Sergei Sobyanin: The Moscow Seasons mark a new style for the capital

Sergei Sobyanin: The Moscow Seasons mark a new style for the capital
In an interview with TV channel Moskva 24 and TV channel Rossiya 1’s Vesti Moskva programme, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin spoke about the highlights of the Moscow Spring festival that ran from 22 April to 9 May, and said what Muscovites can look forward to this summer.

Maria Rybakova (Moskva 24 news anchor): Hello, Mr Sobyanin.

Sergei Sobyanin: Hello.

Maria Rybakova: Thank you very much for spending some of this marvellous day here with us. Spring is here, and the Moscow Spring festival ended just a few days ago, so I’d like to discuss the festival and sum up the results. How did the event go? This is something new for our streets. Did people and the city take to it?

Sergei Sobyanin: Well, it’s still a bit early to sum up the results because spring isn’t over yet and we have more events ahead. As far as the festivals go through, we had the Easter festival, which was then followed by the Victory Day events on 9 May, so we can sum up some preliminary results for these events in any case.

Our objective was to create just as beautiful and attractive an atmosphere as at the Journey to Christmas festival, say. Muscovites and visitors liked and were impressed by that festival, which saw the city decorated in a real Christmas and New Year spirit, and many people came to the events. Many tourists, seeing what kind of event this is, have already started booking tickets for next year to come to the Journey to Christmas festival. Our goal was to make our next events just as interesting for people and decorate the city just as well. I think that we reached these goals. The number of people who came out to the squares, streets and pedestrian zones was just as big as during the Christmas festival, and I think that the city really did have a festive air. 

Maria Rybakova: It had a spring look, you could say.

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, a spring look.

Maria Rybakova: But a large number of artworks were made to decorate the city. How did things go in terms of covering and making a return on the costs involved in these events?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, it’s true that there has been debate about this in Moscow. People not only question the costs and so on, but even call for an end to all these festivities, as if we have nothing to celebrate. You can organise festivities in London, Paris or Berlin, but not in Moscow. We are going through a crisis after all, and so they say we ought to keep everything drab and modest, so that people see how bad things are and so that the city’s mood doesn’t jar with people’s gloom. But I think that we create our own mood, and I believe that the best anti-crisis measure is to create a spirit of joy and optimism in the city. Any crisis is to a large degree in people’s heads, including in business, and in the heads of ordinary people too, who think that everything is bad and so we should stop investing, stop all spending, and should really just sit at home and not go anywhere lest something happen.

Let me tell you a funny story. A big hotel opened recently in Moscow and the director of this hotel chain told me about how their biggest shareholder came to Moscow for the Christmas festivities. (He didn’t come specially for this holiday but just happened to be in Moscow at the time.) He was here to close his business, seeing as Moscow and Russia are going through a crisis. He planned to quietly wind it up and end his investment. When he came to Moscow, he said, “I couldn’t understand where I was. I thought there’d be litter everywhere in the streets, everything dirty and drab. I expected to see people hurrying about the streets in fur-hats with ear flaps,” and so on along that line. “But when I saw this city all lit up in different colours,” he went on, “beautifully decorated, and all these crowds of smiling people, I realised where I was, and that this crisis certainly wasn’t as I imagined.” Instead of closing down the business as he’d planned, he decided to invest in two large hotels in Moscow over the coming period. This just goes to show that we should not scale back our activity, but on the contrary, need to develop it, because this is a good medicine for any crisis.   

What’s more, we talk about supporting small business, and this is real support for small business. A huge number of stalls, cafes and restaurants work more intensively during these events and this economic activity brings dividends for business and for the city budget. We therefore make no losses on these activities, but on the contrary, we create a better economic as well as social climate. Of course, this can contribute to business development in Moscow and recovering from the crisis and living with a normal and optimistic mood.

Mikhail Zelensky (anchor of Vesti-Moskva programme on TV channel Rossiya 1): But all the same, many people are not happy, including with the various artworks going up around the city.

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, the artworks are an interesting story really. Most of them attract large numbers of tourists and people wanting to take photos. The stormy discussions on the social networks about particular artworks and the city’s decoration in general have played a very positive role because many people started wanting to see just what all this fuss was actually about. Not many people knew what the Moscow Spring event was and not everyone turned out for the Easter festival, but now a huge number of people have come just to see for themselves if it’s lovely or a monstrosity.

Maria Rybakova: So it served as a form of advertising in a way?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, an irreplaceable form of advertising. Let me tell you another story, about the ugly green head. Let me tell you what was behind that. Yes, indeed, the finished product did not really turn out as planned and so the organisers decided to move it to another site on the city outskirts, at one of the shopping malls. 

Maria Rybakova: And it was a success there, right?

Sergei Sobyanin: It was a huge success. The shopping mall saw its sales go up by 40 percent, and now they’re asking us to please leave it there.

Maria Rybakova: Let it just stay then?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, let it stay.

Maria Rybakova: Mr Sobyanin, if there are so many critics out there, how about getting them not just to criticise, but to propose something of their own. Perhaps there is some way of getting city residents, the public, these bloggers and the Internet public together so that they too can take part and make their own contribution to this work, something that reflects them?

Sergei Sobyanin: Everyone takes part, some take part with their physical presence, some take part with their photos. On Instagram, for example, there were probably never so many photos taken at Moscow events of this sort before. We’ve seen up to 40,000 photos uploaded every day. That’s a huge number. This is truly excellent advertising for Moscow, great advertising for the festival, and it creates broad discussion on what is going on in the city. Of course, we see and hear the critics, and we hear the new ideas people propose too and take it all into account so as to do things better each year and improve these events’ organisation. 

Maria Rybakova: So this has all been beneficial then?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course.

Mikhail Zelensky: You mentioned the social networks. I understand that you’re a frequent visitor there?

Sergei Sobyanin: I don’t just look in; I take part too.

Mikhail Zelensky: But on Instagram, say, you look at what people are writing, at what they’re taking pictures of, see where the demand lies?

Sergei Sobyanin: Most of the photos on Instagram are very positive and beautiful. People love Moscow, and they enjoy walking the city streets. There is a huge number of positive upbeat photos that put you in a good mood.

Mikhail Zelensky: The Moscow Seasons festival is another new idea. How will it differ from other events?

Sergei Sobyanin: Moscow Seasons is not a festival as such but rather, you could say it’s a new style for the city. We began with a small chalet on Manezhnaya Square before Christmas, a small children’s carousel, and that was all. Then there was the Journey to Christmas event that turned into an international festival with the participation of a dozen and a half cities in Russia and Europe.

Then there was the Easter festival, then the Moscow Jam festival and so on. Gradually, we are sounding out a new style for the city, not just in the parks and concert halls, but on the squares and streets. This new style is emerging in street decorations, master classes, concerts, a sense of things happening. When the Journey to Christmas festival ended, for example, many people asked me why we were ending it. They said it was so beautiful, gave the city such a good and cosy feel. And then it ended, and everything went back to slush, grey skies and the feeling of life being absent from the city streets. We decided then that this style we had sensed during the festival, people’s desire to be in the streets and spend time with each other, and this demand for an atmosphere of this kind could be embodied in a new style for the city. Thus we took the four seasons ‒ winter, spring, summer and autumn ‒ and will hold various events in the Moscow streets under the common Moscow Seasons brand. The Moscow Spring festival covers a number of events, for example, the Easter Festival, the 9 May events, Fish Week and more. These events are taking place not only in parks but also in the streets. Valery Gergiev’s Easter festival, for example, is not just taking place at exclusive venues, but also at all Moscow squares, where stages have been set up especially for the event. In other words, we want cultural, social and public life to be not in some specially designated locations, but everywhere, including in the city’s main squares. 

This way, we will have a new-look Moscow which is always decorated quite festively and offers people a comfortable environment for going out, spending time together, sharing smiles, and taking part in competitions and events of various kinds. I think that this is very beneficial for Moscow and very much needed. 

Mikhail Zelensky: A year-round festival.

Maria Rybakova: It’s a good trend.

Mikhail Zelensky: Masha, let’s not violate a tradition, in all matters concerning the Week of the Fish …

Maria Rybakova: Maria Rybakova is asking these questions. Mr Sobyanin, let’s move on from our spiritual food to our daily bread. Fish Week is not far off, the festival is about to start. Tell us what it will be like this year. How will it go?

Sergei Sobyanin: Last year we held our Fish Week, this festival for the first time. It was a success, and not just because of public perception and peoples' desire to shop fish products and buy something. Fish producers and suppliers from all parts of the country signed dozens and even hundreds of contracts with Moscow retailers. What was happening? In general, we were huge consumers of imported fish without noticing that our domestic products weren’t inferior. And, thank goodness, the crisis, the devaluation and all the sanctions also helped, compelling us to pay more attention to what we produce. I think our products are in no way inferior to theirs. This year we’ll continue this tradition. We’ll have special kiosks for Sevastopol, Kaliningrad, Astrakhan and Vladivostok. Fish producers from all over the country will be here. They’ll bring silversides, salmon, vendace, sisco, and quinnat, to name a few.

Maria Rybakova: Apart from Fish Week, this year we are also planning to hold more festivals -- “Our Product” and “Nature’s Gifts.” It follows from their names what they will be like, and I assume they’ll be held in a similar way, right?

Sergei Sobyanin: “Our Product” will take place in June and will focus on Russian-produced meat products. “Nature’s Gifts” will be held in August when fruit and berries are harvested and will also be in demand, in my opinion.

Maria Rybakova: This can be an across-the-board health improvement for Muscovites – everything fresh and tasty!

Sergei Sobyanin: That’s not even the main point. This is not only and not so much for retail. We want to turn these festivals into holidays. There will be concert venues and workshops where people will be taught to make new kinds of meals, so the atmosphere will be pleasant and holiday-like.

Mikhail Zelensky: What surprises will await Muscovites on the pedestrian streets? What has been done recently on Kamergergsky Pereulok and other streets?

Sergei Sobyanin: Mikhail, you’ve got a magical tool in your hands – a video record. You could have looked to see what’s happening in the pedestrian areas, say five or even four years ago and what’s happening today. I recently went past Bolshaya Dmitrovka, read some documents and then looked out the window; I didn’t understand what was going on. I asked the driver: “Where are we?” Understandably, we upgraded these streets, installed good lightning and removed the cars but this wasn’t all. When crowds of people come to these streets, walk there in a good mood, and not just walk but enjoy these streets, good weather and the city, the image of these streets is changing. This is a principle change. The atmosphere in the city is changing and this is the goal we strove to achieve.

It was impossible to achieve this without designating parking and the quality upgrades you see. And this is not just upgraded public space but also general cultural city space, and this is the right approach.

Maria Rybakova: Indeed, Moscow is gradually turning from an auto city into a pedestrian city and a bit of a bicycle city. We’ll see more changes this spring and summer.

Sergei Sobyanin: There are many more bicyclists this year. We can gauge this by the number of bike-share rentals. The number of rentals has almost tripled this year over last year. This is of course partly due to the weather and the general mood in the city.

Maria Rybakova: I fully agree with you. All these new points attracting the interest of tourists and local residents also raise their interest in cafes and patios. I know that this year the standard rules on how cafes are to be located will be slightly changed. Could you speak a little more in detail about this, why were the areas affected by these changes will be expanded? In the past they were inside the Third Ring Road and now they go a little further.

Sergei Sobyanin: Like in all our initiatives, we go step by step to give business a chance to adapt and to prevent ourselves from making mistakes. For this reason, we started imposing requirements on those summer cafes that are in the city centre, on pedestrian streets. The requirements are very simple and understandable: there should be a protection from the sun, the view should not be obscured by polyethylene film, as it was in the past, there should be no partitions, only an open space creating an eye-pleasing city image. As I said, we began with the central part of the city, with pedestrian streets and then we reached the Boulevard Ring and finally the Third Ring Road. Now we will impose such requirements on summer patios and cafes all over the city. I must say that this simplifies matters rather than complicates them as this is a standard city requirement.  We issue licenses practically for an unlimited period of time.  As long as  you meet these requirements you will not need to renew your license every year and can work without hindrance. This year, about 40 percent more cafes received licenses. This means that we are in fact not interfering with business but, on the contrary, are supporting  it. Muscovites are getting used to this new layout. Judging by the fact that most summer cafes are jam-packed, especially on the weekends, I believe that the people approve of the new layout.

Maria Rybakova: We like it very much.

Mikhail Zelensky: Who will keep an eye on maintaining these standards outside the Third Ring Road? In the city centre everything is close by, easier to keep track.

Sergei Sobyanin: In the same way as here, the trade and administrative inspection will handle this and see to it that all standards are met. Naturally, things should be under control, otherwise there will be no result. Business owners may want to do things in their own ways, so control should be very tough. Some café owners may find these requirements superfluous, while others will see the value in them. We have a city standard that must be observed. This is the only way to create favourable conditions in the city. If owners will continue to do things per their own design there will be no result in the end.

Maria Rybakova: Speaking about the city, festival activities are very much underway. Let’s talk about parks, which have recently become the  subject of much attention. What events will you offer in the parks? Will they differ from last year’s, with some pleasant surprises?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course, some of the events we plan for the city will be held in parks. However, park managers arrange their own events to run parallel to the citywide ones. We continue to improve and renovate parks and also lay out new parks. We are developing and improving summer beach areas on the Moskva River and other water bodies. We increase the number of these areas every year, so that people will not only come to parks for a walk but also to lay in the sun and possibly take a swim. Even though we are increasing the number of street activities, the number of events in parks will not at all decrease.

Mikhail Zelensky: At the same time, we see the appearance of many neighbourhood sports grounds. How many of them have been created over the past year, and what plans do you have in this area?

Sergei Sobyanin: We have installed thousands of fitness machines in Moscow courtyards. Not all of them have suited the public. I have spoken about this with Muscovites many times. Some of them were happy, because young people stopped drinking beer on benches and started working out on these machines instead. But grannies complain that now the racket at the sports grounds doesn’t stop until midnight, disturbing their sleep.

Mikhail Zelensky: Grannies are never happy, are they?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yet I can assure you that many…

Maria Rybakova: Some grannies use these machines too. I’ve seen them do this.

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, of course. There are special machines for seniors, and they never stand idle. I’ve seen elderly people actively using them. This is wonderful. We’ve created workout grounds in parks and have not only held the Moscow city championship but also hosted the Street Workout World Cup. Very many people do sport and fitness exercises outdoors. I believe it’s good that we have not only these sports grounds and fitness machines but also areas where people can walk and take part in healthful living while having the opportunity to enjoy their  city, either on foot or on a bicycle. As for pedestrian areas, you can see that the number of people walking there has increased several times over after we improved them.

Mikhail Zelensky: Maria, as far as I know, you have stopped going to your fitness club and now do your workouts on these sports grounds?

Maria Rybakova: Yes, I now train exclusively at sports and workout grounds. What about feedback, does it reach you? Has public attitude toward health and leisure time changed in the capital?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course it has, as you can see by the number of people who do sports. The number has nearly doubled. And the number of people in the street has also increased several-fold. The city is never empty. It lives a full life in the morning, in the daytime and also after dark.

Maria Rybakova: Especially in this weather…

Sergei Sobyanin: People vote with their feet. I always said that some will be happy and others disappointed. People do what they like. They either come to enjoy their walks here, or they don’t. In the latter case we admit that it was a bad idea, and that the event we planned has failed. But when people come to our parks and improved streets in thousands and even millions, there are no two ways about it – we are doing the right thing.

Mikhail Zelensky: And our last question. What have you done to get this good weather?

Sergei Sobyanin: The Patriarch has blessed the festival, thereby contributing to today’s good weather. So I think.

Maria Rybakova: We’ll wait for more good weather like this. Thank you.

Mikhail Zelensky: Thank you.

Sergei Sobyanin: Thank you, and take care.