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Moscow is looking for investors
to help with renewal of old city
By Yana Yurova, Political Commentator (RIA Novosti)

7 March 2005: Over the past three to four years, many of Moscow’s streets have been renovated. Modern office buildings and blocks of flats with underground car parks have sprung up. However, the city centre continues to fall into disrepair. The Russian capital is an old city. Experts claim that if a large-scale restoration of the central administrative district is not started now, some areas will be no better than slums in about twenty years.

There are about 5,000 buildings in Moscow’s central administrative district covering nearly 12 per cent of the city's floor space, or more than 16 million square meters of housing and about the same amount in non-residential premises. In contrast to the modern buildings dominating the rest of Moscow, the centre plays host to mostly old and, as a rule, shabby constructions. Alexei Vvedensky, the head of a group for special projects of Moscow's construction, architecture and restoration complex, says: "Most buildings in the city centre were erected in the late 19th and early 20th century. Their foundations were often laid using timber joists. The timber has gone rotten and the foundations have worn out over 100 years." According to real estate analysts, two-thirds of all buildings and structures in central Moscow (about 7,000 in all) are dilapidated.

Construction is underway virtually throughout central Moscow. Alexander Chapayev, an official at the prefect's office of the central administrative district, said that some 1.1 million square meters of floor space were commissioned in the district last year. Of this amount, more than 336,000 square meters of housing and 795,000 square meters of non-residential premises were opened.

The Basmanny, Tagansky and Presnensky municipal districts lead the way in terms of the number of newly erected and modernized buildings, while the Arbat and Yakimanka areas prop up the unofficial league table. However, if the above-mentioned square meters are recalculated as buildings, the results will be very modest. Under the program for demolishing and rebuilding dilapidated five-story blocks in Moscow, 57,000 square meters of housing (or five apartment houses) were built in 2004. To move city dwellers from ramshackle housing built in the early 20th century, another 9,365 square meters of housing (two more apartment houses) were built. Private companies built another 28 blocks. Therefore, only 35 newly built apartment houses have appeared in the centre of late. With the addition of 70 new office blocks, 105 buildings were completed and opened in a year.

Plans for next year cannot be called global either. According to the data of Moscow's construction, architecture and restoration complex, 13 five-story buildings relating to the first wave of mass-scale industrialized housing construction and 14 decrepit houses with a total area of about 70,000 square meters will be pulled down in the centre next year. People will be evicted from 13 dilapidated apartment houses, while major repairs will be begun on six buildings. The rest will have to wait. Some 30 new apartment blocks and about 70 offices are also to be built.

Naturally, the municipal authorities are very concerned about the problem. Officials at the prefect's office of the central administrative district believe that the real number of dilapidated blocks exceeds official figures. The Moscow government intends to put up decrepit housing for auction. This means that they are pinning their hopes on investors. Indeed, investment in real estate restoration in the centre of Moscow, even when it is complicated from the architectural and engineering standpoints, is profitable. However, it is not so easy to invest money in such a project today. This year, the Russian Federation's Housing Code and the Municipal Construction Code have been put into effect. However, local and federal laws have not been properly harmonized. As a result, with 355 investment projects signed in the Moscow Central district and 171 apartment houses and 184 offices to be built under these projects, Moscow government officials cannot be certain that all these projects will be completed.

There is also a problem of the residents in dilapidated housing. Where will they move? In the past, this was the municipal authorities' concern. Now the city authorities refuse to intervene, leaving it to the investor to cope with this problem. The main difficulty is Moscow's double subordination. On the one hand, this is a municipal entity with its own laws and standards. On the other, this is Russia's capital that has to fulfil federal tasks. As a result, we can say, repeating the old proverb, that too many cooks spoil the broth.

Even if the new barriers to investors are removed, the old Moscow districts will hardly have a better fate. The number of building sites in the centre is so high that it is nearly impossible to squeeze in a new building. This means that there is no housing for people evicted from dilapidated buildings, because is that under the law they must be given new housing close to where their old blocks were located. This means that the old districts will fall even further into decay.


View across Moscow


Short history of Moscow
Moscow was first mentioned in medieval chronicles in 1147. Moscow's prince Ivan Kalita who ruled between 1325 and 1340 became one of the first Russian rulers to start the reunification process. Under Kalita, Russian metropolitans transferred their residence from Vladimir to Moscow, which thus became a political and clerical centre, serving as the main force in the Russian reunification process and independence struggle.

Peter the Great moved the Russian capital to St. Petersburg many centuries later, though the people continued to regard Moscow as Russia's heartland. Russian emperors were still being crowned here, with local authorities founding the first national university in 1755 on Mikhail Lomonosov's initiative. In fact, education was free for talented youths of all categories of the population.

The number of enterprises soared dramatically in Moscow after the abolition of serfdom, and was further facilitated by the construction of railroads. At the turn of the century ten railroads linked Moscow to roads continue to operate even today.

Moscow became the capital of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on 12 March 1918 and on 30 December 1922, it became the capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The municipal subway network was commissioned in 1935. The city's seven famous sky-scrapers -- the Foreign Ministry and Railroads Ministry buildings, the Ukraina and Leningradskaya hotels, the Vosstaniya Square and Kotelnicheskaya Embankment highrise apartment buildings, and Moscow University -were completed in the 1950s and the 1960s. As a result, the Moscow skyline was changed completely. The Luzhniki stadium sprang up in the 1956. It hosted the 22nd Olympic Games. The Ostankino TV tower, as well as the "corridor" of high-rise buildings which constitute the Novy Arbat Avenue, were erected in the 1960s.

Moscow, with a population of some nine million people, is Russia's capital and the seat of its President, parliament and government.