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The sky above St. Petersburg. Ways to conceal the cables


Lighting, electricity, telephones, internet, TV, r adio. A huge web of cables has grown over St. Petersburg. Is it possible to revert back to the “postcard” outlook for the city? And how? Maksim Oblender found out


Maksim Oblender, reporter: “This song is definitely about St. Petersburg. A miracle city, with a web of cables and tin rooftops. At least I’ve always known it like that. The rooftops have always had this reddish overtone, and cables have always accompanied me wherever I went. Home to work, work to home – they’ve always been looking at me from above”

Lighting, electricity, telephones, internet, TV, radio – a huge web of cables has grown over my city. But this can change – thanks to the “Clear Sky” project. A number of streets in St. Petersburg will be cleared from cables, starting with the main avenue – Nevskiy.

Felix Kasatkin, director of SUV “ATS Smolnogo”: “Yes, we really are building underground cables – because there’s too much fiber wire communication for collective use. All in all, we’ve had to lay around 15 kilometers of fiber wire. Those are two cables from Vosstaniya to Nevskiy and 10 underground crossings of the cables under the avenue”

The intertwining underground network is this line on the map. All that to conceal 222 cables – that’s how many cross Nevskiy today. Their overall length is more than 10 kilometers – twice longer than the avenue itself! The first cables to go underground would be the ones belonging to the city. Those are the minority. 47 network operators are yet to be persuaded.

Dmitry Petrov, director of a cell network operator: “The price-quality correlation for the internet services in Russia is much cheaper than in developed countries. And this is achieved mostly because network providers lay the cables in this cheap but unattractive way. The access to the underground – which belongs to the state – involves much more red-tape and is much more expensive”

The cheapest unlimited plan in St. Petersburg would cost 300-350 rubles. That’s 5-6 dollars a month. And that’s for average internet speed. But the same plan would cost 40-50 dollars in Japan or Spain. Almost ten times more expensive. Network operators in St. Petersburg pay approximately three thousand rubles per kilometer of rented cable space above ground. Renting underground space would cost 6-7 thousand. Internet providers warn – us, ordinary users, will have to pay for the “Clear Sky”. Internet tariffs will become more expensive.

Trolley cables also disrupt the skyline at Nevskiy. The city’s transport committee has already boasted new cars – the ones which can drive for several kilometers without contact cables. Its still unclear, however, when exactly we shall see those on the avenue. Its clear though that at least a third of internet cables will be gone from Nevskiy by April. This is the first stage of the plan.

Concealing the cables is part of a global trend. Paris and London are getting rid of those. Even streets of Singapore do not look as Asian as those of Bangkok anymore. Talking about domestic examples to follow, our urbanists cite Moscow’s experience. Things are also looking good at the newer parts of St. Petersburg.

Sergey Mityagin, director of design and urbanistic institute at ITMO: “In the 1980s, districts were built with allocated collector areas. Roads, parks and only then residential buildings. And the parks had underground collectors built together with them”

Together with Dmitriy the Digger we are going down one of those collectors. To see the state of these cables underground.

A pipe is leaking close to the stairs. Knee-deep in cold water. But it’s at some distance to the cable. Walking further – and its dry here. Cables go deep inside the darkness of a kilometer-long tunnel.

  • Is it like this everywhere?

Dmitriy Kostenko, digger:

  • No, not everywhere. There are bare walls and pipes. Sometimes there are also wires.

  • Is this how cables should look like?

  • Usually, its closer to the ceiling. I’ve never seen one laying on the floor

So it is realistic to conceal part of the cables underground. However, any person can get access to that – through a vent. With different purposes. Judging by writings on the walls, there has not been any entrance restrictions here for a while. But let’s get back on the ground.

At dusk, cables look best in a shot. They can produce a reflection, or would give one a great shot of birds sitting on top of them. But it’s a rare case when Andrey is happy when he sees these black lines in his viewfinder.

Andrey Strelnikov, photographer: “It depends on a task. If you are shooting an urbanistic landscape – cables look fine. But if you want to film something pretty or postcard-ish, you would have to remove the cables in post-processing”

The sky above St. Petersburg would not become clearer straight away. Even at the first stage of the program – to hide 10 kilometers of cable underground – would take days of negotiations and regulating, as well as works above and under the ground. So today, the only way to see the real “Clear Sky” above St. Petersburg – is to follow photographers’ example.