Moscow, like most metropolitan cities, has its problem areas with weak infrastructure, poor environmental conditions and a low quality of life. The Russian capital also has its excellent areas where everything is different – this is an axiom for experts and native Muscovites. But if one looks at the average situation as a whole, it becomes clear that it is within the norm, at least in the view of the very people who live in the city.
Muscovites who live between the city’s two main highways – Moscow Ring Road (MKAD) and the Third Ring Road, where around 80% of Muscovites are concentrated – seem to be completely satisfied with their region, according to research carried out by the Yuri Levada Analytical Center (Levada Center) in 2013. In the project, called ‘Archaeology of the Periphery’ and carried out for the Moscow Urban Forum, respondents noted the developed social infrastructure of their region, as well as transport accessibility and relatively low cost of living. The main ‘allergen’ for Muscovites who live in this zone was, curiously enough, the monotony of buildings.
The research culminated in the article 'Moscow and the Muscovites, published in ‘Demoscope Weekly’ by Alexey Levinson, who is a professor in HSE’s Department of Sociological Research Methods and the Head of Levada Center’s Department of Sociocultural Research. In the article, the author analyzed the responses of Muscovites who live in areas where a total of 700 people were surveyed. There were two age categories – under 40 (young men and women) and over 40.
According to Muscovites, the positive characteristics of their district clearly prevail over the negative. Respondents noted the unattractive features of their area an overall 56.5% less than they did positive ones. Research participants responded with ‘there is nothing unattractive [in my area]’ more than with ‘nothing attractive’ (20% versus 6%).
The most positive feedback was given to the region’s developed social infrastructure, i.e. the presence of schools, clinics, kindergartens, etc. Some 40% of residents said they valued this infrastructure. In second place was the availability of transport (38%), and third – relatively cheap cost of living (35%). The cheap cost of living implies the close proximity of markets and reasonable prices for groceries and everyday goods.
Alexey Levinson describes such voting in detail, using gender, age and economic nuances. Among all Muscovites, most approving of their region were women older than 40 (21%), and among guests of their district (also Muscovites, but from other parts of the capital) – younger women (29%). ‘The first know it [the region] by price, while the second see it as being prospective,’ Alexey Levinson notes.
Some 43% of women said developed social infrastructure was the region’s main advantage. This is mostly explained by their roles as mothers and grandmothers.
Developed transportation in the region is ranked second in the list of important qualities, though 42% of younger men said it was first. In addition, accessibility and convenience of the transportation system was particularly important for Muscovites who were not rich and did not have a car (44%).
The low cost of living was important for various categories of Muscovites, but it was most important for men older than 40 (39%).
Residents of the periphery of Moscow criticized their region’s shortcomings very moderately. Problems with architecture, specifically with the monotony of buildings, were ranked first among reasons why the area is not comfortable. Around 19% of native residents complained about this.
It became clear during focus group sessions with Muscovites that neither fixing up the region, nor landscaping, nor adding greenery could compensate for the problems caused by the individual standardized appearance of the buildings, Alexey Levinson notes. Such construction uniformity, he says, carries a totalitarian message telling people that their ‘individuality is deliberately being denied.’
The first stages of mass standardized construction, such as in the Cheryomushki region, were positively received since it was former residents of communal apartments and dormitories who moved into them. The interiors of the one-bedroom apartments (dvushka) were for many much more important than the exteriors of the five-storey buildings. ‘The emergence of blocks of subsequent series was soon met by societal grumbling about impersonality,’ the author comments.
Other grievances included problems with transport. Eighteen percent of respondents said that it was difficult to get to the city centre from the region, 17% noted the region was far from the center, 16% found living conditions to be poor, 14% complained of bad environmental conditions and 12% said crime was an issue.
Despite all of these problems, residents of Moscow’s periphery said they were devoted to their region. Most people prefer to settle down and not leave their habitat.
The most mobile group – men under 40 – said they wanted to live in the region, but were prepared to go to other areas as well (50%). Older men are relatively mobile as well – 47% of them said they wanted the same thing, as did 40% of women younger than 40. The most ‘settled’ of the population were women above 40 – nearly half (48%) said they wanted to live in their region and not move anywhere.
Even as concerns leisure, Muscovites often prefer a more settled lifestyle. Women prefer to take part in leisure activities at home, and men – in their region. Nearly 30% of women over 40 and 22% of women under 40 never go to the centre – these are people who consider watching television to be a leisure activity.
Interestingly, more than a third (37%) of Muscovites consider their region to be ‘near the centre’ if not the centre itself.
But in terms of perceiving the centre as such, those who do not live directly inside the city centre in no way consider the heart of Moscow to be a critical nucleus for business functions. ‘The center serves as the heart of administrative establishments for itself or for the rest of the country, but not for the rest of Moscow. Some 13% of residents travel to the centre of the capital to visit government bodies or administrative establishments,’ Professor Levinson notes. These residents also do not make purchases in the centre, instead doing so at malls in the city’s periphery.
Respondents said they travelled to the historic heart of Moscow to work or study (50% of younger men – the most mobile category of the population), and also for entertainment. It is mostly men over 40 who go to the centre for leisure activities (27%).
For suburban residents, 'Old Moscow' is known for its recreational function; it is associated with theatres, museums, restaurants, walks, and meetings with friends. More men than women said they went to museums and theatres (37% versus 27%), although other research shows that it is primarily women who visit such cultural establishments, Levinson adds. It is possible that men’s answers were based more on intention than fact, he notes.
The Muscovites surveyed said that most weekday trips were made inside the area between Moscow’s Ring Road and the Third Ring Road. Among younger men, some 63% said they made such trips three or more times per week. For comparison, less than a third of them make trips to the centre over the same amount of time. The closer Muscovites are to the Kremlin, as the city centre, the less they go there on weekdays, the author generalizes. It can therefore be concluded that for the majority of city residents, the centre is more symbolic in nature.
In addition, the study confirms that the radial, ring-like structure of Moscow serves more than just transportation purposes. It is also significant as a regulator of relations with the suburbs, closing off the centre from an influx of people from other areas of the capital, Professor Levinson comments.
On the other hand, Muscovites who live outside of the city centre largely aim to maintain the status quo. They are satisfied with their region and do not want any particular changes to be made. It is not by chance that this section of Moscow has gone practically unchanged since its formation in the 1960-1980s, not in a city planning sense, nor in the relationships among the region’s inhabitants, the author concludes.