf. The only salvation is unofficial paths.

Anatoliy Krivenchenko, deputy of St. Petersburg’s Legislative Council: “We will eventually lose this territory and turn into one of St. Petersburg’s districts. This will happen invisibly. Like Lakhta – it used to be a resort too, now it’s part of the city”

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “It is believed that St. Petersburg’s wealth is all about its palaces and museums. But tens of thousands of tourists from the whole world come to the “Narvskaya” vicinity to see the soviet constructivism. Few here, although, know about this. Just as few here know that the Northern Modern and Silver Age Riviera are disappearing – and in 10-15 years all what would be left are mentions of those in literature”

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