Cities 2016

 

Manifesto of the 3rd Series of Urban Conferences "The Cities and Territories of Tomorrow: Tools for Positive Change"

An economic recession and problematic geopolitical environment call for a reconsideration of the issue of development in Russian cities. The most primitive and easy response to a crisis is to cancel development projects and shift into survival model. However, this path offers no prospects for the future. And these problems are not just due to problems of under-investment in Russian cities: the modernisation of housing and utilities systems alone requires about 9 trillion roubles. The real issue is that by reinforcing the degradation of its cities, the country loses potential for economic growth.

 

Development in accordance with the raw materials model is a dead end for Russia. The raw material model is no longer functional: the Russian economy has not grown since 2012 when oil prices were still high, and the current recession caused by plummeting energy prices has only confirmed this assertion. The new paradigm for development should be based not on the sale of raw materials but on human capital, advanced technologies, and innovations. And to make such a transition, we need completely different cities. New economies based on human capital usually do not develop in a dirty, outdated, and uncomfortable environment. There is tough competition for talent, resources, and businesses all over the world: quality of life, including the quality of the urban environment, is one of the most important tools in this struggle.

 

The main challenge today is that this new quality for Russian cities will have to be formed during an economic recession and in the midst of budgetary deficits. How can we develop our cities in these new conditions? The answer is as follows (if we try to reduce a wide variety of ideas and approaches into a single slogan): "Increase Efficiency and New Approaches."

 

A recurring theme of this year's regional conferences is efficiency, in a broad sense of the word. First, it is the rational use of budgetary funds during the implementation of infrastructural projects: strict control over financial flows and the attraction of non-state and extra-budgetary sources of financing. Second, it is a search for optimum solutions when territories are being strategically planned. Third, it is the intensification of the use of urban space: currently there is no money for any extensive city expansions involving the construction of large-scale infrastructure. There is no alternative to the European Compact City concept. That being said, it is necessary to find models of conflict-free and light intensification that do not degrade the environment or cause cities to lose their identity.

 

Another aspect of efficiency is that implemented projects should produce the largest social effect possible. It is obvious that today we cannot act within the usual top-down paradigm where only the initiatives of authorities are actually implemented. Without extensive discussions of projects and the contributions of experts and citizens, these types of projects may only exacerbate social tensions. Finding mechanisms to utilize the activism potential of citizens to its maximum capacity for the improvement of the urban environment is one of today's challenges. Modern information technologies offer new possibilities for the establishment of a full-fledged dialogue between authorities and members of the community.

 

New approaches to urban development also include, for example, a renunciation of out-of-date plans and the application of new formats. An example: construction projects for schools and kindergartens based on concepts adopted as far back as half a century ago are still being utilized in Russia. But at the same time there is already established groundwork completed on new social infrastructure formats that address the challenges of today. The revamping of old infrastructure and the construction of new facilities featuring new formats can also be considered a question of improved performance in the face of spent funds.

 

And, of course, one of the traditional main topics of regional conferences is the quality of the urban environment. In recent years the focus has shifted to public spaces: parks, embankments, streets, squares. The transformation of public spaces is becoming one of the most popular ways to revive cities. The great amount of interest in this tool has begun its transformation into action, and interesting projects have already got their starts in a number of cities. However, there is the risk that this trend of developing public spaces will fall by the wayside: during budgetary resource deficits the authorities are tempted to cut down on financing for these "unessential" projects.

 

At the same time the transformation of public spaces is increasingly being considered a strong counter-crisis and antidepressant tool worldwide. High-quality public spaces help to mitigate a fall in living standards for people during recessions. Free public spaces serve as places for communication between different social classes and can consolidate societies.

 

During an economic crisis, demonstrations of positive changes are also extremely important as they revitalise the social atmosphere. The search for new approaches to the creation and financing of projects that transform public spaces along with the presentation of the best Russian and global practices is one of the main objectives of regional conferences.

 

In 2016 the series of urban conferences titled "The Cities and Territories of Tomorrow: Tools for Positive Change" will be held in five cities: Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Tyumen, Krasnoyarsk, and Perm. The conference programme also covers research presentations, an exhibition, and a dedicated issue day at the Moscow Forum. The purpose of the programme is to search for new development strategies and tools to help to bring out the huge amount of potential in Russian cities.

 

The 3rd series of urban conferences, "The Cities and Territories of Tomorrow: Tools for Positive Change," is held by CitySfera (within the framework of the Moscow Urban Forum) in cooperation with the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO. The Programme Directorate of the conferences is KB Strelka. The strategic partner of the events is the Bank of Moscow (the VTB group).