August 30, 2007

Russia, rushing to utopia … or not

Ian Appleby has written an excellent post on life in Russia, referring to an issue many of us are talking about over here and what he describes is even more the case here in a bigger population centre:

Sadly, at least in my view, many of these low-profile dwellings, so redolent of the South of Russia, are slated to be demolished, so that shiny new apartment blocks, which could go in any country in the world, can go up in their place. Now, it's easy for me to grumble, I don't have to live in these houses, some of which still have very basic facilities.

Others, though, have been made very comfortable; they are clearly still usable buildings, so why waste their embodied energy by tearing them down? Well, and again this will hardly be news, the land they stand on, close to the centre, has rocketed in value. Developers will get a much better return on the many apartments they can build on the footprint of just one such house.

Another issue is this:

The Russian legislature passed laws forbidding non-Russians to hold market stalls, the vast majority of which were indeed run by other nationalities. The law worked as a sop to the increasingly xenophobic tenor of (ethnic) Russian nationalism, but because there was not, for some reason, a rush of Russians to take up the new business opportunity - indeed, at least in Krasnodar, Russians who made living staffing market stalls for non-Russian employers have been hit quite hard - the law also had the happy side-effect of freeing up a lot of prime real estate.

I can't comment further on this because I'm too close to the process myself here but let's put it obliquely:

I just walked back to the main road to get a car and passed through a huge canopied market of the old kind. Nearly all of these have now been knocked down to make way for centralized mega-marts one has to drive to, to reach. Now this market today, on Pionerskaya, is wondrous - all vegetables and fruits in season are here.

Yesterday, the Min and I were discussing arbuz or watermelon and everyone knows you can get them in late June but they're full of nitrates. The time to buy arbuz is right now. Three weeks from now will be too late.

There's something satisfying in buying in season, rather than the irradiated product all year round. It might be prejudice but the Russian housewife is not a fool when it comes to food and she says that natural tastes better. Everything here was [and this I feel follows the point Ian was making] closer to the earth - you were in touch with reality and lived within your limited means.

It was perfectly fit for purpose. There is a danger of all that being lost.

Crossposted at N.O.


Gracchi said...

Thanks James for this guest post- I'm back now though!!!!! Even so interesting take on what is happening in Russia- I'd hate it to be true that you could walk into any city in the world and see exactly the same buildings- aesthetically there is something for local colour.

Sir James Robison said...

Whoops - sorry, Tiberius.

Gracchi said...

Not a problem mate- I love the pic by the way its a great one- it makes me want to live in that house- I'm a sucker for forests in the Autumn!