||Sometime in the 1600’s a city was founded on the shores of
the Volga River, just down a bit from where I am sitting. Then, in the 1950’s,
the Soviets built a series of dams on the river, flooding the town so a new
city was built, higher up the bank, for the residents. In the 1960’s, another
city was built next to that one, this city for the Italians from Fiat, who
came to start a car factory. In true Soviet tradition, the factory provided
for everyone’s housing, schooling, healthcare, and recreation. A true Workers’
Paradise. The towns were renamed, New and Old Toglatti, in honor of the Italians,
and everything in the city was named Avto-something after the factory, AvtoVaz.
The factory is a Soviet wonder, producing half of the cars sold in Russia
and making Toglatti a rich city in the process. I’m not gonna write anymore
about the factory, I’m sure they have a website that I will link when I find
it, but the city is so Soviet, it needs a description.
Now, if you were an urban planer, with unlimited resources at your disposal,
how would you design a city from scratch? In Russia, they were really into
replication, and it shows. Spread out over a huge grid in Toglatti, are the
very same apartment buildings in Lidia’s neighborhood.
In fact, each grid is identical to the next one! They have numbered each
grid to give people a reference point, but it is still confusing and monotonous.
As Matt and I taxi around, I keep passing,
what I think, is our dom, just to find out that it is kilometers away from
us. Oh yeah, everything is really spread out. You’d think that a country
with low car ownership and high public transport needs would build their
apartment buildings close together to maximize shared resources, but not
All the Soviet planned cities are the same. Huge grids filled with identical
apartments, spread out over large areas. It sometimes seems like the size
of Russia put a zap to the planner’s heads, making them want to conquer the
country with apartment blocks. Remember the scene near the end of the original
Star Wars, where the Millennium Flacon is shown entering the rebel base,
and you see wild stone pyramids peaking out of dense jungle? Well that’s
what it feels like in a few of these buildings. Like we are in concrete towers
rising from thick forests, we are so far from the next building!
Oddly enough, busses go to each and every
building, though they are definitely not the most convenient form of transport.
A taxi is better, but I can see where Russia
is going. Soon enough, this place will look just like American Suburbia,
with everyone driving their cars all
the time. The roads, already full of crazy drivers, will be even more deadly
and/or traffic jammed. Parking might not become the problem it is in America,
because here people park everywhere, on the sidewalks, on any green surface,
and many times, right in the middle of the street!
Moscow is already famous for it’s horrible traffic, but the mayor is following
Soviet tradition and building even more apartments, even farther from the
city center. He’s even encouraging people to move out to them! It might be
a good way to stimulate and economy (gotta get a car to get to work), the
USA certainly believes in it, but its going to wreck the already assaulted
I guess the worst part of the Soviet replication planning, is the soullessness
of it all. Since all the buildings look a like, in Volgagrad, Toglatti,
Zelenograd, and outer Moscow, there is nothing different or special about
each area. Once the uniqueness is lost, so is the civic pride and regional
differences that make traveling so enjoyable. Now I know why my friends who
travel all over Russia on business always go to Europe on vacations. Once
you’ve seen one Soviet city, you’ve really seen them all.