Moscow: Turning Europe’s Largest City into Eurasia’s World Class City

Posted July 3rd, 2012 at 6:01 am (UTC+0)

Moscow is easily at its best in the summer – lots of green, less traffic, stylish clothes, plenty of energy, and constant cultural stimulation

Last week, I attended a Moscow News round table on how to make Moscow a global city.

Traffic inches toward ‘Moskva City,” a cluster of highrises designed to be Russia’s new financial center. Last year, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein said Moscow’s traffic jams are the biggest obstacle to turning the capital into a financial hub. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Judging by my Sunday, Moscow is already there.

The afternoon started with Canada Day reception in the embassy garden; then over to Red October for a Russian photo show at Lumiere Brothers, followed by sushi and expresso with the bilingual curator; then around the corner to a photo show of Sergey Bratkov, a cutting edge Ukrainian photographer; then to the Arbat to pick my way through Russian and Italian tourists in search of a rumored protest; then to the Dome Theater for a French movie, Intouchables, with Russian subtitles up top and English subtitles down below; and finally two hours in front of a big screen, watching the Spain-Italy final of the Euro 2012 football cup, broadcast live from Kyiv. All stops connected by a Russian friend’s German-made BMW. During down time, skype calls to US and Brazil.

Sounds pretty international to me.
But, after living in Moscow for six years, I offer five quick tips on how to make it Moscow world class.

ENGLISH – Like it or not, for the foreseeable future, English is the world language.
To visitors, Moscow is a challenging landscape. And all the clues are written in Cyrillic.
The joke goes: after the 1980 Summer Olympics were over, all English signs were pulled out of the Metro so the spies would get lost.

Some Russians carry an allergy to English across the Atlantic. This sign advertises legal services in the Brighton Beach section of New York City. It would not pass the bilingual test in Quebec. Photo: Royston Rascals

Now it is the 5 million foreign tourists and business visitors who come to Moscow every year who get lost. They count out stations by number, praying they will reach their destinations.
Russians are not the only people in the world who are uneasy about public signs in English.
Quebec, the majority French-speaking province of Canada, has adopted rules for signs that just might work in Russia. In Quebec, by provincial law, all the letters in French words on commercial signs have to be twice as large as the letters for English words.
This law provides endless groaning among Quebec’s anglophones.
Language Police — “tongue troopers” to some — actually drive around with tape measures, measuring letters, photographing offending signs, and fining offenders.
Bottom line: the sign law keeps a French face on Quebec, but gives enough information to visiting Americans to keep the tourist dollars flowing.

METRO – At one stage in my life, I was the Mass Transportation Correspondent for The New York Times – a fancy job description for spending my days in New York subways and buses, bridges and tunnels. Having lived in New York and Tokyo and having visited London, Seoul and Paris, I confidently state that Moscow’s Metro is the best in the world.
The busiest in Europe, the Moscow metro carried 2.4 billion riders last year, almost 50 percent more than New York’s subway system.
But Moscow’s Metro has to get better.

Moscow metro last year carried almost as many passengers as London and Paris systems combined. Trains come every 90 seconds, but passengers still stack up. Photo: Christophe Meneboeuf

On weekdays, automobile congestion above ground is matched by people congestion below ground.
The metro system carries 7 million passengers every weekday, roughly twice its design capacity.
Headways – shoptalk for the time between trains – can be tightened from the current 90 seconds to 1 minute. More trains = more people moved through the same tunnels.
When crowds pool up in stations, attendants should encourage doubling up on the escalators. Health fanatics who want climbing lanes can go to yoga studios.
Embrace the middle class. Create convenient, low-priced car parks near suburban stations. Promote and advertise to middle class commuters — they are the drivers who clog city streets.
In Soviet Moscow, the red M stood out against a gray, dull landscape. Now it is lost, competing with a clutter of signs from pharmacies and fast food stores.
In Moscow of the future, the crimson M for Metro should be bigger than golden M for McDonald’s!

PARKING – Parking on sidewalks inside the Third Ring is Third World.
Sorry, but people in London, Paris, New York and Berlin do not park their cars on sidewalks.

25 empty parking spaces behind a new fence at Kutuzovsky Prospect 11 — could be a rational solution for the 25 cars parked on the sidewalk out front. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Inside the Third Ring is Moscow’s historic center. It should be a pleasant place to walk.
Cities change. People change.
Last year, I was back in Rio de Janeiro after a 15-year absence. A friend was driving me to lunch, searching in vain for a Sunday afternoon parking space near Copacabana Beach. The Moscow gremlin inside me piped up and said: “Park on the sidewalk, park on the sidewalk.”
My Brazilian friend sighed: “We stopped doing that 10 years ago. Big fines.”
In Moscow, it will take time for underground parking to be built.
Meanwhile, an inventory of free spaces can be made. We all know where they are. To encourage their use, make surface parking a tax free business. Penalize people like my Kutuzovsky Prospect neighbors who flaunt their 20 empty spaces as some sort of weird status symbol, while pedestrians thread their way among cars covering the sidewalk.

DECENTRALIZE – OK, my recent proposal to move Russia’s capital to Novosibirsk went over like a lead balloon. But high speed internet and skype conference calling allows for decentralization – a euphemism for moving ministries out of Moscow.
President Putin’s plan to move the Russian Navy’s headquarters to St. Petersburg this year is a great, first step.
Why not move Russian Railroads (the nation’s largest employer) to Khabarovsk?
Or the Asia departments of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Industry and Trade to Vladivostok?
Or Education and Science to Novosibirsk?
Or Energy to Khanty-Mansiysk, center for half of Russia’s oil production?
The population of Russia east of the Urals is aging and shrinking. Spreading the federal payroll would be win-win for bloated Moscow and cash-starved regions.

APPRECIATE – Take a deep breath — and thank your local Tajik.
Thanks to immigrant labor from Central Asia, Moscow streets, parks and courtyards are probably cleaner now than any time since that fabled day in 1147 when Yuri Dolgorukiy, founder of Moscow, dropped his first apple core on the ground.
Moscow is certainly far cleaner and brighter than when I first worked here in 1991, that ‘golden’ era of Socialist morality and Saturday voluntary cleanups.
Over the next 7 years, Russia’s working age population is to shrink by 7 million people. Unless Muscovites suddenly develop a passion for menial jobs (unlikely) or learn to stop littering (possible), the city will only stay clean thanks to Central Asia guest workers.
Bob Broadis, the Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, once told me that, were it not for the army of Central American workers changing sheets, washing dishes, and cleaning toilets in the ski town of Aspen, you would smell that chic fashionista resort 50 miles down the valley.
Give appreciation to the people who do the work you do not want to do.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

5 responses to “Moscow: Turning Europe’s Largest City into Eurasia’s World Class City”

  1. Gennady says:

    1. I don’t share the enthusiasm of turning Moscow into Eurasia’s world class city. It would be the straw that broke camel’s back. Flourishing and glittering Moscow doesn’t mean all Russian Federation. Real Russia with its thousands decrepit and shanty provincial towns and villages stretches beyond Moscow’s circle roads for thousands kilometers. According to the order established by ever-lasting President Putin and his United Russia party all petro-dollars are sucked from provinces and poured into Moscow’s coffers. Moscow with its excesses doesn’t exist in some “seventh heaven” having been isolated from the rest of the Russian Federation with no one knowing where Moscow riches and excesses have come from? And who Moscow robbed and is robbing?

    2. In its present form Moscow looks very much as a kind of malignant tumor thriving on Russian nation’s body. All provincial Russia hates Muscovites and Moscow in Putin’s Russia with him and his oligarchs already 12 years in power and 12 more years’ to come. Moscow and all its Beau monde are parasites sucking out Russian nation’s blood and wealth. Overwhelming majority of provincial Russians grieve that “their soup is very thin” and 22% young Russians are aspiring to leave the lawless “paradise” called Russia and emigrate to anywhere. Mr. Putin claims that he has rebuild Russia. Actually he rebuilt Moscow with the money being pumped out of country’s regions and at the expense of abandoned regions. All provincial and rural Russia is in ruins under his and the party he presided “wise” leadership.

    3. Everybody in provinces feels the deadly contradiction with which Moscow rules the country. What does Moscow represent in isolation from the rest of Russia and without billions having been robbed from provinces? Is Moscow self-sufficient, self-sustainable? Is it an industrial, scientific or educational centre in itself? Will it be able to exist if once the robbed billions have stopped to feed its incessant appetite? Is Mr. Putin’s rule ever-lasting? Certainly, not. Aren’t natural resources already dwindling upon which have developed by now morbidly obese Moscow?

    4. The last and not the least point: prognosis of turning Moscow into Eurasia’s world class city doesn’t look encouraging as nobody should forget the uncompromising contradiction existing between Mr. Putin and Moscow’s Middle class. Moscow’s prosperity rests on clay legs of impoverished, devastated, uneducated, ill-medicated, unemployed, under-performed and dying out largest country called the Russian Federation.

  2. Jnan Bora says:

    The story of a politician:- Mr.So-and-so was born and brought up in a rural area. When grown up,he chose a political career and with this view in mind he joined a political party.He had a wonderful knack in mobilizing the area public brain with eartickling lectures of false promises for the welfare development of the area and the country.Meanwhile a time for General Election came and filed his nomination for contesting in the election. He won the election with overwhelming majority votes.Fortunately,he reached the nation’s capital with local ethnic gaiety of festivity under the cover of the Government security. Like many others this representative of the particular area also was lucky enough to be a Cabinet Minister when the ministry was formed. Within a short period he could amass great wealth and build up big possessions in big cities adding to the congestion of those cities. On the contrary,he often visited his rural home.There he used to go for a bath in the nearby river like other villagers.They got amazed to see a minister taking his bath in the river and his house also remained same in the village. Out of curiosity,some villagers asked him,”Hon’ble Minister,you are on such a high position. Why are you having your bath in the river like an ordinary villager ? Your house also is same as it was before.” The minister replied to them,”Ah ! Tradition is a great wealth of our people.We have to respect our tradition and preserve it anyhow.” But the poor villagers were in the dark that when the minister was in the big cities , he used to enjoy having sometimes cold shower bath , sometimes warm shower bath in luxurious bathrooms.

  3. Gennady says:

    To Jnan Bora:

    Thank you for your wise hint in the context of the article in discussion.
    Reading your story I couldn’t but see the now prominent Russian politician of humble origin.
    Everybody who still tolerates the half-truth of the state censored press and TV can time and again see and hear his name.
    It would be funny to watch his double-life (in the national capital and when meeting common folk)
    if his rule hadn’t resulted in multiple alienations:
    of him and the Moscow’s middle class,
    of Moscow’s glitter, extravagance and dullness of huge dying-out provinces,
    of Moscow’s few well-to-do and many millions penny-picking in provinces.

  4. Maria says:

    I quite like the article. Only a few things pointed out and all correct. Lets not talk about issues on a global scale otherwise it will be a story longer than my life. Not quite the right place for it.
    Otherwise I think article is very informative, very short and points out those little things which anyone who lived in a slightly more organised city than Moscow takes for granted.
    I did actually wonder about parking myself many times on my returns to Moscow as it is a pot of gold in itself and strangely, nobody wants to put their hands into it. And why? Because there’s a lot of thinking, concideration and money investment involved. And for some reason it does not attract anyone just yet. Too much hassle perhaps?

  5. Jnan says:

    The topic is quite interesting. Moscow is going to be a worldclass city. Many towns and cities in the world seem adventuring for the same filthy goal. But for what purpose ? Obviously it is for sizzling businesses. Rural areas are pitifully neglected.Farmers and other workers toil very hard ,but their hard labour is very foxily swindled into construction of jammy ,unhealthy towns and cities. Yeah! Worldclass cities. Is nothing of Divine Principle in these towns and cities ? Ah ! Foodcrop seeds and other plant seeds have lost their divine formulae under the power of high maltech system ( so-called hightech system ). Ah! Now foodcrop seeds are available as Terminus-1,Terminus-2, hybrid varieties, genetically engineered varieties . It seems as if they want to wipe out the original varieties that grow on divine formulae by nature.This is for what . Obviously, for sizzling businesses so that more towns and cities will come into being for maximum worldy pleasures of powerful tycoons. They think as if they will be for ever enjoying their sort of life-style without any care for the rural folks who have to remain satisfied with lip-service and crocodile-tears.There are many signs that denote conspiracies to wipe out the very humanity from the face of the earth. The world crime-index is soaring higher and higher. The cases of crimes like rapes,gang-rapes,incest-rapes,massacre without reason , mindless murders,mindless arsonings &c indicate that the number of subhumans is increasing and that animals are better. Consumption of junk foods,fake medicines,drugs , food of sorcery temples &c seems to be responsible for converting humans into subhumans that are worse than animals.Thus innocent people get victimized and proven as criminals,but the actual criminals keep on enjoying the sightseeing at large.Excess of everything is bad. So,too much business is bad. Criminalization by various ways seems to have a lucrative business channel for some in the world. Still let the mankind hope that the old world of corruption has come to an end paving the way for a new world.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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