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08.12.2011

First International Urban Forum opens in Moscow

The Moscow International Urban Forum was established as a platform to attract cutting edge international expertise to the urban planning to create a comfortable urban environment.

Sergei Sobyanin’s speech dissipated several lingering myths about big cities. He noted that millions of people today live in big cities. «Millions of people come to Moscow because they consider it the best city in the world and the best place to live, work, study and also the best place to come for entertainment,» Sobyanin said.

Many believe that big cities are relics of the industrial era and that they now need to stop growing, the Moscow Mayor said, adding «But big cities are key centres for IT development because that is where internet penetration is the deepest. Development centres for the smart economy of the future emerge in big cities.» Cities are not a burden, but rather they contribute to the development of the economy, research and education.

Another myth, Sobyanin noted, suggests that most urban economies are inherently unstable. On the contrary, big cities are pillars of the economy, the Mayor stressed. This was apparent during Russia’s economic crises, when small towns were hit harder. Large cities’ economies proved more diversified and therefore stable.

One of the main elements in making life in big cities comfortable is the accessibility of transport. Although Moscow’s suburbs are only about 15 kilometres away from the city centre, it takes 1.5-2 hours to drive from one neighbourhood to another. «This problem needs to be resolved, and I am sure it will be,» Sobyanin said.

It is the widespread belief that public services are expensive and inaccessible in big cities. «But in reality, the reverse is true: from 3 million to 5 million people come to Moscow each year from all over the country to use healthcare services,» the Mayor said, adding that hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world attend Moscow universities.

That big cities are unhealthy environments is also a myth, Sobyanin said. In his words, Moscow’s authorities are working to move polluting industries outside the city. The Russian capital uses modern high-tech transport and environment-friendly fuel. Parks and gardens account for one-third of the city’s territory.

According to Sobyanin, people in big cities have opportunities to help run the city, for example through crowd-sourcing.

He said he often hears calls to restrict big cities’ growth. «This cannot be done administratively, by some official decision. Cities grow like people, and that growth cannot by stopped artificially,» Sobyanin emphasised.

«Cities have high concentrations of active, clever and ambitious people. It is our job to create an environment in which their potential will be focused on developing the city, the national economy and the country as a whole. Our task is to make the city a convenient and comfortable place to live,» the Moscow Mayor concluded.

After the first part of the plenary session ended, the Mayor commented on several points made during the discussion. In his words, attention should not be paid primarily to town planning, but to urban agglomeration planning. The main problem, he said, is that Moscow and adjacent towns are developing under different administrative systems. They are not subordinated to one another, but are still gravitating toward each other.

Sobyanin said he appreciated the Moscow Region Government’s efforts to cooperate with the capital. «We need to introduce regulations for urban agglomerations and rules for their development as part of our town planning policy and urban development legislation,» he emphasised.

Although the Russian capital is home to some 30,000 academics and 1.3 million university students, it is not officially recognised as an innovation and education centre, Sobyanin noted. «We don’t know how to present and advertise what we have. This is not a trivial or academic task. It is important in terms of attracting investment and making Moscow a more attractive destination overall,» he added.

Sobyanin believes that Moscow’s growth potential is far from exhausted. City hall will soon announce a tender for the best development concept for the Moscow agglomeration. «Which is more important, fighting for investment or for people? I don’t think this question is even appropriate. I think investment in human potential is the most important thing. Investing in human potential is a key principle in big city development,» the Moscow Mayor said in his closing remarks at the plenary sessison.

Other speakers at the Moscow International Urban Forum included Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina, Sberbank chairman German Gref, France’s Urban Development Minister Maurice Leroy and Xu Bo, Deputy Secretary General of the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality.