JUNE 22, 2016

YEKATERINBURG SHOULD CHOOSE ITS WAY

TIMUR ABDULLAEV ON THE STRATEGY OF URBAN SPATIAL DEVELOPMENT AND PRIORITIZING
Timur Abdullaev, Chief Architect of Yekaterinburg, the founder of ARCHINFORM architectural bureau, has told 'It's my city' about the strategy of spatial urban development: what is it for, who, and how, is going to develop it, and why does Yekaterinburg risk making a lot of mistakes without it?
What is a spatial development strategy and what is it for?

This topic became relevant to us last year, when we actively studied world experience on designing spatial development strategies in other cities. Last year the master plan was updated (before that, the masterplan of 2004 had been in action. – ed. note). Obviously, the city has transformed dramatically. And it hasn't always been developing according to those projections and plans that were determined by the previous masterplan. The city's area has grown almost by half, the housing stock, according to the updated 2015 masterplan, should have doubled. The main problem is that the infrastructural development of the city is obviously way behind. If developers introduce new residential blocks, the city should provide roads, public transport systems, kindergartens and schools for them. Investment volume in the field of construction is very big. Last year Yekaterinburg got about two million square meters of new areas, approximately a million of residential and a million of nonresidential square meters. The market is developing very actively, but the city, as a co-investor, is simply unable to fulfill all the compulsory social obligations to the citizens in such volumes. That's why we need to balance urban development by defining the priorities.
It is obvious that some directions of urban development become unprofitable and even harmful. This leads to the situation when citizens don't get those amenities from the city which they are entitled to. That's why we need to define certain urban development vectors. Researching spatial development strategy helps define the priorities, according to different factors. Take, for instance, Akademicheskyi district, which is now actively developing, but doesn't have any sustainable transport system, which leads to negative factors and causes misunderstanding from the public. All these things should be balanced. If the city makes a decision to develop certain areas, it has to be supported by certain plans. Rather on the contrary. The city's plans in their infrastructural development should be the basis for developers' actions.

But if there is a strategical development plan for Yekaterinburg, then it can be simply updated?

That's right. Over the past few years, Yekaterinburg has been developing quite successfully. Our city has really achieved some good results in comparison with other cities with population over one million people. But any strategy defines the vision from the viewpoint of a certain time period. When this period is over, one can analyze which goals have been achieved, which directions have developed despite this strategy or in slight inconsistency with it. Early this year, Aleksandr Yakob, the head of city administration, signed an act on updating the strategy for social and economic development, and simultaneously on designing a spatial development strategy, because the existing strategy does not include any directions such as spatial urban development. We all understand that we can monitor different indicators, but what a citizen physically faces directly is the urban space. All strategic directions in the field of transport, ecology, science and education, culture and business, healthcare should contain a spatial ingredient. That's why now, on the one hand, we are compensating the missing part of this plan and, on the other hand, trying to look at all the strategical directions and projects through the prism of spatial urban development.

Do other Russian cities already have such strategies? Have they been accepted? Or are they in progress?

Russian cities see active work done on developing strategies of both social and economic, and spatial development. But, as far as I know, there are no accomplishments and finalized results yet.

So, we'll be the first ones?

Perm has had experience with masterplan creation. But it was earlier and looked a little different. At some moment, the city really had a finished masterplan, which actually represented a strategy for spatial development. One of its problems was the fact that the strategy, formulated as a masterplan, had little correlation with the strategy of social and economic development. The success of spatial development depends on several factors, on the consistency of documents, on achieving general understanding and agreement in society regarding urban development direction. Because a strategy is a document of public consent, where business, authorities and society has reach agreement in their general understanding of the city's development. It is crucial for the values of the strategy to become personal values for all the participants of the process.
Do Moscow and Saint Petersburg not have such strategies?

As far as I know, no finalized ones.

What about the experience of cities around the globe?

Global cities have a vast experience. Many European cities have defined development strategies. They are quite different because cities prioritize based on their competitive advantages and vision of their future. Some cities bet on becoming the center of service industry. Others exploit recreation locations. Still others aspire to become the best business centers. And for Yekaterinburg, we should answer the same question.
We'll have to prioritize?

Definitely, there should be good ecology, good transport accessibility, and developed work places, and living should be comfortable and safe. But we should choose a vector of what will be our priority. Then we can really get some directed motion. Because if we say we want everything to be good and call it our goal, we'll never get anywhere.
In what cities adopting such a strategy has changed life for the better?

There are many examples. For instance, London. It has been without strategy for a long time and now they have started thinking about it, although this is an example of a rather well-developed metropolis. At a certain point the strategic question arose: how do we want to live in the future? Historically, cities develop based on various documents of spatial planning: masterplans, land use and development regulations. But all of them mainly regulate quantitative indicators – they are all instruments. A strategy is a vision of direction and goal-setting.
Will this strategy be developed not only by the Mayor's office clerks?

We want it to be developed not only by the Mayor's office clerks, but by all the citizens included in the process. City administration becomes the catalyzer of this process and its integrator. We really want to get maximum public involvement. In particular, I'd like to announce the launch of a project called '100 thoughts about Yekaterinburg'. The task is to detect active urban groups and communities and define partners among the biggest market players in the city in the fields of science, culture and business. It could be universities, professional communities and so on.
Do you want to bring them together?

We want to initiate public discussions on several platforms. Of course, in order to make people think about something they have never thought of before, we need to involve them somehow and immerse them into the topic. And for this, we are really planning to participate ourselves, by inviting experts and holding a series of lectures. This should result in a kind of a workshop. Then all the groups will carry our small research on what the strategic goals of urban development are for them; and we are going to work with that.
How long will this process take? When can we read the finalized strategy?

We have already conducted a series of expert sessions. We have working discussions within administration and public events for everyone interested. The next step will be expert session, which we want to conduct in August. Then the '100 thoughts about Yekaterinburg' project. We are planning to finalize the concept for the spatial development strategy by the beginning of October.

But all these groups will still have mutually excluding perceptions regarding a perfect city? You've said that the current strategic plan simultaneously states that Yekaterinburg is the city for pedestrians and the city for drivers. So, there's a choice to make…


Definitely. But a strategy is still a document of common agreement, which is reached on the basis of consensus. It is obvious that there are issues that require changing people's psychology. In this case, people simply need to be persuaded by examples. We all understand that it's getting increasingly difficult to drive to the city center. And we hear car-owners demanding more parking spaces… if we continue prioritizing cars, we will force pedestrians out of the city. And this is, obviously, wrong. We need to encourage people to forego personal transport when visiting the city center. All modern European cities follow this path. The priority is given, firstly, to pedestrians, secondly, to public transport, and, finally, to cyclists. Vehicles are given specially limited space, which makes it possible for them to enter the city center, but by far not everyone will want to. At the same time, of course, we need to make public transport more convenient and more comfortable; its system has to be optimized and its vehicle stock should be modernized.

Drivers say, 'We would use public transport if it was up to the standards, but for now – sorry, no'.

Now it is impossible to force car owners to switch to battered tramways, which we have to wait for over 20 minutes. If we set a goal now, we'll have to achieve it in several directions. The issue of new vehicle stock will have to be addressed, road network should be optimized, and road construction will have to focus more on organizing the public transport system. Tramways will get a priority lane, not to be stuck in traffic jams any more. This is exactly what a strategy is for.
And those trends which we live by today, do they coincide with our goals?

Trends don't always coincide with the goals that we set. This is what's important: having set certain goals, we have to act according to certain rules. For example, it's obvious that it's not only unprofitable but harmful for the city to develop remote areas.

But what to do with Bigger Yekaterinburg?

This is a slightly provocative issue because the topic of Bigger Yekaterinburg is actually being discussed but less actively. I think that the development strategy for the region is a sum of urban development strategies. And at this level, any agglomeration process is bottom-up. This process is objectively economical, and it depends on real factors, not simply on administrative decisions. 'Agglomeration' is quite an ephemeral term, and one cannot assign tight economic integration – it happens gradually and naturally.

But if the decision is made to merge Verkhnyaya Pyshma and Berezovskyi with Yekaterinburg, will the strategy have to be rewritten anew?


I think that such a decision cannot be made without the consent and participation of Yekaterinburg.
Are you against it?

I suppose, nobody is against integration with adjacent cities, if this is good for all the participants. New projects emerge. For example, the construction of a new tramway line to Verkhnyaya Pyshma. It is doubtlessly good for everyone. But if we force integration with a city, with which no such processes are currently going on, nothing will happen. It will be simply a declaration.

Let's focus on several specific projects. How is the competition for the new Square 1905 project developing?

The idea remains, and we will certainly run this competition. We understand that it is not exactly right to have a permanent open parking on the central city square. Ideally, we need to organize an underground parking space, and give the aboveground space to people. It wouldn't be right to turn the square into a public garden, because it is also used for cultural mass events. At the same time, simply removing the parking without giving anything in return would also be wrong.
Will the parking remain until the World Cup?

It depends on when we can run the competition.

Let's talk about 'Passage'. You are a consistent critic of this shopping center. I understand that we'll have to live with it now anyway. Can it be integrated somehow into the urban environment? For example, are any changes envisaged for the public garden?

There are a lot of issues, and it's true that 'Passage' is already built, whether we like it or not. The existing improvement in front of it requires rework. We are not discussing the aesthetics of these objects now. It was once presented as an idea of a square with red maple trees. And maybe, when the trees grow, it will look a little different. But it's too early to say. It would be good to improve the part of Vainera Street, Teatralnyi Street and Bankovskyi Street, and the area in front of the underground entries. As we've been talking about improvement on a much wider territory while discussing concepts with developers. The issue of organizing a tramway stop on Lenina Street has also been discussed. These documents exists as concepts, but I hope they will somehow be further implemented in real life.
I can't help asking about the church on water. Do you like this project?

I personally don't support such ideas.

Should this project be reviewed by the Urban Council?


It is mandatory for such projects to be reviewed by the architectural urban council, and, what's more, I think that such projects should be a topic of some public discussion and dialog with the citizens.

Can the location of the church, for instance, be somehow changed in the course of a meeting?

I'm not ready to answer such questions, that's what the Urban Council is for – to work out solutions and provide professional assessment.

Last year you announced the project of a pedestrian zone on Tolmachyova Street from the 'Salut' cinema to Malysheva Street. Will this 'cinema alley' idea be implemented someday?

This idea still exists, but it hasn't got any material continuation yet. I know that Sergey Fedyakov, director of the 'Salut' cinema, is very interested in this topic and ready to do a lot for this idea to be implemented. It's a good topic for architectural competitions. It is crucial for possible public urban spaces to have meaning. Sometimes the city finds opportunity to improve an area, but people still don't use it properly, because it doesn't have any significant meanings. First, we need a scenario, and then we can implement it.
Source: It's my city
Photo: Znak.com
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