MARCH 20, 2019

«THE RATE OF DECAY IS HIGHER THAN THE RATE OF RECONSTRUCTION»

TIMUR ABDULLAEV ABOUT THE SORE SPOTS IN MAYAKOVSKI PARK DEVELOPMENT
The search for Mayakovski Central Park of Culture and Recreation development perspectives is continuing in Yekaterinburg. Citizens have had many questions regarding the park's work recently. Timur Abdullaev, the leader of ARCHINFORM architectural bureau and the founder of the School of Chief Architect, reflects in his op-ed on the main sore spots of the park, the dangers of one-sided approach towards its development, and about the possible main investor for the comprehensive reconstruction of the main city recreational zone.
Now, a lot of attention is paid to the topic of reconstruction and development of Mayakovski Park. Representatives of different business circles, including developers, offer their scenarios. But, at the same time, when it comes to the development of such a landmark site, it's crucial for the discussion process to be not only as public and open as possible, but also to be based on the interaction between various city subjects and taking into consideration the interests of various categories of citizens. It should not turn into a design solution forced on the people.

The park falls into the zone of strategic focus of companies that develop the sites bordering the park area. However, like it or not, when the decision is made regarding the park's development, all of them will go primarily by their own commercial interest. For example, they will be inventing exclusive park entries for themselves, 'shoving' the infrastructure there, trying to use the park in justifying the lack of recreational space on their sites. At the same time, they will, obviously, bring forward their own suggestions regarding the park's improvement, which will most likely come down to developing some noncommittal concept solutions in the end. But it is highly unlikely that they will be ready and willing to bear real expenses on the park's improvement.

There's nothing bad, for instance, in the fact that a developer of Clever Park residential quarter, whose buildings adjoin the park, has reasons to think that it is in his interest to suggest an improvement project, as it will provide potential marketing effect and price growth to the property. But to what extent does this solution consider the interests of all the citizens is not clear yet; this is the case when the process is just as important as the result, the involvement of various city communities in the design and discussion is crucial.

Thus, the comprehensive task of the park's development requires more responsibility on the part of authorities in terms of making specific decisions that influence the site's future. Of course, there is always the temptation of shifting this responsibility onto someone else, for example, business. But in this case, it is far more important to consider the citizens' requests, which have been louder and louder recently, and the heat of discussion is rising.
I think the right way is to initiate a step-by-step work process which should start with public opinion analysis. For instance, the School of Chief Architect can become instrumental in this process. There is no direct commercial interest for any specific company on this platform. SCA is, obviously, not a design instrument, and a final design solution can hardly be formed there for such a large issue. But during the educational design workshops, an in-depth elaboration of the topic takes place, involving various subjects, extracting the values of area development, defining its sore spots. After that, the outline of what can and should happen to the park appear.

It is important to understand, in particular, what the balance of functions in this park should be like. I mean, for example, the degree of implanting capital facilities into the parks' infrastructure, the balance between free public functions and the commercial component. It would be good for the park to earn money for its maintenance, instead of simply sucking on the budget as an indefinitely subsidized project. Such examples, by the way, are already emerging in Russia. Gorky Park with its huge volume of investments has become the talk of the town, but there are examples even more like Yekaterinburg. For instance, Gorkinsko-Ometjevski Forest in Kazan, whose story is similar to that of Mayakovski Park. Input data includes a large parkland area close to bedroom districts, which initially had a transit pedestrian function: people from different areas of Kazan could cross the forest to get to other districts. But the authorities of Tatarstan decided to make this park a pilot demonstrative project. 'Project Group 8' was involved in working on the concept and it went to considerable lengths researching and processing public opinion. Now, Gorkinsko-Ometjevski Forest is a favourite recreational place filled with additional functions. A walking zone, a children playground, a ski base and an eco-enter have been organized there; interesting modern cafes have emerged; a parking space has been organized near the entrance.
In Europe there are also numerous interesting solutions. For example, Madrid Rio recreational park, which is located away from the center of Madrid and along the residential development. There is clear division into several zones with different functions, including jogging lanes along the park, an amphitheater, a sand beach, water zones with a swimming pool and fountains, an area for kayaking, a skate park, 11 playgrounds and 17 children playgrounds. The park is highly saturated, and no one is afraid this would kill its natural component. Overall, it is still a landscaped natural site with a large number of greenery, lawns and trees. Only there people can also use this nature.
My elaborations do not mean in any way that everything that is being done now in terms of Mayakovski Park is bad and wrong. However, I think that some things should be weighed up and evaluated. If we put the process on the right track, the site will win personal concern with the more people, and this is always the key to success in implementing the project, that is in the end we can get the result that will be shared by all and will catch on.

As the city resident and a professional in the field of city planning, I can name several obvious sore spots in Mayakovski Park.

First, the dystrophy of land improvement. The rate of dilapidation of the landscaped environment of the park exceeds the rate of its reconstruction.

Second, there is no clear strategic understanding of which part of the park should stay naturally landscaped and which should be more integrated into the urban environment.

Third, communication of the park with the city is disrupted. Now, there is no way of comfortable entering the park for anyone, there is no clear modern system of parking and transit spaces.

The fourth point of concern is the waterfront – a very valuable part of the park. Today the river is in such an awful state that people cannot tap this resource neither visually nor kinesthetically. But this is even a more complicated problem that should be dealt with separately.

The fifth point is the issue of functionality. I see two categories of people who use this park regularly, despite everything. These are families with children – because there is no other big park in the city with so many attractions. And people who live nearby and use the park for its transit function and do sports there.

Citizens perceive the park as a place to host mass cultural events. Last year a big precedent of the World Cup occurred, and a fan zone was organized in the park. As it turned out, with adequate logistics and transport organization, people are willing to spend time in the park, although such a remote fan zone raised concerns at first. Of course, not always such large-scale consolidating events occur, but one can arrange a large number of events that would unite people by groups of interest. For example, to create conditions for self-actualization of urban communities, to hold literary evenings, meetings and workshops of different clubs. This is what is now called event programming. In essence, it's when public life happens in public spaces instead of indoors. A park is what can accommodate many scenarios of public life.

Of course, there are also many accompanying materialistic issues when certain functions, at a certain level of load, require infrastructure such as arranging sufficient number of entries and exits, cafes, public toilets, rental points etc. But this is a next-step issue.

Of key importance is now the right notion of investment potential for the park, of the way investment dividends are determined and who will benefit from them. In my opinion, we should not put too much hope on separate developer companies, who will unexpectedly find substantial resources for the development of a public area. The city will unlikely find budget opportunities for such a big project either; or its implementation might take years.

In this case, big companies may be engaged in this work. For them, Yekaterinburg may be a zone of strategic interests, as an integrated development site. There are numerous examples from all over the world of situations when a big business invests substantial resources into city development counting on indirect effect rather than on direct commercial profit. This is investment into future generations, which will participate in the development of big companies later on. I am talking about an entirely different level of values, which are measured by ideology issues (healthy climate in the city, healthy spirit, and healthy upbringing). I believe that Yekaterinburg potentially has companies ready to support such ideology. If they seriously decide to invest into the park's development, taking into consideration requests of the residents who will eventually use the park, this can become a very successful precedent for the city.
Source: It's my city