Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stalinist Urbanism

One Bay Area Plan is coming to Marinwood-Lucas Valley 


[Editor's Note: The ideas of Smart Growth and the One Bay Area Plan are similiar to the autocratic land use planning under the Soviet power. The author of this article reaches many of the same conclusions that we have concerning Smart Growth.  Freedom and responsibility under democratic self rule are preferable bureaucratic oppression and tyranny.]

Excerpt from Urbanism under Stalin

Postwar development brought historicism to new extremes in the form of monumental plazas, dramatic statues, and seven famous "wedding cake" high-rises built throughout the city between 1947 and 1953. The largest and perhaps most extravagant is Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), which includes a botanical garden and extensive landscaping connected to the park along the river at Lenin (currently Sparrow) Hills.


MSU today.


Fearful symmetry, 1949.


An earlier design, 1947.


Open land around the new building, 1954.


New development, 1957.


An older house prepared for demolition to accommodate the Universitet neighborhood along Leninsky Prospect, 1957.

Housing for everyday citizens remained terribly insufficient, as elites were given beautiful apartments in the city and cottages in the country. New residential development tended to follow a kvartal model, in which buildings of roughly 5-10 stories were bounded by a city block with shops at street level and shared interior courtyards. Today, at least in the more affluent neighborhoods of Moscow, these structures have aged well. They combine density with pleasant landscaping and easy access to amenities. This model influenced the development of larger apartment blocks in "microdistricts" after Stalin's rule. These places are generally not considered beautiful. Still, there is much to be said for the kvartal idea.


Kvartal-like courtyard at lower-right corner, beside the residential tower at Kudrinskaya Square, 1954.

Stalinist urbanism draws upon a number of ideas raised in the 1920s for the socialist city, including the modernization of infrastructure, communal housing, employment and amenities close to home, ubiquitous public transportation, and the integration of green space. However, basic human needs were neglected in favor of industrial development and an image of grandeur. Human rights were given even less concern. This abuse of power in the name of socialism is an enduring tragedy. Stalin's massive urban modernization projects made it possible for Moscow to accommodate a great influx of people. But I'm not sure if they improved living conditions on the whole, or if the ecological consequences can be justified.

Stalin surveying a construction site, followed by Voroshilov, a removed person, and an unidentified person, mid-1930s.

In some ways Moscow's high-density living, extensive public transportation system, and accessible parks sound like a contemporary planner's dream. However, after reading about Stalin I've become more sympathetic to the flip side of this equation, the suburban house with a small park (ie, yard) of one's own, where we can adapt the environment on a smaller scale without imposing our will on others. Can urban condos and parks meet those kinds of needs?
"Increased public spending on health and physical education," a section from the Second Five Year Plan, 1934.

This might seem like a loss of faith in cities, but the real problem is abusive power. Stalin accomplished many things in Moscow that have proven of enduring value. But process is at least as important as results in this case. Great places can come about through autocratic, democratic, capitalist, and socialist means. But for the good of daily life in cities, a democratic socialism sounds preferable to autocratic socialism or democratic capitalism. Oppression and exploitation must give way to freedom and responsibility.

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