SEPTEMBER 21, 2017

Sverdlovsk region authorities annually report about almost 2 million square meters of housing erected in the region. Yekaterinburg accounts for about a half of those numbers. At the same time, purchasing power remains low, and many developers face difficulties marketing residential estate. Why are we building so much? Are many new square meters always good for the city? Timur Abdullaev, the founder of ARCHINFORM architectural bureau, gives his expert opinion on this, to 'It's my city' informational portal.
Why set performance targets on new housing introduction? There are several reasons for that. The sphere of construction on a federal level is crucial, it is a whole industry of economics, which generates workplaces, supports auxiliary manufacturing (for instance, construction materials production). It's a locomotive, moving at a certain speed. Stopping or slowing down would affect adjacent industries. Besides, construction is one of the most lucrative areas for investment.

Meanwhile, main tax payments from construction go into federal budget, not in the municipal one. But mass construction requires extensive co-investment. Developers build and sell square meters, and the local budget should contribute money into developing the infrastructure (roads, transport, schools and kindergartens) in new districts. This is done according to the masterplan, planning projects and other documents. And here a question arises: can the city afford this number of meters?
Actually, where does the necessity in such volumes come from? Population is increasing slowly: in Yekaterinburg, growth rate is approximately 1% per year. Redistribution of population from suburbs and villages to cities continues, but not at such rates as it used to. If we talk about demand, which is generated by the desire to improve living conditions, what is its volume?

Working as an architect, I see technical requirement specifications and realize that many developers still rely on a large number of small flats.

However, a city is not just square meters, a city is, primarily, its people.

And we have to stop and think: by creating such volumes of cheap housing who does the city attract, what is it turning into?
Nowadays, there's competition between cities over attracting citizens with high demand for quality of life: qualified specialists, business people, academics. This creates the basis for economic growth in cities. If we create a large amount of cheap housing, we are surely not solving this task, and we are not forming a quality urban environment.

Equally important is where exactly we are building today. Compactability is good for urban development, because it provides high concentration of resources per square meter (the quality of improvements, saturation of service industries, short links between infrastructure facilities). Take Moscow for example – it continues surrounding itself with new transport rings and because of commuting the city is strangling itself. At what price can Moscow solve these problems? Creating separate remote districts drains public city resources for their development, which is always more expensive than developing a plot in the city center. But quite often plots in the city center are problematic from the viewpoint of property rights, they are 'loaded' with the necessity to redevelop industrial zones. The question is how to find balance. For a developer, it is easier to develop a remote area, but it is more expensive and more difficult for the city. What should be prioritized: increasing the quality of life in the city or the opportunity to develop new areas?

Urban development is not a blessing in itself. It is clear even by the terms. 'Development' means 'evolution', but in Russian the main meaning is 'building up'.

Yekaterinburg, within its existing boundaries, has great potential for internal development.
Architectural and planning context of many areas can become key to their successful development. But quite often, under the banner of renovation, there's a bulldozer driving in front of a Russian developer, destroying the history, the identity and the value of the area. This is what we need to seriously rethink, in order to pay more attention to European experience.

A city is a continuous search for balance between private and public interests.

One can start with the basics: why do people live in the city? They often say that cities are severely polluted, dirty, crowded, but they still move into the city. People just love this density around them. But to a certain end. Then, it all depends on the way community living rules are written. These rules are the search for balance between the private and the public.
In this respect, Yekaterinburg is daring and even spiteful. Commercial development here is very active, and sometimes even at the expense of public interests. But this is a two-way street. The city is mostly developing due to private funding anyway, which is, more often than not, invested into housing and commercial estate with short-term payback. Development gives the city dynamics and renewal. If we suppose that the priority is achieving public goods, in which business invests less willingly due to the lack of payback, then how should the city attract investment to evolve?

This is, probably, a question of smart politics of administrative regulation. In my understanding, city administration should be one of the main developers; it should form long-term projects for urban development in the interests of all citizen categories. While private funds should act as co-investors and partners in urban development. The system of private – state partnership should be enhanced; we cannot rely on business's social responsibility and think that private funds will solve all public problems. This has never happened anywhere in the world.
Author: Timur Abdullaev
Source:, It's my city