Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Suburbanization and Sustainability in Metropolitan Moscow

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Suburbanization and Sustainability in Metropolitan Moscow

Article excerpt

If there had been a U.S.-Soviet post-World War II suburban sprawl race, the United States would have won hands down. Indeed, Soviet policies tightly restricted metropolitan development, whereas America's national policies encouraged low-density suburban expansion and left critical growth-management decisions to local governments. But in the post-Soviet era weak planning controls have allowed Russia's major metropolises to start sprawling, American style. After briefly reviewing the relevant international contexts of metropolitan development, we examine Soviet and post-Soviet suburban development and the potential roles of climate and sustainability planning in shaping metropolitan Moscow's future.


Rapid, land-consumptive postwar suburbanization has been part of the shared history of the United States, Canada, and Australia--free-market economies with vast land bases. Kenneth Jackson saw the contemporary American experience as unique in these respects: middle-class as well as wealthy citizens resided in suburbia, suburbanites lived rather far from their workplaces, home-ownership rates were exceptionally high, and yards were very large (1985). Metropolitan regions have tended to be highly fragmented and uneven, as multiple governments compete for tax revenue, provide duplicative, inefficient municipal services, and enact regulations designed to segregate residents by class and race. The resultant sprawl incurs high fiscal and environmental costs (Mason 2008).

European countries tend to have more centralized planning systems, more compact cities, and much more efficient intercity and intracity public transportation systems than does the United States (EEA 2006). Yet Europe's cities are hardly immune to sprawl (Richardson and Bae 2004; Couch, Leontidou, and Petschel Held 2007). Indeed, most core cities, not only in Europe and the United States but also in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, have lost population in recent decades. Although urban abandonment and concentrated poverty are not as extreme in those nations as in the United States, growth outside their central cities is outpacing growth in their core.

Postsocialist Eastern European countries are experiencing shrinking cities, rapidly rising rates of automobile ownership, and relaxation--if not near collapse--of planning controls. Like Moscow, Central and Eastern European cities are characterized by large, socialist-era housing estates near the inner-city periphery. This metropolitan development pattern protected agricultural land near cities and provided modest, but serviceable, high density housing for workers. Most of these cities are now experiencing rapid commercial and residential growth at the urban fringe, in conjunction with revitalization and reurbanization of center cities in the wake of industrial relocation (Pichler-Milanovic, Gutry-Korycka, and Rink 2007,107).

Sprawl is taking place, even where metropolitan populations are declining; indeed, it is encouraged by the construction of ring roads around many cities, as well as investor preferences for greenfield rather than brownfield development (Van Kempen. Vermeulen, and Baan 2005). Still, most central cities remain vibrant and compact, with thriving central business districts and still substantial if declining-daytime and nighttime populations. In part this is a function of the unaffordability, for most residents, of single family homes. Most Eastern European governments do recognize the ecological, economic, and social consequences of metropolitan sprawl, but because of the low priority given to regional planning by prevailing neoliberal policies, they fail to sufficiently address these issues (Pichler Milanovic, Gutry-Korycka, and Rink 2007).


As with Eastern Europe, Russia's metropolitan development trajectory is quite distinct from the patterns in Western Europe and North America. The Soviet Union inherited a predominantly rural population living in small, wooden, single-family houses. …

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