APRIL 16, 2019

«THE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE CITIES CAN FIGHT FOR ARE THE PEOPLE»

TIMUR ABDULLAEV EXPLAINS WHY YEKATERINBURG NEEDS UNIVERSIADE AND OTHER MEGA-EVENTS
Yekaterinburg is bidding for hosting the 2023 Universiade. Last week, the governor of Sverdlovsk region Yevgenyi Kuivashev discussed the agreement about holding the Universiade in the Ural capital with the President of the International University Sports Federation and the Secretary General of FISU. However, the final decision about the city that is going to host the event will be known only in July. For now, according to the plan, the event can be held in the VIZ district, where the area had long been reserved for important international events, including EXPO 2025 which we already lost. A village with 11 thousand residential units can be built in the district, along with the track-and-field arena, a football pitch, a water sports palace, a delegation center, and the corresponding sports and service facilities. Timur Abdullaev, former Chief Architect of the city and the leader of ARCHINFORM bureau, who is connected both with EXPO and the Universiade, talks about the effect that such mega-events have on a city. Earlier, his bureau worked on the concept for the international exposition, and now they are working on a comprehensive development project for VIZ district and carrying out a city-planning evaluation of Universiade facilities location.
The phenomenon of mega-events was described by urbanists a long time ago as a powerful driver of urban development. Of course, the process has both advantages and disadvantages. Someone, for instance, may grumble about the fact that a large influx of people will hamper life in the city for duration of the event. On the other hand, there are obvious upsides. First, it's the opportunity to attract investments, including those from the federal budget, to large-scale projects that cannot be implemented with the resources of city and regional budgets. It's not a coincidence that federal authorities often announce different cities and regions for holding large-scale events. This was the case with Sochi, where the Olympic Games took place, with Kazan and Krasnoyarsk – the cities of Universiade. Similar events help Russian cities and regions to catch up with the adequate international level, including the level of comfortable living, because organizing large-scale events inevitably leads to the need in solving issues related, for instance, with transport infrastructure, service industries and land improvement.
A recent example is the World Cup, several games of which took place in Yekaterinburg in summer 2018. As part of the preparation for this event, a lot has been done for the city, and although many had, probably, expected a bigger influx of investments, some positive changes were obvious. The whole planning core around the Central Stadium has livened up, in particular, the issue of Lenina – Tatishcheva intersection has been resolved.

What is even more important is that fact that the World Cup has changed the citizens' perception and self-esteem, has given Yekaterinburg the feeling of integration into the worldwide events. I often say that a city is not just a bunch of buildings and the material environment, the city means people. People who resonate and create social activity around them, give impetus to the development of urban environment.

And if people change their perception and the level of requirements to the quality of living, they change their attitude towards their surroundings and start forming a different social demand for a new quality of urban environment. For this, people need to believe that significant changes can happen here and now. This feeling comes with experience of organizing large-scale events, and this is what some federal programs are working on right now, including the 'Comfortable urban environment' program.
One argue the current position of Yekaterinburg in the rating of Russian cities. Is it third, fourth, fifth? But it's obvious that this is one of the most dynamic and ambitious cities in the country. Yekaterinburg has a very high level of social capital, the level of inner social demand within the city. This gives makes us confident that Yekaterinburg is able to host such large-scale event as the World Cup or the Universiade; and that the active part of the city's community will perceive it in a positive way.

Obviously, there are skeptical ones. Among other things, about the volume of financing the city will receive in reality, not on paper. I think city and regional authorities should have a clear and strong position when they present the development plans on the federal level. We have the example of Kazan before us, where the influx of federal financing is much higher than in Yekaterinburg. And the number of junctions and parks being built, the rate of reconstruction of the street network show that this is not just a pipedream. The question is how well the investment projects are prepared, how justified they are. That's why I believe that there is a chance, I'm sure that with the right preparation and efforts on the part of regional and city authorities Yekaterinburg can attract significant federal finance for different projects of urban environment development, road reconstruction, underground constructions and parks improvement.

The ideology of the Universiade is close to Yekaterinburg. We are talking primarily about student sports, and it would be logical to analyze which Russian million-plus cities have strong positions in terms of higher education formation: the number of museums, the number of students, appropriate university facilities. In Yekaterinburg, there is the Ural Federal University, one of the biggest in Russia, a powerful educational center for the whole region. Discussions the issue of holding the Universiade in the city involve the UrFU. Hosting the competitions will let the institution get additional funding for the development of its infrastructure, not only for sports. In particular, the construction of a new student campus is planned, which can be used for accommodating the sportsmen during the competitions. Let's not forget that the issue of constructing a campus for the UrFU students has been discussed for a long time now; once, the area in Shartash was under consideration.

We should understand that a university is one of city-forming enterprises. All over the world, the presence of strong universities is always a powerful driver of urban development, because this means potential influx of intellectual residents, and an increase in the level of social capital. The most valuable thing for cities to fight over is the number of residents. In this case, the 'education – city' link is excellent, high quality, appropriate and it should be developed and supported.
Now, our bureau is working on the evaluation of development opportunities for city areas, in view of the prospect of hosting the Universiade. The area in the VIZ district is currently being discussed, which had been previously reserved for the EXPO international exposition and for which the bureau had also prepared a development concept as part of the international competition, and even won the second prize for it. For many years, the rate of Yekaterinburg's development in the western direction has been artificially repressed, because, according to the masterplan, a significant area in the district was reserved for large-scale events. Maybe now the Universiade will become such an event that will revitalize development of the whole district, not just those properties that will be directly used during the competitions.
Source: IMC
Photo: Yaromir Romanov/Znak.com, official website of the park in Sochi