1. Environmental
June 14, 2017updated 20 Jul 2021 10:43am

Moscow residents are rallying against the mass demolition of Soviet apartment blocks

By Aliide Naylor

In mid-May, thousands rallied in the Russian capital protesting the anticipated demolition of some 4,500 or more Soviet-era low-rise apartment blocks.

The so-called “Khrushchovki” are named after Communist party leader Nikita Khrushchev who led the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Several of the buildings are in a somewhat dilapidated state.

A 3.5trn rouble (£47.5bn) project is set to replace the Khrushchovki and others with new high-rise blocks. A draft law is currently being mulled in the Russian State Duma and will undergo a second reading in July.

Residents retain a strong fondness for them, and several have expressed concerns that they will be deprived of their housing. A Facebook group with the name “Muscovites against demolition (against the law on renovation)” has more than 25,000 members. While police said attendance stood at roughly 8,000, other sources said more than 20,000 materialised. 

“People who live in these blocks bought the apartments in order to live in quiet, leafy low-rises,” Alexei Matveyev, a 36-year-old bank clerk from a north Moscow neighbourhood, told AP on 14 May, the day of the protests. “We are happy in our house. We don’t want to live in tower blocks.”

While the bill offers current residents an apartment of the same size, there are no provisions to ensure that it will be in the same area or be worth the same amount.

City Hall says the buildings are dilapidated, and a survey conducted by state-run pollster VTsIOM said that 80 per cent of building residents are in favour of the blocks being removed. Nonetheless, authorities say if residents vote against demolitions they will not go ahead.

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However, handfuls of people have pointed out that voting on the city government website has previously been rigged.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin views has promised to address such concerns. “We will be attentive to all meaningful statements voiced at rallies over Moscow’s housing renovation program,” he wrote on VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook.

On 19 May, opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced plans to take the Mayor’s office to court. He said during a livestream on his video channel that “voting is actively falsified” and urged authorities to “primarily consider the statements from tenants of wrecked and dilapidated houses and to ‘leave alone’ those houses that are ‘in investment-attractive areas’.”

It is not just Moscow’s Khrushchovki such battles: key landmarks of Moscow’s cultural heritage have faced destruction for several years.

Architectural preservation activist group, Arkhnadzor has highlighted the fact that several buildings of importance have been demolished since the beginning of April alone. These include an 1840s farmstead and the first house of novelist Vasily Aksenov.

Avant garde and constructivist landmarks have also been suffering. While constructivist estates Dubrovka and Usachevka will be left alone, a group of former workers’ buildings on Pogodinskaya Ulitsa in the south west of the city were torn down in 2015, and Taganskaya telephone station in April 2016. This was despite a petition to Moscow’s mayor signed by some 30,000 people, according to the World Monuments Fund.

The fate of the area surrounding Le Corbusier and Nikolai Kolli’s Tsentrosoyuz building has similarly been called into question. In February reports surfaced of plans to construct a high-rise building next door – leading one commentator to declare that “the circumstances do not inspire optimism.”

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