Сity Planning in Europe's Largest City


2011 was a year of sweeping plans, as Mayor Sergei Sobyanin oversaw the start of a freeze on building in the city center and a project to more than double the size of Moscow's territory. City authorities are determined to tackle the capital's notorious traffic, aging housing stock and chaotic construction to raise the quality of life and, they hope, turn the city a world financial center. Andrei Sharonov, Moscow deputy mayor for economic policy, discussed these challenges with Alec Luhn during an interview with two journalists at the Moscow Urban Forum.

Moscow is still growing, and there's a major project to expand the city boundaries to the southwest. How fast is the population increasing, and in what areas will the city develop over the next five years?
Andrei Sharonov: I can say that currently the the general plan of 2010 is still in effect, and right now we're in a stage of preparing for its revision. Now the city has already ordered and is working on a strategy of development through 2025 and has ordered a plan on the development of the Moscow metropolitan area. After these two documents appear, we'll be able to talk about modifications to the general plan, which can define in what direction, at what tempo and with what density the city will grow. Right now it's hard to predict the exact population, because the last census counted a little more than 11.5 million residents, while estimates say the current population is about 15 million people owing to those who come to Moscow to work. For this reason, it's hard to say how quickly we'll grow, but it's understood that the political decision about the [city's] territory gives us chances for development, for the creation of new gravity centers for business and employers, as well as for the federal and Moscow governments.   

The challenge is to make public transport more comfortable, more prestigious and attractive, and to stimulate residents to make the transfer from their cars to public transport.

Many problems are associated with the megapolis. The first is transport. What solutions does this problem require?
AS: The main solution is the development of public transport. Today, the road network has such a low density compared with the number of residents, and compared with  examples set by other cities that are more successful in this regard, that the economically viable possibilities for its development, a so-called "affordable solution," are very few. For this reason, in many parts of Moscow, public transport is a rare solution, but in Moscow as a whole, it's the preferred solution. We're talking about developing city transport that's not street transport, so the subway first and foremost, extending it beyond the traditional boundary of Moscow, the MKAD, and organizing large transport hubs that will allow people who commute by car to Moscow from far away to leave their car and travel further on public transport. Otherwise, we'll be making separate lanes for passenger transport. This has already been started, maybe badly and not altogether discernibly, but it will develop, and bus traffic in these lanes will get smoother. The challenge is to make public transport more comfortable, more prestigious and attractive, and to stimulate residents to make the transfer from their cars to public transport.

Will we see paid parking in the city center?
AS: Of course. We are going to stimulate the creation of parking lots in every possible way, including paid ones. In fact, although we don't have a finalized economic model, it's obvious that we're going to use parking partly as a stimulant to leave cars far outside the center. In other words, I think a model that is used in some other cities is possible, one that escalates the price of driving in the center. Like in New York, parking in the center costs $29 an hour for the first hour, the second hour costs $1, and the third hour also costs $1. Stimulants are created to discourage you to drive into the center in your own car. I think we need to look attentively at [New York's] experience because without measures to develop parking and roads, we won't be able to solve the problems of traffic jams in the center.

There's another problem related to the construction of housing. Residential buildings are often built without parking spaces for the residents of these buildings, and there's also the problem that land in Moscow is very expensive. What is being done to make Moscow more livable?
AS: Worldwide practice shows that most often large, developed cities are expensive cities. It's understood that in Moscow, the rarest resource is land. There's not enough land, so to make it cheaper or not use it for the best use isn't right and causes incorrect stimuli in any sense of that word, in terms of attracting businesses that aren't able to pay for the high price of the land and the creation of correspondingly low-paying jobs that aren't economically viable on that territory. It's a consequence of the high attractiveness of and large interest toward Moscow as a place for investment and as a prestigious, interesting place to live.

Do you assume that prices will continue to rise?
AS: I assume that it's not likely we'll see a situation where land in Moscow will dramatically decrease in price. Although in some sense you could say that the lack of turnover and the obscurity of rules ... created a speculative tendency that led to the unjustified spike in the price of land. I think that it's important to remember here the stimulating role of taxes on assets and land, that possessing these expensive resources should be a burden, which will stimulate the best use of land by anyone who buys it in order to create some sort of business.

When will new construction be allowed in the center again?
AS: This is in fact a matter related to the general plan. It will only be allowed if the general plan anticipates such construction in the center, which I really doubt. We're talking about leaving developed, self-sustainable territory alone, as long as it's not a case of integrated development.  There's a type of work related to old blocks of five-story and nine-story apartment buildings that have already outlived their usefulness, and eventually or even now should be knocked down. This is a serious problem.

It's not a question of continuing the previ- ous model, where in the place of hous- ing we built 10 times more housing. It's a question of the targeted zoning of separate land plots.

If the five-story apartment buildings go, what will appear in their place? Will construction be even denser?
AS: No, it's not a question of continuing the model that was used previously, where in the place of housing we built 10 times more housing. It's a question of rules of land use and construction, it's a question of the general plan, which will determine the targeted zoning of separate land plots and the maximum amount of construction, if construction is allowed on those land plots.

Moscow also has a problem with trash, since a huge amount of trash is generated each year. In Europe, there are waste-processing systems. Moscow has the first pilot projects in place, but as a system, this still doesn't exist here. Will anything be done in this regard?
Unfortunately, we don't have any breakthrough solutions on this for now. Currently, Moscow is functioning in the same old way. We have a completely outdated situation in this area. Moscow works through a state unitary enterprise that receives huge subsidies from the city. The level of secondary processing is very low, the level of unsanctioned storage of garbage is fairly high, and for this reason the situation is bad in this sector. This is probably a job for the authorities, to do something in this regard.

The city has announced it would sell bonds to raise money for its development. Are these on sale yet, and will this be a primary source of funding for your projects?
AS: Currently, the city's debt comprises about ... 240 billion rubles ($8 billion). On the revenue side of the budget, there was 1.5 trillion rubles ($50 billion) for [2012]. In other words, [the debt] is a relatively small portion and is lower than all limits set by the federal authorities. The execution of the 2011 budget was done in such a way that we have funding sources to settle these debts, and we don't plan to enter the financial markets in 2012. To talk about the future, we're looking at such a possibility, but probably not before 2013. It depends in part on how successful and cumulative the realization of the investment program will be, because this year we didn't meet the level of investment that we foresaw when we planned the 2011 budget.

What was the reason for that?
AS: Well, the lack of project documentation. We can't start a lot of construction work because there aren't any projects. It's a question of time, it's a question of preparing land plots that aren't ready to use. [Another reason is] the demolition of buildings not being carried out; buildings aren't demolished to free up space for construction.

Is there any city that can serve as a model for Moscow?
No. There can't be, because as we heard at the conference, the experience of all cities is so different that there are a lot of prototypes, and different prototypes work or don't work for different situations, for different needs. Therefore, this is probably a matter of studying individual experiences and constructing our own combination of these instruments. Every city is unique, and we can't blindly copy the experience of one city. But we can say that in some cities, certain problems were solved successfully. Today we saw examples of these cities, Australian, European, American ones, but they started with different situations. The starting point for each of them was different. The traditions and beliefs were their own. Some believe more in the development of infrastructure, in bicycles, in the environment, some don't fear raising the congestion fee sharply and just strictly limiting transport coming in, some try to develop infrastructure so that transport comes into certain limited places. Some cities try to increase the amount of parking, others deliberately reduce it to discourage the use of automobiles as a matter of principle.