Moscow Expansion

A joint research program between the Strelka Institute, McKinsey and Siemens, examines the rise of Russia’s capital to becoming a megacity and looks at these findings in order to produce a masterplan for Moscow’s future urbanization.

LecturerReinier de Graaf
HostPrague Institute of Planning and Development, reSite
LocationPrague, Czech Republic
DateMay 24, 2012
I would like to show one thing; which is an exact replica of a presentation OMA gave about a month ago to the mayor of Moscow about the expansion of the city of Moscow. I’m not entirely sure what it has to do with the theme of the conference, but it is a project of planning. Given the extent of the problems that Moscow suffers today, some of the terminology used at this conference, seem like a luxury looking back at Moscow. Nevertheless, given the scale of the operation, the ambition and the extremely tricky political moment in which this project takes place, I think it is an interesting case to present here.
Essentially Moscow has decided to double the size of its administrative borders in an attempt to overcome the overcrowding of the city and the prevailing traffic problems. OMA is not working on this project alone; it is far too complicated for that. One of our partners is Strelka; a post-graduate school for media, architecture and design that OMA has helped set up in Moscow. We are also working with the McKinsey office in Moscow and with Siemens who consult on transport issues.
As I said Strelka was set up in Moscow, in the Red October, a former chocolate factory along the Moscow River. It has mobilized a lot of interest in Moscow, a lot of potential for collaboration and at sometimes a somewhat adoring crowd of followers.
One of the themes we have taught there is Megacities; interesting since in a way Moscow is the only Megacity in Europe.
Let’s look at this world map. The spots on the map indicate where there is urban growth at the moment; the more red it becomes the faster the urban growth takes place.
Russia occupies a very interesting position in this context; it’s largely empty and therefor has no urban growth with the exemption of one major centre: Moscow.
Moscow is a Megacity, the most northern Megacity in the world, the only one in Europe and one of the very few Megacities that is not located at the coast. This location indicates that Moscow is the product of deliberate planning.
Moscow is the 18th agglomeration in the world, but that is slightly deceptive. Looking at the cities on this Megacity list the first dilemma of Megacities emerges.
Looking at Sao Paolo, Tokyo or Mexico City, the enormous population numbers of around 20-25 million people do not live within the relatively small administrative city boundaries. This means that the mayors of these cities have a political mandate over a much smaller territory then the territory that causes all the city’s problems. Megacities are a reality that isn’t matched in terms of politics, governance, administration. These enormous populations, sometimes bigger then populaces of entire countries, have to be governed by municipal structures that are too small to adequately deal with the scale that these megacities have acquired.
Moscow is an interesting case, it suffers from the same phenomenon that other Megacities have to deal with, but slightly less so.
 If we look at a list of biggest cities in the world by population within the city boundaries Moscow leaps from place 18 to 5, which makes it in governance terms one of the largest cities in the world.
A second interesting aspect about Moscow is that in contrast with Megacities in China, South America or Asia, Moscow is not in a part of the world that is demographically growing. Most Megacities capitalise on a growth explosion in their region. Russia is the exact opposite; a dropping birth-rate, increase death tall lead and declining natural growth particularly since the collapse of the USSR.
Moscow is a rapidly growing city in a country that is shrinking; one could say that Moscow grows at the expense of Russia.
Over time the percentage of the Russian population living in Moscow has increased from roughly 4% to 9% currently and an expected 14% in 2030.
Since the fall of Communism there is a strange reversal of roles between Moscow and Russia to the point that Moscow registers ever more presently on the radar and Russia disappears from it.
The distortion gets even bigger when we start taking into account other aspects. Moscow holds 9% of the population of Russia, 10% of Russia’s employment, 22% of the Russian economy and 65% of all foreign investment in Russia goes into Moscow. Russia and its capital Moscow is like a child with hydrocephalus.
Moscow changed a lot.
According to Forbes Moscow has 79 billionaires replacing New York city as the city with the most billionaires. A strange fact for a country that was, not too long ago, a communist country.
Despite the individual riches the civic infrastructure is still very poor; the asymmetry of Moscow vs. Russia can be seen in the city as well.
The size and period of time that Russia was governed by communist system is so prevailing that even in the present day the country has no choice but to partly operate on the basis of the infrastructure that that system has left.
The country’s past is an inextricable part of the future.
If you look at Moscow and would ‘delete’ everything that was constructed between the 1917 Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 only the 19th century centre and a disparate collection of suburbs would be left.
 If we would perform this operation and even delete everything before 1917 on a current picture of a Moscow street one would be only left seeing congested roads, dubious property developments and very prominent advertisements of German luxury cars.
This makes a very deliberate point. If you look at Russia as a modern state and look at the length of its history you see that this history remains a looming shadow.
 If you would think away that history you would be left with a very bland, aborted, incomplete phenomenon.
When planning for a city like Moscow you find yourself in a very dubious position; you’re an agent of modernisation who is basically condemned and compelled to build a future utopia partly using existing givens with a history which is not squeaky clean.
The territorial administrative division is a top-down structure in which the Russian Federation presides over a series of territories of which Moscow is one.
But given Moscow’s increased importance, given the asymmetry in which Moscow gets an ever larger share of the Russian economy, it starts to develop a much more direct dialogue with the Russian Federation.
The president of the Russian Federation cannot control a number of things simply because they fall under the administration of the mayor of Moscow:
These numbers question whether the President is talking to the mayor of Moscow or that the Mayor of Moscow is talking to the president.
This ambivalent relationship might change in the near future when a new president is in office.
There is a long history of the relationship between Russia and Moscow in terms of territory and political competences.
The most recent episode in that history was a plan by the previous president Medvedev to expand the borders of Moscow in the southwest of the city.
And in conjunction with that relocating part of the Federal government into that extension, moving this employment form the centre to the periphery in an attempt to relief the historical centre of its congestion.
Why is there an extension and why in the southwest quadrant of Moscow?
If you compare Moscow to Paris you see that Paris has a much higher density towards the centre than Moscow, where the density rises when you come closer to the edges of the city.
In theory there would be room near the Moscow city centre for expansion
making an expansion in the southwest rather dubious.
Due to the rash privatisations of land holdings in the 1990’s much of the plots in the city centre are closed for development, which explains the expansion taking place outside of the city.
Historically Moscow has expanded concentrically; one would expect this new expansion to take place in the same way. This would result in an extra 4.5 million inhabitants for Moscow.
During our research for the project we found that the problem with such a concentric expansion would be costly to the state.
In the 1990’s out of fear that the cost of living would explode in Moscow, its mayor introduced a program in which Muscovites had special benefits; higher pensions, higher social security, better healthcare, education, housing, etc.
On average a resident of Moscow cost the state more than any other inhabitant of Russia. Adding the 4.5 million inhabitants to the municipality of Moscow would triple the costs of the state as opposed to keeping them in the Moscow Oblast.
Rumour has it that in the last evening before the government went public with the expansion plan the Ministry of Finance interfered and calculated the federal subsidy that would be necessary to make the concentric expansion of the city.
 They proposed the new area of expansion, carefully planned to give Moscow the largest amount of land with the least amount of people and therefore the largest amount of revenue and the least amount of cost in terms of giving new residents the new social benefits. Very smart form a financial point of view, but very dubious from a planning perspective. The proposed expansion in no way addresses the problems it was supposed to solve in the first place.
The whole idea is dubious anyway; the fact that you have no benefits outside the city ring is partially no longer true, people are very creative in avoiding that. Moscow is surrounded by areas for dachas, originally intended as temporary summer homes for inhabitants of Moscow.
Nowadays many of these dachas provide permanent residence to people who keep an address in the city centre of Moscow and keep their benefits while at the same address people live an also keep their benefits.
Every year the amount of pensioners grows with 28,000 in Moscow; these people don’t actually live in Moscow but the find an administrative reason to stay registered in Moscow and claim the benefits.
There are many people actually living in Moscow who are not entitled to the benefits. These migrant workers from former Soviet states work in the construction industry and often live with 20 or so people in a single apartment in one of the mikrorayons. They are in no way capable to pay the Moscow standard of living yet they live in the centre of Moscow.
The new governor of the region has already said that in essence this discrepancy in terms of benefits and rights between the region and the city is untenable in the long run.
In the brief of the project we are working on there is a subtle indication that without an integrated project for the region and the city no viable solution can be found.
OMA proposed a counter logo to the logo of the project which doesn’t necessarily resist the southwest expansion but shows that this can only be valuable when addressing the larger area around Moscow.
The Moscow region is divided in the city in the centre and the Oblast around. The city has a mayor and the Oblast has a governor. Moscow city answers directly to the federal government and is a black spot within the region it lies in and doesn’t answer to that region, the Moscow Oblast.
The social-identity card of a Oblast citizen has an image on the rear of a tree with blue skies and a Russian logo;
the social card of a Muscovite is essentially a credit card by VISA.
Nowhere is the difference between the two regions exemplified better. The nearness of the two systems has strange consequences; one of which we have called border shopping.
A shopping mall is located on the cheap land of the oblast right on the border with the wealthy clientele living in the city region.
A ‘necklace’ of these shopping centres surround the city on the oblast territory which opportunistically use the strange territorial situation.
In some cases this reaches a peak point of absurdity; a federal object is located just on the inside of the border, there are dachas which are part of Moscow, a preserved forest; in other words a whole tapestry of individual things which in a way locate themselves for administrative reasons rather than any logical, spatial reasons.
There is a road to the main airport partly in Moscow, partly in the oblast and was subject of a twenty year fight over who should fund it since it was on land of the oblast but benefited Moscow and the airport is again in the oblast. This is just one an example of an infinite number of cases of absurd and sad decisions that have been taken solely on the basis of administrative borders rather than logical planning
Our proposal was to make Moscow one of the districts within the oblast, creating a situation in which Moscow would have a direct relation with the other neighbouring districts.
The project is first of all about bureaucracy rather than about planning; a proposal for a bureaucratic reorganisation in an attempt to dismiss the absurdity which currently clouds the system of planning.
OMA proposes a new governmental structure for the region reminiscent of both city and oblast administrative structures; a single city council to govern the whole area and insure that decisions are not taken in a context of a mutual stand-off.
The region would blend into one together with Moscow and the city’s borders would disappear and the new borders would encompass the real agglomeration of the city and encapsulate the entire urban organism and make it subject to one political system that can fairly balance the interests of the various parts it governs.
The interesting side-effect is that Moscow becomes the largest city in the world, which is a desirable effect for the Russian government.
A second side-effect is that it elevates the economic worth of the land in the entire Moscow oblast, thus becoming a cash cow for the Russian government.
The size of the oblast compares to the size of Switzerland, with a population larger than Switzerland; an association that came to mind when OMA thought of a wealthy region.
Another interesting comparison we found is that Switzerland is not a part of Europe, but by being so actually is more a part of Europe than any of its official member states.
Switzerland cultivates its independence from Europe so that everybody banks there and makes it very European.
Moscow could acquire a similar position within the Russian Federation; a city state under federal control with a special economic condition, reminiscent of the Special Economic Zones in China. Where the hybridisation of the two systems could be disentangled in a mutual beneficial way. The trend has been anyway that Moscow becomes a global player and the rest of Russia is left behind. All the intricate systems to come to terms with the fact that these are now separate entities actually do not work to the benefit of people and certainly do not work to benefit any kind of rational planning.
There is another interesting comparison: the Moscow region is roughly the same size as the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has a tradition in spatial planning treating the entire country as one entity. Since a large part of the country is reclaimed from the sea there is this notion of makeability in the Netherlands and a notion of territorial control which is far more extreme than in other countries. The Netherlands is most likely one of the few countries of their size that makes its entire territory subject of design through planning policy.
Secondly the population of the oblast (17-18 million) equals that of the Netherlands.
The Randstad area, a circle of cities around a supposedly empty, green centre (Groene Hart), is the main centre of population and is surrounded by many other cities and villages.
Centrally organized, the Netherlands houses the same amount of people in a decentralized system.
The Randstad area, a circle of cities around a supposedly empty, green centre (Groene Hart), is the main centre of population and is surrounded by many other cities and villages.
The Netherlands achieved a greater degree of equilibrium between the various parts as opposed to a largely centralized system as you find in Moscow.
In the nineties we did a project which served as a deliberate provocation whereby we concentrated the entire population of the Netherlands in a metropolis in the open middle, Groene Hart, of the Randstad; of course that didn’t happen.
Interestingly if you take a better look at this area of the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague) you see that this Groene Hart is the same size as the city of Moscow.
Moscow superimposed on the Netherlands actually seems a belated realisation of ambitions we had about a decade ago.It is also an interesting coexistence; this new metropolis we called Point city – a centralized system – and the actual Randstad, which means Edge-city.
If you think away the Netherlands and look back at Moscow you see that this is happening there. Developments on the edge of the city growing very rapidly, so Moscow is turning into a Randstad almost. There is on big difference: where the Randstad has an infrastructure connecting the cities, in Moscow all the edge developments remain dependent on the centre and do not have a connection like the Randstad infrastructure.
This has disastrous consequences in terms of traffic.
The morning traffic jams end when the evening traffic jams start. A centralized system has bred a centralized city. We have theorized the city quite a bit ad we have theorized also the role of the centre quite a bit.
A quote from Generic City by Rem Koolhaas: Manhattan denigrates as “bridge-and-tunnel-people” those who need infrastructural support to enter the city. Our present insistence on the centre makes us all bridge-and-tunnel-people, second-class citizens in our own civilization, disenfranchised by the dumb coincidence of our collective exile from the centre.
The recent discovery of the periphery as a zone of potential value is only a disguised insistence on the priority of and dependency on the centre: without centre, no periphery; the interest of the first presumably compensates for the emptiness of the latter.
That, to some extent, suggests that progress resides in a revolution where the periphery emancipates properly.  As the forces of production, most notably technology, improve, existing forms of urban organisation become inefficient and stifle further progress. These inefficiencies manifest themselves as urban contradictions in the city in the form of a territorial struggle. Under the conditions of the free market, this struggle materializes between the minority (the centre) who own the means of production, and the vast majority of the population (the periphery) who produce goods and services. Taking the idea that urban change occurs because of the struggle between different and opposing territories within the city, the Moscow analysis leads to the conclusion that the free market oppresses the periphery, which leads to a revolution of the periphery.
This is actual a text from the 1868 by Karl Marx where the word bourgeoisie is replaced by centre and the word proletariat is replaced by periphery. A second coming of a revolution in which the insistence on a centralized city needs to be aggressively undone by a strategic privileging of the periphery. Ultimately this leads to a situation that the current centre and its satellites adopt a more equal relationship; of course also a Marxist dialectic transposed on the notion of the city.
Centralized Moscow could become 4 satellite cities with a centre. Now Moscow has about 10 to 11 million inhabitants; if you divide that by four you get 2.5 million. Any ‘liveable cities’ index - with cities like Melbourne, Vienna, Wellington leading the ranking – feature cities with an average size of 2-4 million.
The four cities OMA proposes coincide with the locations of four major airports - Sheremetyovo, Vnukovo, Domodedovo and Chkalovsky (former military airport)-
that all are centres for different airline alliances (Skyteam, Star Alliance, One World)
which means the satellites have a direct connection to an infinite amount of cities in the world.
This makes the satellites the centre of an international community of Russians living abroad.
Adding a specific theme to each of the satellites, for instance government, business, industry and education, makes these cities that are in relative proximity complimentary to each other.
The periphery could start linking back to the centre instead of the centre linking to the periphery.
Infrastructure linking the satellite cities makes them more independent from the centre and in time the five cities would collectively handle the volume of the megacity Moscow.
OMA is currently working on the project and are trying to instrumentalise this relatively abstract notion.
Moscow has four main train stations which starting to be connected to the four airports with high-speed train lines.
A secret metro system named Metro-2 was created for the Soviet government to escape to the periphery in case of emergency.
We have a map from the CIA archive showing the Metro-2 system.
We found that by adding just a little extra infrastructure to this system would create a very fast connection to the satellite airports.
Four sprawls shooting from the city centre would be hard to interfere with. The areas to be developed for the satellite cities in proximity of the airports would actually avoid these sprawls.
This approach also unites in a single framework a number of currently dissociated individual developments;
for instance Big Domodedovo an airport city being planned,
Skolkovo an education city on the edge of the M-Cat.
 It also frames several existing urban isolated conditions
several dacha settlements that are currently under consideration for moving
a number of redundant Soviet farms
and a number of national parks which would serve as parks in those cities quite effectively.
Once one would do this and relieve the centre of its excessive substance there is also another perspective that looms. A garden ring envisioned in the 1970’s and mostly realized could be completed now by relieving the historical city centre.
Some of the good intentions of the old system may come through in a belated way.