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Remember how it was in 2014. St. Petersburg battles to improve living quality


How St. Petersburg has changed in a year – in the report by the Pulse of the City observer Alexey Mikhalev.


Yuriy Zinchuk, host “Pulse of the city”: “It seems an easy task to make conclusions about a year. As if going through pages of a photo album. Everything is obvious, clear and in plain sight. Here are political results – election results, list of sackings and appointments, adopted laws. Cultural life – memorable events, exhibitions, premiers.

But life isn’t always about tangible things – those which could be touched, tasted or seen. Expectations, hopes and future plans – all these form our inner world, which directly affects our lives. All those moments which make us say a year on – “Remember that? How it was in that year?”. In order to understand those, we asked the born and bread St. Petersburg native – our observer Alexey Mikhalev – to walk from the porch of his home to the city’s center and see what has changed, so that he could show it to us. Let’s watch”

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “So where does homeland really begin? For me it starts from Northern suburbs of St. Petersburg. For instance - from these vintage dachas. Some of those are barely holding together, but are still defining the city’s outlook. Those not only are part of its history, but are forming the coveted civil society – those people who care, who have been fighting for a year to keep our Riviera alive, the area around Gorskaya and Sestroretsk. And their voice has not been left unheard”

One of the notable occurrences of the year – the government refused to finance the construction of hydro technical facilities for the wash-in at the Gulf of Finland. City protectors are triumphant. Indeed – if the coast is valuable for being washed by the sea, then why would anyone need to put cement into the water? Moreover, hundreds of monuments of history and architecture would have been affected by the construction. Recently, their number has decreased two-fold as it was. Besides, the financial potential of Komarovo and Repino lies in their antiquity.

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”

Eventually, the resort area received a chance to resurrect the traditions of the past, which we know of only from 19th-century postcards. Saving the coast from mass construction fits well into the concept of St. Petersburg’s overall development, which has a goal of creating comfortable environment.

Boris Yushenkov, coordinator of city communities organization of St. Petersburg “Civic Platform: “This is a sublimation of hipsterism. They are tired of doing selfies. They want to leave something behind. And urban planning is very convenient – its biking, greenery, pedestrian areas, exhibitions, events”

This direction was first suggested by the Strategy-2030. The subject was more thoroughly discussed at the end of the past year – during a forum – where a conclusion was made: the 21st century urbanism is always beautiful, safe and comfortable, while multi-storied condominiums bring respiratory diseases, criminal rates and questionable architecture, which needs to be rid of.

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “Its clear that these changes would not happen overnight, all of a sudden. Its clear that concrete jungles, without a single tree in the courtyard and no parking spaces, will still be built for some time. What’s important is that there’s understanding that such quarters must be made obsolete. That these concrete monsters are living their last days. And comfortable environment will inevitably replace them”.

These plans were fulfilled in the “Nevskaya Ratusha” project, located in the Central area, on the site of an abandoned tramway park. 24 state offices will move here in 2015. Businesses are gradually leaving the city center, freeing up the Nevskiy Prospekt from traffic jams. In its battle to improve quality of living St. Petersburg raced ahead of Moscow, after having been compared with it in 16 categories.

Mariya Sigova, head researcher at International Banking Institute: “Its evident that incomes are higher in Moscow. But in terms of social infrastructure, St. Petersburg is ahead of Moscow. That means situation with kindergartens, schools, sports clubs is better here”

It turned out that there are less traffic jams, cleaner air and restaurants are more accessible in St. Petersburg too. Even Muscovites are flocking here to look for better quality life.

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “But the most surprising fact is that St. Petersburg has a striking potential to increase living quality. Industrial belt makes up 40 percent of the city. All these abandoned plants and factories can be found in the majority of the city’s areas. Like here – at the outskirts of the Obvodnyi Canal. Or, to the contrary, such architectural monuments of the industrial style, which were made into residential homes and hotels in London about 20 years ago”.

It also emerged that residents of St. Petersburg have a higher life-loving and compassion coefficients. Not a surprise at all, that the fate of the Zoo was decided by the whole city. It will eventually be moved to the outskirts of the city, to a much larger territory, but the small garden will remain at “Gorkovskaya”.

And compassion was shown in full swing in regards to the refugees from Ukraine, which came to St. Petersburg. Its worth recalling the story of Zhenya Ezekyan – infant from Slavyansk.

Viktorya Ezekyan, Zhenya’s mother: “Thank you all so much! We are helped a lot. Such a wave of compassion”

Sanctions. Those could not have gone unnoticed for St. Petersburg, because the city has many military production factories. But it was here as well that the abovementioned love of life and optimism were shown.

Mikhail Podvyaznikov, CEO “Almaz-Antey”: “But – to some extent – its good, because we will relief ourselves of oil prices dependence and develop our industry”

Sanctions and embargo have affected small businesses. But restaurants didn’t close – chefs simply altered their menus. Shops found new suppliers. Unstable exchange rate forced many to cancel their New Year trip to Helsinki, but shelves of electronics stores were emptied in no time. Many invested into brands, which they had never even considered. Some just waved it off, being philosophical.

The only event which really didn’t leave a single opinion-less person, having changed St. Petersburg straight away – the relocation of the Aurora battleship into repair docks. Today, only lonesome beacons and a gigantic ice hole remind of what used to be the permanent docking spot. But in 2016, the ship number one will return to its place.

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “Certainly, these are the most visible examples of changes which happened this year. It is particularly noticeable for us – TV workers. The TV center at Chaplygina 6 is not far from here. And every time when one makes a turn to the Petrovskaya embankment, he sees this perspective, which is hard to get used to. But visible changes do not exclude the less-visible ones, to understand which one has to listen to the city. The city which doesn’t speak much”