Developers Pass The Baton To Planners

Mark Gay

An ad hoc poll of friends revealed that shopping in Moscow is not one of life's simple pleasures.

They complained of the need to carry winter coats in overheated shopping centers and one used the unattractive word, "sweaty". They moaned about queues for changing rooms and the lack of clear maps and signposting. Even worse, they said, was to travel on a crowded metro with shopping bags or the need to haggle with illegal taxi drivers who insist that bags cost extra. "Where are the taxi ranks and why can't you order a taxi to the shopping center?" asked one friend. Many often chose to shop online.

Yet the Russian consumer is the great hope of the commercial real estate sector. Even as the economy slows, average growth still outstrips mature western markets. Russians spend the greater proportion of their disposable income on food and consumer goods. The amount of retail space to 1,000 inhabitants has room to grow. See our review of retail on page 8.

 Developers are becoming more creative, moving away from cookie-cutter malls with identical brands. VTB Arena Park, which comprises the site of the Dynamo soccer stadium and Petrovsky Park, in September, won the European Property Awards for best mixed-use development and best public services development. Head of VTB Arena Park, Andrey Peregudov, said the development could create a new district, changing the city's center of gravity. And it includes a new metro station. Interview with VTB Park's Andrey Peregudov on page 14.

2013 has seen huge changes in other big cities. Kazan hosted the international university games, the Universiade, and showed off the infrastructure of its new transport system. In less than 100 days, the country will unveil what is effectively the new resort of Sochi and Rosa Khutor. Such projects show that planners and developers understand that attracting visitors, and helping them move around, is the key to persuading them to spend money.

Retailing is not just about islands of consumerism, however attractive the shopping center. Pedestrians need shops and shops need passers by. The Danish architect and proponent of livable cities, Jan Gehl, said Moscow's main shopping street, Tverskaya Ulitsa, has fewer than 20,000 pedestrians on a summer weekday, a fraction of London's Oxford Street. Presenting his findings to planners, Jan Gehl said few cities treated pedestrians so badly (page 28).

Moscow's mayor this year adopted many recommendations from international specialists in urban landscape — not even waiting for their official reports: streets were pedestrianized, benches replaced cars on the sidewalks, and stands of bicycles to rent appeared across the city.

Moscow city government is beginning to realize that more roads and cars are not the answer: In October it acknowledged that the poor siting of shopping centers or inadequate infrastructure is making traffic problems worse.

Developers have shown what they can do. They have passed the baton to city planners.