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Letter from St Petersburg.

St Petersburg's magnificent centre is becoming one of the most sought-after places in Russia; planners are caught between high morals and low budgets.

In 2003, the Baltic Sea metropolis St Petersburg celebrates its 300th anniversary. It is one of the few European capitals whose city centre was left intact after the war and is today prospering. After many generations of no dialogue between the town planners and the business community, architect and client, public sector and taxpayers, town planners again have to listen and come to an overall agreement for the aims of the city. The city centre is on UNESCO'S World Heritage List, and although this part of the city is the most attractive to private investors, not enough developers are ready to pay to get through the complex regulations and unclear ownerships to renovate St Petersburg's cultural heritage

The city centre is generally declared cultural heritage: the municipality and private developers alike must invest in renovation rather than in new constructions. The citizens are proud of their heritage, well aware of its value, and want their voices heard in the development of the city. They have also, if they had the means, bought their apartments.

Nevsky Prospect is the main artery of the city, beloved by citizens, tourists and business people, with its buildings and secondary streets being briskly renovated. For instance, Malaya Sadovaja street has (by private investment it is said) recently been pedestrianized, and Parisian-like cafes are opening up. Gash flow in the downtown area comes mainly from domestic business and partly from tourism, which is slowly picking up.

'To attract investments, the city authorities must create conditions for a favourable business climate', says L. E. Limonov, head of the Strategic Plan office. Their latest project is called the Rehabilitation of the Centre of St Petersburg, where the general idea is to unite all the resources of the city administration, international organizations, private investors, and residents of St Petersburg for urban revival.

'Real estate developers are taking considerable risks today, with unclear regulations, vagueness of investors' rights to the objects they are investing in as well as the understanding of the legal aspects of real estate', Limonov continues. 'Building regulations should be co-ordinated between different city regions. In fact, we need to establish a regulation for land-use and construction, or zoning, on a regional level.'

Accessibility is another keyword for renovating St Petersburg. Out of the nearly five million inhabitants, 17 per cent live in the city centre. The next ring consists of outdated factories and manufacturing units, while the vast majority of the people live in the suburban third belt.

The Neva divides St Petersburg into north and south, with three bridges over the river as the only connections. An estimated two million people go through the city daily. Nearly all passengers in St Petersburg go by public transport: metros, buses, trains, and trolley-buses. Only 10 per cent of passengers go by car, with an average (but steadily growing) of 160 cars per 1000 residents. While looking for buildings to renovate, most private developers will only consider buildings close to the efficient city metro stations,

Accessibility also means access to information and to civil servants and decision-makers. The nineteenth-century building at Lomonosova Square, in the city centre, which houses the St Petersburg Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture, poses few problems of accessibility. Although imposing, with giant stairways and halls, accommodating staff create a welcoming atmosphere. On public days (Wednesdays and Fridays), the main city architect, Oleg A. Kharchenko and deputy city architect Victor E. Polisehehuk and their staff are usually available. 'It's part of the city culture and tradition to consider St Petersburg as an entity, as a whole, and not as separate units', says Kharchenko. 'I feel my architectural and historical responsibility every day. For the benefit of all, it is necessary for us to convey this responsibility and to be open and clear with possible investors. If there is a suggestion for an investment plan with clear architectural objectives, we approve or disapprove on a professional level. And when and if the governor calls, we are ready to argue our standpoints.'

The municipal urban committee is running its domain on high morals and a low budget. The trick is to keep a balance between the need to keep a cultural heritage, with all the rules and regulations from different committees, and yet keep the interest of developers and real estate investors. The city architects also believe that a favourable business climate, with better transport as a priority and less urban manufacturing units, would create a financially stronger city and municipality.

'Urban planners and architects have up to recently had only one customer, i.e. the state', explains Polischchuk. 'But when you look at the well-kept master buildings by architects like Feodor Lidvall from the turn of the twentieth century, you realize the need for a close relationship and understanding between customer and architect. These buildings -- several living quarters, corporate headquarters, the former Azov-Don-bank, now the Telegraph -- were not only technically advanced but have kept their spirit intact. This user-architect understanding we would like to revive today.'
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Russian city center redeveloped, preserved
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Previous Article:Outrage.

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