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  • City environment in Russia: the small Almetyevsk is on the top

    Do you know why the cities around the world have been limiting the use of cars, making wide sidewalks with tall trees, building high-quality housing and in general investing into urban environment for the last 40 years?


    It is all about people! Cities compete among themselves for human potential. Specialists with a good education, creative people, businessmen and other talented professionals are eager to live well and so they escape from cities with poor ecology, traffic jams and ghetto districts.


    During the industrial revolution everything was simple where housing and work were required for a city's growth. Today the world is different as people are less likely to be satisfied with just their homes and work and there is a great demand for the third place for socializing such as entertainment, communication, training, leisure time and so on. Therefore, expensive business centers construct good walking areas with coffeeshops, build houses with courtyards free of cars and etc.


    City environment planning done in Russia still repeats the mistakes of the entire world of the last century but the outflow of people from the regions has already achieved a crucial scale. Specialists are escaping from the expansion of roads, sleeping neighborhoods and huge empty squares with Lenin in the center. For such people, Moscow and St. Petersburg are the final destinations before moving to Europe, North America or other developed countries. Nothing personal, it is just that everyone chooses the best option.


    A few people consider the competition between Russian cities. Mayors of cities are much more worried about the delivery of cubic meters of asphalt per year and the number of vacant places in kindergartens. The environment and the attractiveness of a city for business and people are not evaluated in a comprehensive way. But there is an exception! A small Almetyevsk city in Tatarstan, which, thanks to the development of public spaces and cycling, many people call it Russian Copenhagen!


    Almetyevsk is a monocity with the population of 150,000 people where almost every family is associated with oil production. Previously, only employees of the oil industry knew about it at the headquarters of Tatneft, but with the arrival of the new mayor in the city, cardinal changes began. The city took a course to create a friendly environment for attracting people, not according to the textbooks of the Soviet town planning of the 1980s, but on the basis of the best world trends!


    The embankment of the city was equipped with modern playgrounds, cafes and recreation areas for all residents. The design of the space is pleasantly surprising - modern natural materials, the absence of multi-colored design. In general, everything is in place. Only a huge playground in the form of a ship is a little out of the general background, but it can be forgiven considering everything else. There is also a swimming pool, climbing wall and a wakeboard platform.


    A small river passes through the city, which was turned into a cascade fountain with small lakes, and a park was built around it. They playground was not built with cheap multi-colored plastic. Chalkboard is a good tool for involving children in the game without any restrictions. Their drawings are limited only by imagination. Media screens in the sidewalk react to touch and pull a child into games. One of the few examples of the correct use of modern technologies in public space. In summer even drinking fountains work here which is followed by a skate park for older children.


    So far, the city lives from call to call in production. Therefore, during working hours, spaces are not filled 100% but everything changes on weekends and warm evenings. Probably in the near future, a small business boom might start in the city making it more lively all day and night due to bars, coffee shops and cafes.


    Almetyevsk has gained wide popularity in a narrow circle of bicyclists for creating a network of bicycle paths. The city authorities decided not to wait for traffic jams and not to follow the wrong path of mistakes with the expansion of streets and the construction of parking lots on the site of the areas. Instead, they decided to motivate residents to use a compact bicycle as a modern mean of transport. To do this, the team of professionals from Copenhagen was hired to develop bike paths throughout the city. Bike paths are a separate type of infrastructure that requires serious preparation. Bike lanes on certain streets, bicycle paths on sidewalks and in parks might not be popular with people. But the network of protected tracks throughout the city will allow people to move quickly and safely from door to door.


    The aim of the city is to create such conditions for a fifth-grader to be able to independently and safely to travel from home to school. The indicator of the quality of the bicycle infrastructure is the orientation for the most unprotected and young users. For comparison, Moscow completely stopped the development of bicycle infrastructure after constructing several bicycle paths. In Moscow and other Russian cities, officials are waiting for crowds of cyclists on the streets to create tracks but this will never happen. This is the same as the situation where no one waits for people to swim across a path to start constructing a bridge. A good infrastructure itself creates a demand and not vice versa. In winter, the importance of good bicycle infrastructure is increased many fold and local regulations prescribe to clean bicycle paths and sidewalks first. Special tractors have even been purchased for this purpose.


    Initially, it was planned to complete bike paths in the whole city within three years. Suddenly, an interesting problem emerged when pedestrians of Almetyevsk began to demand good sidewalks! As a result, the program was slightly changed and now the sidewalks are built simultaneously with bicycle paths and the duration of construction changed. In 2017, 33 km of tracks and 24 km of sidewalks were constructed.

    One kilometer of a 2.2 m wide bicycle path costs 5 million rubles. Is it too expensive? It may seem so but the results justify the means as the ecology improves, people get sick less, the environment becomes safer and so on. Roads are much more expensive and does not pay for itself, unlike bicycle paths. For Almetyevsk's authorities, this is an argument for setting priorities.


    The width of the tracks is not chosen by chance. People like to drive in pairs as it is more cheerful and psychologically comfortable. Therefore, the width provides the opportunity to cycle together and chat but for those who are in a hurry, there is space for overtaking.


    Since last year, a bicycle rental without physical stations was implemented in the city. The places of start and end for bicycle parking are marked with paint so that the streets are not cluttered. There are squares in almost every intersection and near the points of places of attraction.


    Bike rental is sponsored by Tatneft, so the price is only 10 rubles for half an hour. Bicycles are from China and software was made in Tatarstan. Almost every street has a bicycle path and it's hard to believe that this is happening in Russia. Moreover, there is no hint on such infrastructure in neighboring Naberezhnye Chelny city.

    It is clear that Almetyevsk was lucky with Tatneft. Here you can start to talk about the budget injustice when almost all the money is taken by the federal center and redistributed at its discretion. The mayors of cities, instead of having the incentive or resources to develop, only have the task of flattering to receive financing.


    But if you imagine that if suddenly Russian cities become rich, then this will be the beginning of an end. The old architectural monuments will be demolished for the sake of new gray houses in European style, districts will be demolished for the sake of huge road intersections, and people will start living under the ground. The level of competence of Russian officials in urban planning is extremely low - this is the main problem.


    Information source "Российский город, которому можно позавидовать”



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