Soviet Suburban Living

1999 > Russia

I was hoping to escape suburbia when I left the States!

Northern Virginia doesn't even come close to this!

Oh the variety!

Circle the wagons, injuns are around!

See any similarities?

Note the wonderful landscaping around the base of this building

What a view!

home sweet home (for someone!)

And I’ve been here!
A nice winter day

But never here.
I’ve always hated the suburbs. I spent too many years living
in the suburbs of a small city in Florida to ever want to go back to the
monotony of suburban living. Across the river from DC, I saw the ultimate in suburbia, Northern Virginia, and I was horrified.

I just cannot understand how people can live in those look-alike houses;
some of which are made with windows that do not open! Yes, people go from
their sealed, air-conditioned homes into their attached garage, get in their
sealed car to drive to their office parking garage, and suffer the 30 seconds
of unfiltered air before entering their hermetically sealed buildings for
the next eight to twelve hours. At the end of the day, they repeat the process,
with maybe a stop at a sterile strip mall for double plastic-wrapped
hormone/antibiotic injected square of meat. The whole time, they never encounter
anyone not of the same socio-economic situation, even stomping on the gas
and locking the doors if they see a bum. Return to that? Shoot me first,

Therefore, it is with painful irony that I am living in the suburbs of Moscow
these days. I came back here after a wonderful trip to Kyiv and Yalta, in
Ukraine, to spend time with Lidia while she studies for her ACCA exams. I
used to live in downtown Moscow, Taganka to be exact, and I was in
the middle of this vibrant and intriguing city. Since I quit my job to go
traveling, I had to leave my swank expat apartment
and move what little stuff I didn’t ship home or sell, out here.

Where is “here?” Well let me tell you! “Here,” is the Tushina region of Moscow,
which like the rest of the city, is experiencing the first building boom
since the 1980 Olympics. Lidia’s parents moved here in the middle 80’s, attracted
by the cheap housing prices and all the green around. Just like all the other
suburbs in the world, they were surrounded by other couples raising kids
and sought stability and safety from the “dangerous” city nearby.

When Lidia and her sister came of age, her parents presented them with something
most Russian kids can only dream about: an apartment and a car. Now their
parents weren’t stupid, the kids’ apartments are very close by, with the
sister’s apartment literally next door to the parent’s place. Lidia was lucky,
or smart enough, to wiggle her way into what are commonly called “visoki”
or tall, apartments. At twenty floors, her building is a bit taller than
the average five floors in Moscow, or ten floors of her parent’s building.
Actually, Lidia just said that the three sections of her parent’s building
have seven, nine, and eleven floors each. Figure out that logic!

Her parent’s apartment does evoke the best in centralized planning though.
The building is served by one trolleybus and three bus lines, a school for
it and the next building is in the courtyard between them, and there are
several grocery stores around the base of the building. What surprises the
first time viewer is the size and state of disrepair the buildings. Each
building has several entrances, with each entrance containing elevators that
service only one section of the building. Lidia’s building, for example,
has four entrances, each leading to a hall with four apartments. If you do
the math, and figure that each apartment has at least three people in it,
then you realize that one small building like hers contains around one thousand
people. Multiply that over the thousands of buildings exactly like hers (and
they are all mind numbing alike), and you begin to understand how twelve
million people fit in this city. Unfortunately, many of those 12 million
are buying cars now that they are affordable, and the traffic jams are getting

So anyway, I’m out here in suburbia, and its getting a little boring. I wake
up with Lidia each morning and head out to a huge park next to her house,
to read and type all day in the sun. The park is actually a depression carved
by a river, and so steep on its sides that the Soviet planners couldn’t put
anything there. The people who live around it staked out farming plots years
ago, though most have let their section revert back to nature since there
is food on the store shelves now.

I’m turning a golden brown in the long days of sunlight, currently twenty
hours and growing as we head to the summer solstice, but I’m getting a bit
bored. I’m not traveling around the CIS or even Moscow, so its getting hard
to come up with topics to write about. Lidia’s apartment doesn’t have a telephone
because even a year and a half after it was built, the local telephone system
still hasn’t laid cable out to it yet, so I can only use the internet or
e-mail when I find a free phone line. And my contact for the next leg of
my trip is not home, so I’m stuck here, tanning in suburbia, for the next
two weeks.