Sergei Sobyanin: Yauza River improvement project will be one of the most significant in 2018

Sergei Sobyanin: Yauza River improvement project will be one of the most significant in 2018
Photo: Photo by the Mayor and Moscow Government Press Service. Yevgeny Samarin
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin discusses with whether there’s a need to integrate the city with the region, if new taxes will be introduced, what the economy of the future should look like, how the My Street programme influenced tourism, the fate of old city trees under the relocation programme, and what’s going to happen with the Yauza River next year.

All year round hot water for new buildings

— Mr Sobyanin, when you became Moscow Mayor, the city was facing some difficult situations: there were problems with transportation, abandoned industrial zones, concluded investment projects that were not always justified, to mention just a few things. What were the first steps you took to solve these issues?

— First I had to understand what exactly these problems were. Then I had to work out a task list. I had a feeling that everyone was happy with the situation. No one said a word about the numerous kiosks, the mud or cross street banners.

The first period was dedicated to understanding these problems and explaining the new concept to the contractors. For example, investors and developers are very important, but their interests should be in balance with city interests and those of the residents; and, in the end, the final goal is not the investors themselves, it’s to make the city more user friendly.

After this, for every field a new long-term programme was developed. Also we had to choose people who were ready to rush to the barricades, because every change is a real battle.

Although, of course, we tried hard to work with our investors, closing some projects and developing others, including the ones on industrial zones, we had to come up with some compromises.

— Now the number one issue in Moscow is the relocation programme. How will this programme be implemented so that the people concerned will not only be resettled but should be given a feeling of wellbeing at their new places and that these micro districts don’t turn into ghettos?

— Ghettos will appear in the districts where the old buildings are if we do nothing. Now many of these five-story buildings are in a dilapidated condition, which if left will become even more critical in 15–20 years, and then these districts will be depressive and dangerous to inhabit. In buildings that are in a poor condition the wrong kind of people often settle very fast.

However, we will not be working on buildings only, but on planning to make them up-to-date and comfortable, to create more public spaces, green zones, parking, to create a favourable transportation system, and enough social and cultural amenities. If necessary, we will rebuild or complete the existing places and construct new ones.

Another way not to let ghettos appear in the new districts is to manage the ground floors reasonably. The business on the five-story buildings’ ground floors looks strange today, because many people let themselves in through balconies, in fact, or through entrance halls. We want shops to open on the ground floors in the new buildings, so people would easily reach services, retail, social events and so on. Entrances will be separate. It will create additional jobs. In general we are planning to develop the neighbourhoods to create more workplaces within easy reach.

Also, there are large urban areas around these districts that are not always in a good state: abandoned or vacated spots or badly maintained protected natural areas. The city has the opportunity to expand the areas that are being renovated, but I don’t mean in a construction sense, I mean we can create more comfortable spaces, children’s playgrounds, jogging lanes and sportsgrounds. We will definitely take into account the buildings that are not in the relocation programme but are situated in the same neighbourhood, and plan everything so that a comfortable urban area will be created around them, too.

— Will you turn off the hot water for maintenance in the new buildings?

—In the new buildings the hot water won’t have to be turned off for summer servicing. But new buildings will one day become old, and then we will have to turn the hot water off again, at least for some time.

— Where will people park?

— As for parking, several kinds will be provided: underground parking under the buildings, in the courtyards, under them, to be exact – semi-subterranean parking; another variant is a separate multi-story parking area, and then there’ll be street parking as well. There will be fees if you want to park in the main areas, because it is, in fact, like a garage. Street parking will, of course, be free.

– Many residents from five-story buildings that voted against the inclusion of their blocks of flats in the programme, are worried about the fate of old trees, which could suffer because of the construction work. Is there any regulation explaining what will happen to these trees if they happen to get in the way of a bulldozer: will vehicles drive around them or will they be chopped down?

– Trees that grow today in these areas should be preserved if it’s possible. We generally plan to increase the number of trees in new residential places.

– Of course, different sorts of people will be involved in the programme. How many workers will take part in its implementation? Who are they, those coming from outside the city, foreign guest workers, or Muscovites? Where will they stay?

– The peak volume of the construction work will be about three million square metres in total. Today, Moscow is building from eight to 10 million square metres, so there will be some redistribution of building capacity and additional volume, but by and large the teams of builders will be unchanged and there won’t be many new people needed.

Moscow and the Moscow Region have enough capacity to digest these volumes.

– Another popular topic people are worried about is the My Street programme. The main worriers are drivers. They are not friends of this project …

– Drivers have been swearing when they get stuck in traffic jams, but they have a right to do this when repair works are underway. Yes, this really worsens the transportation situation, but this is a temporary phenomenon. After the reconstruction, traffic usually flows normally through the streets. Moreover, the movement of public transportation improves; some people prefer taxis, car sharing and sometimes even bicycles to any other method of private transportation. So, we can see the positive side of things.

I do not think that drivers have any real grounds to complain about being constrained. Moscow never had such a great number of roads and junctions before. Some people just forget things very quickly.

– And how do small businesses feel about these renovated streets?

– Perfect. When reconstruction is underway, small businesses have a problem, but it lasts only a few months, and then the volume of trade increases. Capitalisation of buildings on the site of relocation grows by 10 to 25 percent.

When we reconstructed the first streets – Stoleshnikov Pereulok and Kuznetsky Most – there were numerous public complaints about my work submitted to the President, to the Chairperson of the Federation Council, the Chairperson of the State Duma. Also, there were complaints from business circles who were losing money. Today their businesses are thriving and there are no problems. Now the number of trading sites in a street correlates to its human traffic capacity.

– In addition to the transportation issue has anything else cropped up, say anything to do with tourism?

– Look, see for yourselves all the people on the streets now. We’re not only looking at the summer months here.

Between 1 and 2 January, the police chief calls me and says: "Listen, Mr Sobyanin, we’re going to have to restrict traffic on Tverskaya Street, and we don’t know how to tackle this." "What happened?" I ask and come there and see: people just walking in lines. Too many to even fit into the underpasses. All this was despite the extreme cold.

The number of people walking along the streets, which were reconstructed, has significantly grown. People walk, rest, admire the city and sit in cafes.

The flow of tourists in Moscow grows every year – and it does not fall in the summer months either despite of the implementation of the My Street programme. According to official statistics, it grew by 40 percent, but I think that the figure is actually greater. For example, eight million people live in the Moscow Region, and they come to Moscow just to take a walk or go to a restaurant. This can hardly be called tourism but in fact it is.

Russian receives a pension with taxes from a Moscow wage.

— Moscow’s gross regional product is the largest in the country. Moscow, not only by the letter of the law but in actual fact, has become a separate area, even though it is not very convenient for the development of the agglomeration that includes the Moscow Region. What is your attitude to the idea of merging Moscow and the Moscow Region from the economic viewpoint?

— I cannot see any reason why this kind of administrative union between such large entities of about 20 million people particularly makes sense. Using New Moscow as an example, I can see that a tremendous amount of time and huge investments are required to develop even this small segment, much less the whole region.

 To ensure that agglomerations develop smoothly, it is not a must to change their administrative structure. From the economic viewpoint there is nothing wrong in the agglomeration operating as two entities. The main aspects are traffic flows and transport accessibility, and we need coordination to achieve this. I believe the tide has turned in recent years: a number of large thoroughfares totally neglected in the past have been reconstructed and now we have started mass reconstruction of suburban expressways.

— Do you think that merging cities with the regions around could be a useful scenario in other parts of the country?

— Moscow is both a city and an entity of the Russian Federation and this comes with the problem of a limited amount of surrounding area. With the exception of St Petersburg and Sevastopol, other Russian agglomerations do not have problems like this, as they are situated inside entitles of the Russian Federation. We can see the same situation with most Western cities: for example, Paris is situated in the prefecture of Ile-de-France, New York City is in New York State. I believe that all of us, both regional authorities and the Russian Government, should put special effort in the development of agglomerations, as they are now engines of the country’s economy, and this only becomes more true with time.

Agglomerations always show higher labour productivity and efficiency. We should remember that a large number of people live in small single-industry towns with no jobs, unfortunately. In rural areas labour productivity has increased many-fold and a lot of things that people did manually are now done by modern mechanisms. This is why we should develop large cities. I do not want to dictate rules to anyone but this is my inner conviction.

— How does Moscow as a customer influence the country’s industrial market?

— For example, it creates 3.5 million jobs all over the country and consumes products worth 2.3 trillion roubles. On the other hand, this does not mean that we are only a consumer market. Moscow is responsible for 18 percent of the country’s manufacturing industry, while only seven percent of the Russian population actually live in Moscow. The city is also responsible for 20 percent of hi-tech exports.

The agglomeration itself serves as a driver for the development of the local population. I mean services, trade, finances, and the creative class which is growing in Moscow at a speed no other city in the world can boast. We may still be behind them when it comes to quantitative indicators but we are definitely overtaking them with our rate of development.

— It is logical that due to these circumstances over 70 per cent of the city budget comes from corporate tax and income tax. Are there any plans to change the budget structure?

— No, we are not going to raise taxes. Changing this kind of structure would only mean increasing taxes in other areas.

 Almost 30 percent of other taxes is a lot. The more so, since the development pattern is very good: income from granting work permits for migrants have grown tenfold, income from issuing business licences have also grown many times, and the non-tax revenue by 175 percent. What’s wrong with the fact that our main source comes from VAT and income tax? When we received tax from oil companies it was not very good due to its instability. In addition to this, people often asked us where we stand due to the fact that oil and gas are produced so far away from Moscow. In the past, revenue from oil and gas was anything between 16-18 percent of the city budget and today it’s just three percent.

The main part of our budget comes from taxes on products that we make here plus services offered here. I don’t even have to mention income tax coming from people who work here.

— However, not everyone lives in Moscow itself. Some say tax should be paid where we live and not where we work.

— If we’re talking about income tax from those people who work here and allocate it at their places of residence, Moscow will not be interested in creating jobs. If you want people to work on your land and not in Moscow, then create jobs there. In recent years, Moscow built 52.3 million square metres of property, of which housing makes up under a half, the rest is for places like blocks of offices and other work areas. Somebody chose to build housing only.

— But in any case, people will be eager to work in Moscow.

— It is not true. The question is what kind of jobs are on offer. For example, heavy industry is gradually moving from Moscow to the Moscow Region and even farther afield, to the Vladimir Region. We can see normal redistribution of land and workforce on the basis of the economy and input costs. In the past, large factories were forcefully herded to Moscow. Now factories don’t want to function in Moscow unless it is profitable.

At the same time, the Moscow economy has characteristic aspects. If a large international hotel chain invests here, a ban on its activities in Moscow will not encourage it to go and build a hotel elsewhere in the country. It will not build a hotel anywhere, it will simply leave Russia.

All this means that attempts to rearrange things administratively will result in investments leaving Moscow but not reaching other places. We are struggling to find this kind of investment and not trying to deprive such places as Vladimir of investments.

I believe that our taxable income is commensurate with Moscow’s gross regional product (GRP). If Moscow’s GRP is 22 or 23 percent and this equals the taxable income, this means that nobody takes away anything from anyone. On the contrary, the regions receive some 1.5 trillion roubles of federal financial assistance, while Moscow transfers over 1 trillion roubles in taxes to the federal budget. If we are allowed to develop calmly, in a few years’ time tax payments from Moscow will exceed the sum of federal allocations to the regions. We have the same tax and budgetary conditions as the other Russian regions, but we are developing faster and our payoff is bigger. Taking part of the tax from the Moscow budget would slow down its growth, the growth of its economy, which will decrease our payments to the federal budget and consequently the ability to distribute funds among other regions. This would kill Moscow’s economy and would not do the national economy any good.

Speaking quite frankly, who feeds who, and who takes what away from whom? Ten percent of people in Russia receive their pensions thanks to payments from Muscovites’ salaries made into the pension fund. The cost of medical assistance for ten percent of Russians is covered by people in Moscow, by deductions made from their salaries into the pension and medical insurance funds. These deductions are made directly from salaries of people who work in Moscow, and not vice versa.

- What will Moscow’s economy look like in say 10 or 15 years from now?

- I don’t think that we should focus on any one priority. I believe the city should create comfortable conditions for doing any kind of business, excluding environmentally harmful ones. Our business community will itself decide where to invest their money: in biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence or something else. Nothing good will come out of our attempts to control business or tell it what it must do.

The current trends in Moscow point to the development of the creative class, digital technology, a vast service industry, technology parks, innovative businesses, large engineering companies and financial services. I think that Moscow will be developing in these areas in the near future, just as all other megacities do.

There is also the sports sector. Two thirds of sports facilities in Moscow are built with private funds, although the city should finance accessible sports and physical fitness sections, create sports grounds, stadiums and sports schools, and the like. Today, many kindergartens, schools and outpatient clinics are financed by private investors. These are not dominant sectors, but they are worth investing in.

- Who will live in Moscow in 10 or 15 years from now?

- Those who come to Moscow and those who were born in Moscow seldom leave the city. Some 200,000 migrate from Russia every year. The figure for France is between 250,000 and 300,000 people. This shows that we live in an open world. We cannot influence foreign policy or macroeconomic trends, but we can change the urban environment to make it attractive for people.

The urban environment includes education (at least preschool and school education), healthcare, culture, sports, public spaces, parks, transportation, and so on. I believe that Moscow is quite competitive with other megacities in terms of the quality and the development pace of its urban environment.

For example, we were criticised for the inadequate standards of education. We heard a lot of unpleasant things, such as we have destroyed the school education system, that our children are illiterate, and that the situation concerning education has plummeted compared to Soviet times.

Nevertheless, when we completed a special survey of all school children in Moscow, it turned out that we hold 6th place in the world in terms of maths and reading literacy. We are only behind Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and Finland, and then not by all parameters. In Finland, for example, they have only half as many school pupils as we do here in Moscow. If we take the half of our schools that are on the Top 300 list, we will surge ahead of Finland. And our schools on the Top 150 list are the best in the world.

– In the heart of Paris, there is the Sorbonne; Boston is closely linked with Harvard. Do we have an intellectual economy that we can develop?

– Moscow already has a University centre. We have about one million students, 30 percent of all scientists in Russia are Moscow-based. It is a major cluster of education and science.

On the other hand, in my opinion, programmes in our universities should better meet the needs of reality and the firms and companies where their graduates are going to work. There is a serious gap here. The curriculum changes much more slowly than the requirements for graduates. To change the dynamics of this, manufacturers, too, need to be more active, and create their own accreditation centres, impose their own agenda on universities, rate universities to let others know that a certain university produces first rate graduates, while another university has graduates that are not up to scratch.

This, of course, is not exactly a city issue, but we also try to influence these processes. In particular, we are highly interested in new professionals graduating from medical schools, because a significant number of them join local outpatient clinics and hospitals. Therefore, we have developed a special programme of additional accreditation and will introduce it in September. We are putting forward additional requirements and encouraging our doctors to get additional accreditation, because the existing certification system is rather weak. Such processes are very painful and complicated, but I am sure that independent exams and strict requirements are the only way to make our higher education effective.

– Does the additional accreditation apply to medical professionals alone, or to other professionals as well?

– We plan to build a similar system for teachers, since the city is also a major customer for graduates of teacher training colleges. We are already experimenting. Graduates from higher pedagogical schools who wanted to work in Moscow had to do very difficult additional tests. Out of 400 people, 18 got the desired result. The testing offers several major incentives including guaranteed jobs and grants. For example, to get this grant, a teacher has to come up with the most popular and effective lesson plan (evaluated by other teachers).

Yauza River – a huge park

– Early in our talk you mentioned targeted programmes in each area, except environment. There is still no targeted programme on that. Why so? Will it be developed in the end?

– It is enough to have an environmental concept and we have one. The environmental problem does not exist in isolation. It is integrated into different programmes. Transportation is responsible for 90 percent of the entire amount of pollution in the city. Accordingly, public transportation should be replaced at the very least, if we want to improve the state of the environment.

As of today, Moscow’s surface public transportation is the youngest in Europe. It is new and sufficiently clean environmentally. More than that, we have replaced commercial public transportation, although this was not easy either. We have bought 2,000 new buses. The creaking and smoking public mini-bus taxies that could barely amble along have disappeared.  

Motorists themselves also tend to influence the environment in a positive way by changing their vehicles for cleaner ones. To encourage this, we have started altering fuel requirements ahead of other regions by switching first to the 4th and then to the 5th grade fuel. We are imposing environmental restrictions on freight vehicles’ entry within the Third Transport Ring. Later the same will apply to the area within the Moscow Ring Road.

Yet another project is to replace fuel engines by electric engines on public transport vehicles. It may look somewhat futuristic, but when we implement it, we will be right in the world trend.

Many cities in the world have announced their intention to start switching over to electric public transportation as of 2020 – 2023. If we start buying electric vehicles in 2018, the replacement will take at least 7 years.

Industry should also be mentioned in the environmental context. We have had fewer foundries and chemical plants and more hi-tech facilities and engineering companies. We are prioritising the development of engineering prototypes, an environmentally safe business, rather than large-scale batch production. Of course, we have the well-known monster at Kapotnya, the Moscow Oil Refinery, but we cannot get rid of it just like that. It provides thousands of jobs, it is an important sector of the municipal economy, and it supplies the city with first-rate fuel.

– What will the city do with it?

– When I first visited the facility, I saw huge spills of furnace oil and open tanks that were stinking so much that you felt uncomfortable, to put it mildly, even at a distance of one kilometre from them. Today this picture has disappeared without a trace. New installations have been put into service one after another. One of the main installations, Euro+, will be commissioned in 2018 and it will cut atmospheric emissions by another 40 percent. But even today, there are 50 percent less emissions compared to what was before, while the content of certain substances has diminished exponentially. For example, the threshold allowable concentration of sulfur dioxide has dropped by 90 percent between 2010 and 2016, hydrogen disulfide 98.6 percent, and so on.

Today people living in the Kapotnya area would complain about isolated emissions from the refinery. To monitor the situation, we have installed our sensors right on its funnels. The refinery will be fully modernised before 2020. The zone of sanitary protection around it will contract exponentially; the emissions and smells will decline as well.   

- More on the subject of the environment and production. What is the status of the Moskva River revitalisation programme, will there be less industrial discharge in the end?

- Each year marks a decrease in the number of industrial discharges. Currently there are 40. The change comes from large plants gradually moving out of Moscow, just as such pollutants as the Moscow Oil Refinery have reconsidered their environmental programmes. The water they discharge is now cleaner than the refinery pumps in.

Transportation is a major source of both air and Moskva River pollution because exhaust fumes accumulate on the surfaces of the roads before being washed away by rain into the river. However, the evolution of Moscow transport will precipitate a change in the environmental condition of the river.

- Consequently, people will want to spend more time by the river.

- Moscow has kept most of the areas running alongside the Moskva River off limits for the public, so things are changing bit by bit because we are renovating the older embankments and building some new ones too. It is very important to replace abandoned industrial sites on the river bank with convenient and quality residential or office buildings to keep these areas open for residents to come to. For example, the future plans for ZIL will turn this former plant into a vast area with an embankment. There is also the Tushinsky Plant, and the Shelepikhinskaya Embankment which will be extended as the implementation of investment projects under the tentative name ‘Big City’ continues. Gradually, step by step, we seek to build modern residential and commercial buildings and comfortable embankments where possible, or improve such greenscape zones, as in Stroginskaya Poima.

- What about the Yauza River?

- Next year, we are planning a large Yauza project, which I believe is to become a landmark 2018 event. The project is under development, and will then be discussed with and approved by local residents.

We will cover the larger part of the river, which is in a sorry state as it is. This is a specially protected area, so there will be no commercial construction there.

The project will see the area improved, cleaned and greenscaped with new fitness areas and playgrounds, paths, improved lightning and security systems. In addition to all this, we will be cleaning the river up itself. When complete the project will transform the Yauza into a giant 700-hectare park.

- Going back to industry issues, what are Moscow’s plans for its ‘rust belt’ of industrial areas?

- There are several approaches. We transform most large wastelands that once accommodated plants into what we call neighbourhood parks.

Another approach seeks to maintain the city’s industrial production. Where production, which is mostly high-tech production, is still ongoing, we provide all possible solutions for it to develop in an environmentally-friendly way.

Under the third approach, places where production has ceased and there is no further need for such vast expanses will become comprehensive development sites. Usually, there are residential, office, commercial buildings, other commercial and entertainment projects. Take ZIL for instance: there is a large sports complex, a cluster, a thematic children’s park, residential buildings and a lot of jobs there as well. So all of Moscow’s industrial areas are part of its historical development, not the other way around, part of its historical demise.

Work is underway or is set to begin at 20 industrial zones. These include ZIL, which I already mentioned, Nagatinsky Zaton, Verkhniye Kotly, Serp I Molot Plant, Vorontsovo, the Krasnopresnensky Sugar Plant, Mill Plant No 4, part of the Sokolinaya Gora area, the NIIDAR (Long-Distance Radio Communications Research Institute) plant, Tushinsky airfield, the Western River Port, and other places.

- Mr Sobyanin, last question. If, as singer Sergei Shnurov sang famously, St Petersburg is for drinking, what is Moscow for?

- Actually, both Moscow and St Petersburg are statistically in the top-10 of Russia’s most sober cities. I think if we go with the analogy, Moscow is for life, work and love. It is a city on par not only with other Russian cities but also other world cities.