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16.10.2015, 13:38

Plenary session of the Moscow Urban Forum 2015

Sergei Sobyanin: Good afternoon, friends. The Urban Forum in Moscow attracts increasing attention each year. This is hardly surprising, as we are on the development platform of one of the world’s largest conglomerations. Needless to say, overall, urban policy depends on the kind of changes that are taking place here. Moscow should measure up to the modern trends that are emerging in the world.

Today’s session is devoted to Moscow’s experience in addressing global and local challenges to improve the quality of the urban environment. In the past five years we have done a great deal, in fact, bordering on the impossible. As is known, it is important to remember history to learn from mistakes, not repeat them. Unfortunately, in its development since 1991, Moscow has repeated the mistakes that the majority of cities make at the beginning of their development. As a result, Muscovites saw the same problems and achievements: millions of square metres of real estate, millions of new cars, which led to the collapse of the transport system, the degradation of public space and growing discomfort in everyday life, such that people want to spend their free time outside the city.

The main conclusions that can be made based on our five-year effort are quite trivial. Nevertheless, they are important, because these are not just words. Standing behind them are real achievements that have changed the lives of millions of people.

Working in Moscow, we once again understood that there are no unsolvable problems. Any situation, even the worst one, can be improved, and the most negative trend can be turned into a positive one. Several ingredients are necessary to achieve a result: clear-cut goals, good management, will, perseverance and, most importantly, public support. As a general rule, at first, support can be weak; the voices of supporters drown in the sea of criticism and misunderstanding. But then, just before the first results emerge, the level of support grows, and then not only do you move ahead with this project, but thousands of people contribute to making this movement as rapid as possible.

Another important conclusion is the need for an integrated approach to addressing urgent problems and for rapid change. We must fight on all fronts at the same time. Otherwise old imbalances will persist and new bottlenecks will emerge.

Furthermore, we need to move as quickly as possible, otherwise many good initiatives will get bogged down in routine in an inert environment, and people will feel no change for the better.

So we compared Moscow’s growth rate with the pace of development of other big cities across the world. These comparisons showed us that Moscow is growing fast and is among the leaders. I should point out that we had to make certain transformations, which had been unfolding in European cities for decades, in a matter of a few years. Finally, another important conclusion concerns the use of the global experience of urban development. Each metropolis is, of course, different; however, the needs of residents and their notion of a high quality urban space are pretty much the same everywhere. Therefore, solutions that work well in other cities should also work for Moscow. The creation of a comfortable city includes a standard array of actions. These include creating a balanced urban development, modern transport services, a comfortable public space and a number of other measures that we will not talk about today, but they are also extremely important.

So what did we do and how, exactly? In addressing one of the city’s most serious problems — i.e., the transport problem — the experience of other big cities was utilised. Fighting chaos on the roads and providing preferential conditions for public transport have become a revolutionary solution for Moscow.

This is the way human psychology works. In theory, everyone supports the idea of putting everything in order, but in reality, many are unable to resist the temptation to park in the wrong place or drive in a designated public transport lane, if it helps save a minute or two. So, the first precondition for a successful transport programme is the strict enforcement of the established rules. Towing illegally parked cars and video systems recording traffic violations do nothing to enhance the city government’s popularity. However, if you are not determined to carry out these measures, you’d better not tackle transport problems in the first place.

Second, it is highly important to develop the right economic incentives for people to choose their method of transportation. Today, using public transport in Moscow costs 35 percent less than five years ago in real terms. The cost of driving downtown, on the contrary, will be significantly higher. Most drivers agree that designated parking spaces should be available at a fee, which gives them the opportunity to move and not wait in unpredictable traffic jams. They do understand, but psychologically, it is still hard to accept that you have to pay a fee for something that you never paid for before. It’s clear.

And third over the last five years, we have been able to start one of the world’s largest transport infrastructure development programmes and get it going. The pace of metro construction has increase by 50 percent, and road construction by 150 percent. After several decades of idleness, we resumed the construction of several railway lines in urban areas and in suburbs. This was, essentially, the first experience in the past 30-40 years. Recently, the first express train service was launched along one of the busiest lines: to Khimki and Zelenograd. This is crucial for Moscow, since a significant number of cars — millions of cars — come to Moscow each day from nearby towns in the Moscow region.

The integrated approach towards Moscow’s traffic problems has obviously had a positive effect. Today, five years after the start of our transport programme, millions of Muscovites regularly use new metro stations. The dedicated lanes for public transport really work, serving half a million passengers daily. The number of passengers on commuter trains has increased from 480 million to 680 million. They transport more than 2 million people on a daily basis. Commuter trains work on a comparable scale to the Moscow metro and surface transport.

According to the well-known rating company TomTom, Moscow is no longer the world leader in terms of traffic jams. Nevertheless, the next three years will be critical for the transport system. For example, in 2016, regular service will be launched on the Smaller Moscow Belt Railway. This means that a second metro interchange circuit and the first railway commuter train interchange circuit will appear in Moscow. Over 30 more metro stations are under construction, and contracts have been concluded for new rolling stock for the metro, while surface transport will shift to a new passenger service model. And, of course, we will continue to construct the main commuter routes. We are completing the modernisation of the main highways and interchanges on the MKAD Ring Road. Once brought to life, these plans will help create a whole new and high quality transport space in Moscow.

Our next task is the recovery of public spaces of our beloved city. Vast green territories, cozy courtyards and comfortable broad streets are Moscow’s great advantage and we should nourish and cherish them. Regrettably, this was not the case in the past. What was the problem? The degradation of the public space that we have observed in the past 10-15 years came about not only in the physical destruction of the asphalt, the loss of trees or broken benches in courtyards. Providing funds, doing the repair work and restoring what was lost: this is perhaps not the most challenging problem. A far more dangerous trend in recent decades has been rampant privatisation and seizure of Moscow’s public space. More and more squares were transferred into someone’s hands and lost for public use. Large ads concealed the beautiful facades of buildings, cars were parked on children’s playgrounds, green areas were used for retail and food markets, and streets were completely occupied by cars and kiosks; pedestrians were left with not a single square metre.

Our main task is to end all this disgrace and find a sensible balance between private, group and public interests is using public spaces. Needless to say, obviously crude violations, for instance, the illegal seizure of land, must be nipped in the bud. We started with the obvious. We began to remove illegally parked cars from children’s playgrounds and pavements, took down huge illegal ads from hundreds of building facades and got rid of thousands of kiosks that were blocking the entrance to metro stations. At the same time, we upgraded courtyards and parks. During this work we had to resolve thousands of small and big conflicts on the future use of public spaces. Residents and specialists did not always come to terms quickly, but these disputes were constructive and eventually helped to reach the best decisions.

In the past five years 400 green territories were upgraded or created in Moscow. The number of visitors in parks has increased more than threefold, from 10 to 36 million. It is possible to add more than 20 million to this figure: the number of visitors to VDNKh.

Now we are carrying out more complicated projects on transforming streets. In fact, we plan to change our priorities in the use of streets. Cars should give some room to pedestrians and cyclists. We were told that we should not do this, that streets will be jammed for kilometres and shops will lose their customers and become bankrupt. Life shows that this is the other way round.

Wider pavements result in a growing number of pedestrians, at least twice as many. On such streets as Bolshaya Dmitrovka, the number of pedestrians has grown seven times. Shops and cafés do not close but, on the contrary, acquire new clients. Now it is possible to organise street festivals and celebrations with millions of participants. At the same time, road traffic capacity does not shrink but rather grows due to soundly organised parking space and traffic management. We have just embarked on the path to create a high-quality public space and we will continue moving in this direction.

Dear colleagues! If you follow the Moscow Government’s urban planning policy, you must have heard more than once about its key principles — stopping densification and creating new centres of business activity.

Let me say in a few words how these principles are put into practice. For the past few years, developers’ major activities have moved to the city’s new areas and former industrial zones, which account for half the city’s development. A year ago, at the previous forum, we summed up the architectural contest for the best project of a concept to develop the areas adjoining the River Moskva. The project is huge. It involves 200 kilometres of waterfront. At present, we are moving from the stage of ideas to developing urban planning and project documentation.

On the whole, I believe that the Moscow Government has found a reasonable balance between developers’ commercial interests, the wish to attract as much investment as possible and the need to preserve the city’s essence in its new urban planning policy — to protect Muscovites’ interests.

The new development does not result in crowding, but on the contrary, it makes the city more comfortable for living. Of course, the picture is not idealistic, there are certain complicated, difficult projects for the city but we are trying to reduce the number of such projects.

Dear colleagues! Visiting other cities, we compare ourselves to them, if we want to or not. If in the past this comparison was most often not in favour of our city, today the situation has started to change. We are still learning from other cities, but now I hope that this will become a two-way street. Moscow can share now its experiences solving many urban problems.

I have mentioned only a few major developmental points over the past five years. I hope that my colleagues will continue my story based on their experiences. Thank you again for coming to Moscow and taking part in our forum. Welcome to the Russian capital, thank you!

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Yesterday I spoke with Milanese and Mayor of Milan Giuliani Pisapia. I’m grateful for the projects that we have jointly implemented. Following Milan’s example, we have begun to adopt a car sharing programme in Moscow, the first cars of which have already appeared. Hopefully Moscow residents will accept these cars and this will turn into a large-scale project indeed.

I’m not sure that we will be able to implement the idea of using electric vehicles, as the Milanese have used for car sharing. This will be an additional idea: an interesting and nice idea that will partially help resolve transport hurdles.

I want to thank Moscow’s financial corporations. Although Moscow could hardly be included among the top international financial centres, yet it is clear that the financial sector in Moscow has an important role in its development. VTB bank is part of this. I want to thank you for the enormous effort that you have been taking with regard to Moscow government agencies and investment in the city. I want to thank Sberbank, which is a major investor of all our projects. Moscow’s development would have been impossible without these [banks] and I hope for our continuous cooperation.

And the last point. In effect, we held an urban forum in December, this year we had it in October and now we are considering holding it in summer, in late June or in July. We want forum participants not only to attend the forum but also walk around city parks and pedestrian streets. We want forum participants to feel comfortable and see the most of Moscow sites. We aren’t suspending any of the projects that we have been implementing. Maybe we are not in the beginning, but we are surely in the middle of this path and we will not abandon it. Thank you.

Concluding remarks

Sergei Sobyanin: I would like to thank the gentleman for the report on the Grand Paris (Grand Paris is the name of the new comprehensive development plan for the central part of Paris). Indeed, we went there in 2011 and saw that project. It actually consists of two rings, if I understand rightly, a railway and a metro ring embracing the area of Paris and suburb. We were impressed that we had also thought of a similar project. On the one hand, I am very glad that Moscow has made headway since 2011. Next year, we are finishing the construction of the railway ring — it is 50 km of new express tracks in the middle of the city, embracing all industrial areas. The metro development, the Third Transport Ring, additional outbound routes — this is what we are putting into practice today on a large scale and with great dynamics.

The only thing that makes me sad is that the construction has not started yet over this time within the Grand Paris project, but I think they will take our problems and mistakes into account, so it will be easier for them to do so in future. Nevertheless, I am proud of Moscow and those who implement such huge global projects. They will really change Moscow’s face, the traffic situation and transport framework. This is extremely important. These are projects that can be implemented in Moscow at the utmost. This is the maximum mission that we are undertaking in Moscow, not the minimum or the average, the maximum. All that we can squeeze out of the traffic system is railways, the metro ring, thoroughfares, and major highways. It is difficult to do more in Moscow. We are doing the maximum.

I am grateful to the Chief Burgomaster of Leipzig. He often visits Moscow and, probably, for this reason I am prepared to put my signature under each word that he said while speaking about reforms in his city. We do everything on a step-by-step basis, which you do in your city. I am especially grateful to you for our wonderful exhibition that we have arranged together more than once, an exhibition dedicated to restoring historical heritage. This is our joint project. Moscow has not yet achieved 90 percent of a good condition for its monuments, but the number of poor monuments in poor condition in Moscow has dropped twofold in five years — from 40 percent to 20 percent. At present, 80 percent of the monuments in Moscow have been restored. I hope that with time we will catch up with Leipzig and have 90 percent of monuments in proper condition. At least, judging from the dynamics that we see, this is a realistic task. Yesterday I met with the Mayor of Barcelona, she spoke about Barcelona markets with deference. Indeed, Moscow has much room for improvement in this field, there are many opportunities to improve the market environment. Let me remind you that we have opened weekend and regional markets. They have become an additional feature, a calling card of Moscow. We need to continue working in this direction, to improve their appearance and management, to make them a kind of city pearl. They should not only be a place to go shopping but also a place to have a good time, to talk to people.