“Moscow – Post-Soviet Developments and Challenges”
John O’Loughlin* and Vladimir Kolossov**
*University of Colorado, Boulder
** Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow
has always been a highly centralized state, with the capital playing an
exceptional economic, social, cultural and political role. Paradoxically, the post-Soviet economic
transition not only did not reduce this primacy, but on the contrary,
considerably strengthen Moscow’s
hypertrophy. During the 1990s, political
events in the capital (attempted coups d’etat in 1991 and 1993, the struggle between ”reformers” and left-wingers) decided the destiny of
with most regions only observing with anxiety.
Though its ratio of Russia’s
total population is just less than 6%, the city contains more than half of all
banking activity, more than one-fifth of retail trade, and one-third of
wholesale trade. Moscow
has, to a large extent, monopolized the functions of a mediator between the
country and the world economy and has become by far the most important national
node of financial flows. Even if the
August 1998 financial crisis contributed to a certain improvement of the
balance between the capital and the provinces, Moscow
remains the major “exporter” of Russia’s
primary exports (oil, gas, timber, gold, etc.)
It is being transformed into a true global city (Gritsai 1996, 1997;
The average per capita income in Moscow is much higher than in any
other of the 88 regions in Russia, and
more than twice as high as the second-highest, St. Petersburg. Moscow provides an example of post-Communist economic restructuring to the
whole country and now contains the most sizeable new middle class. The streetscape of the capital has
considerably changed during the last decade.
In its downtown, contemporary offices are mushrooming, and historical
buildings look fresh after recent renovation by private investors; at night, Moscow’s main avenues are brightly illuminated by shining shop windows and
advertising by global companies, provoking sharp envy from residents of many
other Russian cities, which remain dark and suffer from municipal debts and
power shortages. Is Moscow really the dominant player in the Russian economy, determining the
orientation and the rates of national restructuring? How stable is the Moscow’s “miracle”? What is the
reverse side of the coin, the inequities and polarization that has become
apparent in the past decade? These
questions are increasingly at the center of discussions among politicians and academic
The economic and social costs of Moscow’s rapid changes since 1991 are already clear. Moscow has definitely became a demographic
“black hole”: mortality has exceeded fertility for a decade, the city’s
population is getting older and the decrease is compensated only by labor
migration from most of the former Soviet republics, from other Russian
regions, and even from some third world countries. Most migrants live in Moscow illegally. These processes
worsen the qualitative composition of population, create tensions in the labor
and housing markets, and can potentially lead to ethnic and religious conflicts (see
Vendina’s article in this issue). Though
the social territorial differentiation in Moscow has not yet reached the scale of U.S. or even West European cities, the growing social polarization has
already seen the creation of “gated communities” and can condemn the great
majority of Muscovites to live in neglected and forgotten housing ghettos. Moreover, this polarization process risks
perpetuating social contrasts in creating multi-standard systems of education
and health care – separately for the richer and the poorer strata of
Moscow city authorities must solve other aggravations. One of the most serious, requiring huge investments, is the housing problem, specifically the
reconstruction of the physically obsolete and dilapidated part of the housing
stock, four-story apartment blocs (Khrushchoby) built in the 1960s. Moreover, the city lacks empty spaces for new
developments and, thus, it is necessary to demolish old residential and
industrial buildings or to shift industrial plants in order to intensify land
uses. Another urgent problem is rapid
automobilization, related to the insufficient capacity of the roads’ network
and of parking; constant traffic jams already render downtown Moscow inaccessible by car on workdays.
(See the paper in this issue by Bityukova and Argenbright on the
pollution effects of the growth in car ownership). Against this background, slow development of
public transportation caused by inadequate investment seems to be especially
pressing. The city government does not
possess the financial means to build highways such as the Third Ring and, at the
same time, to invest in extending the Metro (subway) and other public
transportation. The city authorities under the leadership of Yuri Luzhkov (mayor since 1992)
has pledged to continue to invest in prestigious projects to maintain Moscow’s image and competitiveness as the Russian capital and a new global
Like any major city, Moscow has a complex structure that needs to be considered at different
levels. First, at the global and
macro-regional (Central-East European) scale, Moscow’s relations are dominantly economic as part of a world-city system
(Taylor and Hoyler, 2000). Second, at
the national scale, Moscow is both the federal capital and a subject of the Russian Federation – here the emphasis is on its primacy and balancing of the
differentiation that is becoming more apparent in the country. Third, at the regional scale, Moscow’s agglomeration
over-reaches the capital’s city limits and issues about industrial re-location,
regional transport, city-suburb relations, and the conversion of agricultural
and forest zones to urban uses dominate.
Fourth, at the city scale, the optimal combination that allows the city
to assume its functions, to be competitive at the international scene while
still meeting the needs of its population is still to be found. Finally, at the local (neighborhood) scale, Moscow is a relatively vast and heterogenous territorial unit, including
124 municipal districts (rayoni) (see Figure 1), which will soon become
true local governments possessing not only their elected assemblies, but also
their own budgets. Geographical
distributions of housing, jobs, services, green spaces, etc. across these rayoni are likely to become more
contentious and prominent.
To cope with the myriad of problems across a variety of scales, the
city authorities need a long-term strategy.
Obviously, the privileged 1990s situation of the capital can change
rapidly, as the turmoil that occurred after the financial crisis of August 1998
showed. The Russian federal government
refuses to cover even a small part of Moscow’s expenses as the national capital. Some large companies (important
taxpayers) have already moved their registered headquarters out from the city,
and during the last two years city officials complain that the city budget is
becoming very tight. Discussions about Moscow’s economic future can be summarized as the choice between different
models of development that depend in turn on the model followed by Russia as a whole. If Russia remains a dominant
exporter of fuel and other raw materials and her manufacturing industry and
high-tech industries decline further, there will obviously be much less
opportunity for Moscow to realize its potential for innovation and to select a
new, more balanced model of development.
Simplifying, one can say that future of Moscow can be based on one of three options – a) traditional manufacturing;
b) a service economy - mainly banking and trade, and c) science, information
processing and high tech industry. In
other words, Moscow can develop as the capital of an open economy, thus continuing
current trends, or as the center of national modernization. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, more than
one million people in Moscow were engaged
in pure and applied research (one-quarter of all Soviet
scholars). Though this unique human capital is now considerably weakened, the
Russian capital still ranks second among European cities by the number of
citations in academic journals and monographs, thanks mainly to the
sciences. To ensure a sustainable
development, the city should promote these scientific innovation activities and
extend them into high-tech manufacturing (Pchelintsev, 1999).
The authors of this special issue offer no solutions for the problems
that Moscow is now facing. Rather, they
analyze recent data showing the post-Soviet evolution of economic functions and
social-territorial structures of the city from a perspective of its
transformation into a global city.
Radical shifts in the economic structure of the capital changed (but did
not diminish) its impact on the urban environment. The theme of the changing sources of Moscow’s environmental pollution (from stationary to automobiles) is
developed in the paper by Viktoria Bityukova and Robert Argenbright. Olga Vendina devotes her article to social
geographical developments among Moscow’s ethnic minorities and the related issue of growing ghettoization. Elena
Shomina, Vladimir Kolossov and Viktoria Shukhat analyze local community groups
(non-governmental organizations) in Moscow as responses to changing neighborhood, especially housing
conditions. In the first paper in this
special issue, Vladimir Kolossov, Olga Vendina and John O’Loughlin examine the evidence for Moscow’s claim to world-city status and the geography of business
developments in the city since the end of the Soviet Union.
Post-Soviet Research on Moscow.
attracted the attention of Soviet geographers who began to study the unique
problems of the capital at the end of World War II. Human geographers were especially interested
in studying the interaction between the capital and its region, and its impact
on surrounding territories of Central Russia. They delimited Moscow’s
influence according to different criteria - the radius of daily and weekly
cycles of activity, the number of second residences, etc.; the distribution of
built-up areas, industry, services and recreational functions by sectors around
the city by comparison to their environmental impact. The fundamental volume on these themes – Moscow’s Capital Region- the Territories,
Structures, and Environment - written by a large group from the Institute
of Geography of the Soviet (now Russian) Academy of Sciences, include
interesting chapters that serve as a benchmark
for the post-Soviet developments (Lappo, Goltz and Treivish 1988).
Geographers gave much less attention to Moscow
itself. The social-territorial structure
of the city was hardly examined – partly because of the lack of reliable
statistical data for micro-districts.
The problems of Moscow’s
development were analyzed mainly by architects and urban planners, especially
those serving at the Institute of Moscow’s
General Plan, whose reports are unavailable.
Some general works containing detailed information on urban life are
available according to the respective periods. In particular, Yulian G. Saushkin, a patriarch of Soviet human geography and former
chair of the Department of Human Geography of the USSR at Moscow State
University, produced three books on Moscow (the last one appearing soon after
his death with his former graduate student, Vera Glushkova) (Saushkin 1950,
1964, Saushkin and Glushkova 1983). In
the late 1970s–early 1980s, new geographical approaches to the study of the
local urban environment, the conditions of life and the functional organization
of the municipal economy were developed, in particular, in a laboratory of the
Institute of Geography founded by Yuri Medvedkov (now at Ohio State
University). Contemporary quantitative
methods (especially factorial ecology) were applied in the estimation of the
quality of the urban environment (Barbash and Gutnov 1980; Barbash 1982)
Examining patterns of distribution of residential areas and jobs, the number of
requests to move into a specific area, its proximity to major transportation
lines, the convenience of transport connections, the presence of city-wide
services, the variety of employment opportunities, and the ecological situation
was used as measures of attractiveness (Barbash 1984, Vasiliev and Privalova
1984). In the 1990s, a similar approach
was used by Sidorov (1992).
In the post-Soviet period, the
transition to the market economy challenged
geographers and other social scientists with new theoretical and policy
problems: economic restructuring, the development of the privatized housing market,
social polarization, unemployment, and old and new social pathologies all came
to the forefront of research. Despite
publication of a number of innovative works, it is hardly possible to conclude
that Russian human geographers met these challenges. However, the works of Vera Glushkova should
be mentioned. She published a monograph
devoted to the dynamics and the composition of Moscow’s population, the
functions of the city and main branches of its economy, land-use and social
problems (in particular, its religious geography) (Glushkova 1997, 1999). Glushkova also was one of the initiators and
main authors of large, well- documented, illustrated volumes on history,
geography and urbanism in Moscow
(see, for instance, Kuzmin 2000, etc.). The second edition of the Encyclopaedia
“Moscow” is especially worth of
notice (Moskva, 1997). Relevant
geographical information on the development of Moscow
is also contained in key historical publications (Vinogradov 1997, Gorinov 1996,
of works on urbanism and architecture richly illustrated by detailed maps
of the environment, roads,
transportation, planning structure and functional zoning of the city appeared
as a result of public discussions, the first steps in the discussion and
adoption of the new General Plan of Moscow to 2020 (Arkhitectura... 1999,
Moskva... 2000, Moskva..., 2001). Comprehenisve studies on the history of architecture and
urbanism in the capital also appeared during the first post-Soviet decade
(Kudriavtsev, 1994). Geographers participated during
the 1990s in several important works on the environment in Moscow. In particular, Viktoria Bityukova wrote a
thesis, where she studied both the “real” spatial distribution of polluters and
their distribution by administrative-territorial units (Moskva... 1995;
Bityukova 1996; Kuzmin 2000). Some
environmental maps can be found on the official web-site of the government of Moscow
Geographical studies of Moscow
were given further impetus by the improvement of official statistics, as well
as by the 1995 decision of the capital’s government to introduce a new
instructional discipline in the city’s and region’s high schools – “knowledge of Moscow” (“moskvovedenie”). This educational policy spurred the
appearance of a series of textbooks (for example, Alekseev et al., 1996, 1997). Furthermore, the city government of Moscow
initiated the publication of two monthly journals that contain the results of
social studies of the city (Simptom and Puls). The Committee on Telecommunications and Mass
Media of the Government of Moscow yearly publishes about a dozen small books on
current social problems, but unfortunately, only
a very limited number of copies are printed and are not available in most
Outside of Russia, in his key work, Timothy Colton (1995) analyzed the dynamics of the
city’s boundaries, and its demographic, industrial and even political patterns
in Moscow in the 20th century. Many academic journals, including Post-Soviet
Geography and Economy, regularly publish papers on the human geography of
the Russian capital. GeoJournal
prepared a special issue on Moscow and St.
Petersburg (Gdaniec, 1997; Kolossov, 1997; Vendina, 1997). In the field of social geography, Mozolin
(1994) explained the intra-urban distribution of housing prices in terms of
accessibility to the CBD and urban morphology.
Bater (1994) and Daniell and Struyk (1994) analyzed the development of
the housing market in Moscow and, in particular, the results of privatization of
housing, the implementation of municipal housing programs under new conditions,
and the construction of new one-family cottages by “new Russians”. Kirsanova
(1996) widely used the results of the polls about evaluations and preferences
of different parts of Moscow by Muscovites and analyzed their relations with the gender, age,
education, and the place of socialization of respondents and with the types of
housing. Vendina (1994, 1995, 1996,
1997), and Vendina and Kolossov (1996) related the transformations of functions
and employment in different districts of Moscow in the post-socialist years
with the pattern of housing prices on the secondary market, while
Gritsai (1997) compared the first results of market
transformations in Moscow, especially the development of business services,
with the situation in some largest world metropolises.
Post-Soviet developments in Moscow of demographic and social indicators (natural population change,
ethnic composition and the level of education, especially during the 1979-1989
intercensal period in the old administrative districts abolished in 1992), were
examined by Rowland (1992). Differences between the inner and the outer zones
of the city and the concentration of the educated people in the center and the
south-west were also considered in the analysis of the outcomes of the first democratic elections
in the capital (Berezkin et al., 1990
and Colton, 1995). Bater, Degtyarev and
Amelin (1995) and Kolossov (1996, 1997) showed that the voting behavior of
Muscovites differs greatly from most other regions of the country and has
stable territorial patterns, while the differences in electoral preferences
between the west and south-west parts of the city with the remainder were
defined and explained by O’Loughlin, Kolossov and Vendina, 1997. More recently, Pavlovskaya and Hanson (2001)
reported on the effects on family life of changes in the retail structure and
privatization of services in a rayon in central Moscow and Argenbright (2000) paints an evocative picture of the changing
nature of Moscow’s public spaces, from controlled Soviet to the contemporary
A visitor to Soviet Moscow would hardly recognize its
successor. The center of Moscow
increasingly looks like a Central European city, like Warsaw
or Budapest, with expensive stores,
gallerias, supermarkets, commercial offices,
and a full array of retail services.
Meanwhile, the streetscapes of Moscow’s
outer zones are hardly changed from Soviet times. As a small segment of the population of “new
Russians” prosper in these times of frantic change, the majority of Moscovites
struggle to make ends meet. In a sample
of 3,500 Moscovites in April 2000, we found that only 22.8% agreed with the statement that “things are not
so bad, and it is possible to live”, while the majority (55.3%) said that “life
is difficult but it’s possible to endure”.
Another 13.3% said that “our condition makes it impossible to endure
further.” And, it is worth
re-emphasizing that Moscow is much
wealthier than the rest of the country and should not be considered as a
typical Russian city or even a harbinger of things to come for other large
cities of the former Soviet Union.
frenetic pace of commercial life in central Moscow
and the associated rush to gentrification and re-development, quick money,
criminal activity, banking and financial scandals, and great uncertainties has
produced an “city on the make” (Spector,
What is most startling is the contrast of these world-city functions and
consequences to the daily lives of most of the population. The ‘dual city hypothesis” of Mollenkopf and
Castells (1991), developed for New York City,
seems increasingly apropos for Moscow. Of course, dramatic polarization is a
persistent feature of many major Third World capitals
but its appearance in Moscow is
undoubtedly the quickest. Whether the
growing gaps in Moscow - between rich
and poor, between the segments of the population who are tied to the
incorporation into the global economy and those whose livelihood is connected
to state services or to small-scale local enterprise, and between the older
generation whose world is still colored by their Soviet-era experiences and the
post-Soviet generation – will magnify as they have for the past decade or will
be eased is an important research question, not only for Moscovites and
Russians, but for all societies undergoing rapid social and economic change in
these globalized times. The papers in
this special issue contribute to this research and offer a picture of the city
after 10 years of post-Soviet change against which future developments can be
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1 Location of Rayoni in Moscow