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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Free to Build Dachas, Not Blight Land

It is hard to talk about development planning or regulation in the Moscow region because it seems that so little of it exists. And where there are rules, these are made irrelevant by the fact they are not enforced. So the city's latest plan to crack down on the dacha boom on Serebryany Bor deserves applause. It is, of course, early days, granted that the city has only just signed a new plan and that hundreds of similar municipal regulations make it onto the books but never into reality. But there is reason for hope in the case of Serebryany Bor, namely that city officials such as Mayor Yury Luzhkov have a stake in protecting the tranquility of their own dachas. That also, unfortunately, means that this rare decision to enforce a little rational planning is cause for despair. The entire Moscow region needs regulation so that the current anarchic spread of dachas, regardless of environmental, sewage, transport or any other considerations can be checked. That the privileged Serebryany Bor was chosen for special treatment suggests that this may not be the start of a new trend, but more a continuation of the well-established Soviet practice of protecting the playgrounds of the powerful from undue development or pollution. Enforced planning regulations are needed all around Moscow. Whether they are palaces or glorified shacks erected on the tiny plots that Muscovites received from the state to grow vegetables, the geometric mulitiplication of dachas is a menace. Worse, it is a profitable menace for the regional planners -- who have to be bribed -- and for the architects and builders who are doing such a booming trade, meaning that it will be tough to erase. But this is one area that governments in developed market economies never leave free. Without a measure of control, municipal authorities cannot ensure that sewerage, power, water and roads are in place for the new constructions -- and the resulting mayhem can prove disastrous for the environment. Building infrastructure, however, is less profitable for local officials. But again, Luzhkov -- who is not responsible for most dacha growth, which is taking place in the region rather than the city of Moscow -- has hit on the right idea in Serebryany Bor. As harsh as it may be for tenants who have for years been paying low rents in the area, people living in government-owned dachas should be forced to pay market-level rents for their properties, and the proceeds should be used to build infrastructure. Ultimately, of course, the government should not depend on rents for the income it needs to maintain this island of privilege. Rather it should levy a property tax on all buildings there -- but one step at a time.