Extreme Urbanism in St. Petersburg

Experts from HSE’s Moscow and St. Petersburg campuses participated in the 2nd International Spatial Development Forum, which took place September 24 – 27, 2016, in St. Petersburg. The key topic of the forum was ‘Extreme Urbanism’.

‘It’s important to distinguish the phenomenon of extremeness from a similarly sounding, but a completely different phenomenon that we call extremism. Extremism includes such acts of vandalism as destruction of great historical and cultural monuments’, said Prof. Vitaly Kurrennoy, Head of the HSE Faculty of Humanities School of Cultural Studies and moderator of the first plenary session ‘Culture vs Extremeness’ distinguishing the two similarly sounding terms.

Traditionally, culture has been a civilizational basis and a key tool for overcoming extremist thinking and helping us understand its consequences. But today the world is facing the deliberate destruction of world heritage sites by various groups of people.

A really important difference between extremeness and extremism is that the former has a natural, evolutionary character, which prompts society to develop appropriately in response to such challenges, while extremism is related to forwardness and egocentrism in certain individuals or groups in society.

That’s why areas for future development were discussed as part of the Forum’s business programme. It covered such issues of urban and spatial development as the sustainable development of agglomerations, the search for new urban solutions, the influence of certain extreme conditions on the development of contemporary cities, and the role of urban residents in the processes of city development, as well as future economic, social, and technological transformations of cities.

In 2016, the HSE campus in St. Peterbsurg was the Spatial Development Forum’s intellectual partner. Leading HSE experts in urban development spoke at the event: Prof. Vitaly Kurrennoy, Head of the HSE Faculty of Humanities School of Cultural Studies; Prof. Alexei Novikov, President and Co-founder of Habidatum and Dean of the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism; Prof. Irina Ilina, Director of the HSE Institute of Regional Studies and Urban Planning and expert in metropolitan administration at UN-habitat; Evgenij Pliseckij, Deputy Director at the HSE Institute of Regional Studies and Urban Planning; Prof. Eduard Ponarin, Head of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research; Prof. Leonid Limonov, Academic Supervisor at the master’s programme in Public Administration and Director of Research at Leontief Centre; and Dmitry Zamyatin, Chief Research Fellow at the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism.

The Forum was organized by the Government of St. Petersburg, the State Hermitage Museum, and ITMO University.

With regards to St. Petersburg, options to transform the city’s so-called ‘grey zone’ were discussed, as well as the development of its Southern districts, such as Pulkovo Airport, Expoforum business and exhibition centre area, and the satellite town of Yuzhny.

An interactive discussion ‘City management: limitations and new opportunities’ took place as part of the forum. Leonid Limonov outlined three key problem areas. First, the search for a balance between municipal authorities’ responsibilities and their financial capabilities. Second, building a closer interaction between neighbouring territories, with the opportunity to implement certain joint policies. This is especially relevant for the development of agglomeration. But it’s very difficult to implement such plans without developing effective inter-municipal communication. International experience has shown that neighbouring municipalities can create joint enterprises, joint waste recycling plants, can use power jointly, implement joint transport projects, and so on. But in Russia, such practices are still underdeveloped. Another important topic was the necessity to promote human capital, which is a great influence on the economies of cities and territories. And the last issue is the quality of city managers. Many municipal officials lack specialized education, and a system for their retraining is vital. It’s important to combine knowledge in economics, statistics, sociology, administration practices, international experience, urban planning theory, and modern approaches to planning.

Konstantin Galkin, postgraduate student at the Department of Sociology, shared his impressions of participating in the audience of the Spatial Development Forum:

‘One of the forum’s big advantages was that it attracted international experts and heads of research organizations with huge international experience. For the forum participants, it was a unique opportunity to learn about some new trends in urban planning, the cultural and strategic specifics of city development, and the everyday life of urban residents in a ‘smart’ city. The fact that the most pressing issues, such as street art in contemporary cities, including St. Petersburg, caused vigorous debate, is a sign of the huge interest among participants, including many undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students of HSE’.