Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Moscow on the Rise: From Primate City to Megaregion

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Moscow on the Rise: From Primate City to Megaregion

Article excerpt

Russia's 20W census revealed that the capital's population had reached 11.5 million, an increase of 28 percent since 1989, when the last Soviet census was conducted (Rossiiskaya Gazeta 2011). Moreover, population experts believe that 2-5 million undocumented migrants are in the capital region (Mosmuller 2011). Moscow's rapid growth stands in contrast to post-Soviet demographic change in other large Russian cities, most of which have declined in size. For example, Russia's second-largest city, Saint Petersburg, has 4.85 million residents now, about 3 percent fewer than in 1989 and just 42 percent of Moscow's total (Rosstat 2012). Although the urban hierarchy of the Soviet Union resembled rank-size order in 1989, today Moscow's population is larger than that of the next six largest cities combined. Moscow now may be considered a "primate city" (Blinnikov 2010; Mason and Nigmatullina 2011).

The concept of the "primate city" has never been precisely defined, even by its originator, Mark Jefferson (1939). Jefferson claimed to have discovered a "law," but it is not clear whether he meant that the primate city's population must be at least twice as large as the second-largest city or twice as large as the second- and third-largest cities combined. As R. J. Johnston noted, Jefferson's original proposition "is now largely ignored, but the concepts of primacy and a primate city are still widely referred to" (1994,473). Indeed, on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jefferson's article, Geographical Review editor Douglas McManis called the primate city "one of the most influential concepts to emerge from modern geography" (1989).

For most urban specialists, the disparity in population sizes is but an indicator of more significant relationships. As Michael Pacione noted in his influential textbook, a primate city is "dominant not only in population size but also in its role as the political, economic and social center of the country" (2005, 673). However, whereas Jefferson celebrated the primate city, more recent commentators have focused on such problems as congestion and high rents. Vernon Henderson concluded that "excessive primacy strains the whole urban system" (2002, 104).

The bulk of the discussion below is devoted to revealing different facets of the Moscow region's dominance in the Russian Federation. Of course this is not the first time that Moscow has been the leading city in the country, but its recent ascent to primacy is rather curious. Johnston noted that primacy is usually explained in terms of "the small size of the country, the export orientation of its trade, and a recent colonial past" (1994). The first and third factors do not apply at all in Russia's case, but it is true that the country is more export-oriented than was its Soviet predecessor. Yet in Latin American countries the shift toward a neoliberal strategy for competing in the global economy has resulted in a relative decline in urban primacy (Portes and Roberts 2005). In contrast, during the past twenty years, as Russia has shifted from a high degree of economic autarky toward engagement with the global economy, the country's leading economic center has become the overwhelmingly dominant one.

My investigation begins with an overview of the historical evolution of the country's urban system in its national and international context. The post-Stalin period of eastward expansion receives the most attention because of its legacy in the country's current pattern of settlement and economic activity. Especially important in this regard is David Hooson's pathbreaking delineation of a "new Soviet heartland" emerging beyond the Volga River in the 196os. Application of Hooson's criteria for assessing regions shows that today the Moscow area dominates Russia. The discussion then addresses the factors that underlie the capital's growing strength as Russia's chief gateway to the global economy. However, certain serious "diseconomies" have emerged in the complex transition that Moscow has undergone. …

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