FACE TO FACE

Sergey Levkin:

The right time to live in Moscow

Head of the Moscow Department of Urban Planning Policy answered our questions in an exclusive interview with Capital Ideas

Mr. Levkin, what does the phrase “liveable city” mean? Does Moscow fall into this category? If so, could you tell us why?

The phrase “liveable city” is more than just a handy term. It has a specific definition. In our opinion, it means the following: a mobile city, in which pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and people who use public transportation all move around freely and comfortably. It’s a city with a comfortable urban environment, in which there is a balance between public and historical spaces. It’s a city with good healthcare and effective environmental practices, a city with high-quality, accessible pre-school, school, and professional education. I can’t say that Moscow meets all of these requirements one hundred percent, but we are working on it and have a clear plan to follow. We have a goal – to transform the capital into a modern metropolis that people don’t want to leave and are always happy to come back to.

Could you tell us about the Moscow’s state program called “Urban Development Policy.” What is the goal of the program? How many years will it take to complete?

This state program plays a decisive role in the development of the city, coordinating all programs in the sphere of urban development. It was first implemented five years ago, and this year the program was extended until 2019. The main goal of the program is to make Moscow a convenient, comfortable city for everybody. Moreover, its implementation will eliminate many administrative barriers, as well as coordinate the activities of government bodies and investors for the purpose of overcoming the territorial imbalances in the development of a social and transportation infrastructure.

Does the program take foreign experience in urban development into account? If so, which cities have you looked at? Can you give any examples of techniques borrowed from foreign cities?

Of course we take it into account. We rely on experience from CIS countries as well as countries that lead the World Bank’s business ratings in the “Obtaining Building Permits” category.

It is a widely known fact that the Moscow metro system is one of the most developed in the world. However, it’s not equally accessible to all city residents. This is why expanding the metro system is one of our top priorities. Such a large-scale program requires us to engage leading foreign companies: some of the new metro stations are being constructed with the help of foreign technologies.

For example, Spanish designers worked on the stations along the Kozhukhovskaya metro line. A section of this metro line – from Nizhegorodskaya Ulitsya to Yugo-Vostochnaya metro station – will be constructed Spanish-style. One big tunnel will be built to accommodate two train lines going in opposite directions. This approach is used in Madrid. In Moscow, it will allow us to cut down on costs and complete the project sooner.

The metro system in Beijing is convenient and safe in many aspects: there’s no risk of falling on the subway tracks, there are a lot of information stands at every station. We plan to work with Chinese experts on the construction of several stations in Moscow.

We are going to borrow techniques from Japan in the development of our urban environment. Botanicheskiy Sad will be the first transport junction in Moscow to incorporate Japanese technologies into the design. A key feature of the project is combining the metro, trains, above-ground transportation and major highways into a single ecosystem.

We also implement a lot of foreign experience in the IT sector. We’re leaders in this sense, by the way. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Moscow is on par with tech leaders like New York, London, Barcelona, and Sydney. The use of information technologies by government bodies that are part of the Moscow Urban Planning Policy and Construction Complex has become one of the most important tools in upgrading the public administration systems in the construction sector. For example, a closed loop of electronic administrative procedures for every stage of the construction process has been created in the capital based on foreign experience. This saves the developers a lot of time and human resources, and therefore helps cut project costs.

What areas of the capital’s urban development would be particularly appealing to a foreign investor?

Foreign investors express a lot of interest in the implementation of various large-scale projects in Moscow: construction of the metro and transport interchange hubs, industrial parks, hotels, commercial and residential real estate. We have a lot of investors working in these spheres already. The city really has plenty of projects going on. For example, just the transportation hub project alone entails the construction of 169 facilities!

What are some distinctive features of the Moscow Agglomeration Development Concept in terms of urban planning? Does it make sense to turn Moscow and its neighboring regions into a separate subject of the Russian Federation?

The Moscow agglomeration is unique in terms of scale. It’s the largest in Europe and in the world’s top 20 in terms of population, which is about 20 million people. This is its most distinctive urban development feature. The Moscow agglomeration encompasses about half of Moscow Oblast and draws about half of the Central Federal District into its sphere of influence!

At the same time, Moscow is the only metropolis that does not have a unified management system for its agglomeration. Unlike cities like New York, London, and Paris, which are truly developing into city-regions and use a single management and strategic planning system beyond their administrative borders. Unfortunately, the fact that this isn’t happening in Moscow is part of our historical heritage. It gets in the way of resolving a lot of pressing issues, including transportation problems. Daily work commutes put a lot of pressure on the transportation system both outside the city and in Moscow.

However, unifying Moscow and the Moscow region into a separate federal subject is not a panacea for all of these problems. It makes more sense to focus on coordinating an integrated urban development of Moscow and the region, to strengthen cooperation between government bodies.

Is Moscow becoming so cosmopolitan that it’s losing its own special character? It seems the symbol of Moscow these days is Moscow City, not Arbat or the Moscow River.

I don’t think so. The city’s cultural heritage is very much respected. Most historical buildings and architectural monuments are in the city center, inside the Garden Ring. By the way, this isn’t a small territory. It’s similar in size to the center of London, which includes London City, Westminster and the West End. All construction and renovation projects are conducted in a way that doesn’t interfere with the unique characteristics of the city landscape

I’ll also point out that Moscow is preserving its distinct historical and cultural features, supplementing it with parks and pedestrian areas necessary for modern city residents. According to the urban planning strategy, a polycentric development model is being applied in the city. This model ensures that the historical center will be relieved of excessive concentration of jobs and business structures through the establishment of modern multifunctional centers in other districts of the city.

Moscow is developing very quickly, changing almost every day. What do you think the capital will look like in 10-15 years?

The city’s development depends on its status and functions. The most significant urban development projects in Moscow in the medium term are: the development of a street-road network, including the metro, the construction and development of a transfer hub network, the renovation of existing residential buildings, and the reorganization of industrial and manufacturing areas. All of these projects are aimed at creating a comfortable and modern urban environment, the establishment of a “liveable city.”

The development of the capital’s transportation network will allow us to establish a modern public transportation system, to synchronize all types of public transportation. It will be much more convenient and less expensive for Moscow residents to use public transportation.

This year, we are launching the implementation of a large-scale renovation project for residential areas. This program will set the city’s prospects for residential development for the next 20 years and will allow us to improve residential conditions in accordance with modern requirements. This will allow us to resolve the key task of Moscow’s urban development policy – the development of a comfortable living environment for all of the capital’s residents.

The development and reorganization of industrial and manufacturing areas will transform them into high-tech scientific clusters, public and business development areas, or modern residential quarters.

Our urban development policy aims to make Moscow one of the leaders among the world’s biggest cities in terms of comfort and standard of living.

 

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