Het oude Sovjet tentoonstellingsterrein heeft vele tijden meegemaakt. Ooit ontworpen als een sovjet wonderland met prachtige sprookjesachtige paviljoenen is een groot deel verworden tot een soort zwarte markt a la Beverwijk. Het terrein wordt tevens als park door vele Moskovieten gebruikt en nog steeds door vele toeristen uit (ex-sovjet-)landen bezocht.
ISOCARP (wereldwijde vereniging voor stedenbouwers en planologen) organiseerde in de aanloop naar het Moscow Urban Forum (MUF) 2014 een young urban planner workshop. Om hiervoor te kwalificeren moest een essay geschreven worden over de kansen en ontwikkelingsrichting van het park. Wat zijn de motoren voor herontwikkeling en hoe gebruikt de volgende generatie (Y) de ruimte. De workshop-uitkomsten zijn gepresenteerd op het MUF 2014 en in een breed panel besproken.
From VDNKh to a Metropolitan Park of Achievements
A driver for city development and economic growth
An essay on "Concepts for the reconstruction of VDNKh" and "Urban Planning for Generation Y”
The era of generation Y
The Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (VDNKh) started out in a whole different era, economically and culturally. Set up as an exhibition terrain far away from the centre it was something every soviet and western tourist or leader should have seen once. It was abundant and impressive, showing the agrologic, cultural, economic and technological achievements under the soviet system. Remember most people those times worked in factories and industries, both in the West as in Russia. How things changed in the age of generation Y! Russia became capitalistic and the whole world became more mobile by the development of computers, internet and lately the smart phones and tablets. Moscow developed rapidly so that VDNKh became now more or less centrally located in its metropolitan area. VDNKh had and has a positive influence on its surroundings being a driver for economic growth. Will the area fit the upcoming generation Y ? Must and can it adapt to its desires, staying a driver for economic development?
Hopefully I can rely on my own observations being a regularly user of VDNKh during family visits but also having enough distance to the matter as we live in a different country, namely The Netherlands. This country often experiences all kinds of developments earlier than elsewhere. And by being not a total stranger to generation Y, as I am of the previous generation called X, I will extrapolate my experiences and bring them in relation with current and future developments.
Actually sometimes I really feel being of a bridging generation, or even a different planet, as I have known the times we had black and white television with only three channels and no mobile phones. When we made an appointment somewhere and if someone didn't show up we could wait easily an half hour there without the possibility to inquire why someone is late, where he is, and do something else in the meantime like checking emails. My children, five and nine years, for instance cannot travel without bringing the tablet to use the time, or maybe better, to fill the time. People nowadays are always busy, even when travelling or waiting. Things really changed and also spatially. However as urban development by planning and building is a slow process it will not be otherwise as that generation X will do the urban planning for generation Y. They must be or even expect to be involved in the making.
First time at VDNKh
My first visit to VDNKh was in winter 2002 when I travelled with friends to see Moscow and it’s architecture. Our guidebook recommended a visit to VDNKh and the Ostankino tower to taste some original soviet atmosphere. On the map we saw a monumental street, prospect Mira, leading from the centre up to VDNKh. We decided to walk as we expected to see some Stalinist pompous along. In the cold we managed to walk from Garden Ring with its relative small buildings to the broader Prospect Mira. After more than an hour passing along huge and relatively qualitative buildings we arrived at the Memorial to Cosmonauts. We climbed it and from there we could see the gates of VDNKh, the famous statue Worker and Kolkhoz woman, and the Ostankino Tower. We heard the latest was still closed.
Starting from the memorial to Cosmonauts and metro station VDNKh leading up to VDNKh was a structure of random kiosks forming some kind of dodgy open air market. From every different kiosk came loud music or noise. We quickly ran through and by passing a small door in the huge gates of VDNKh we were now on the exhibition. We were amazed by its vast dimensions and majestic pavilions. The lavish Stalinist style created a fairy-tale atmosphere. Also here was (loud) music and spoken announcements and commercials broadcasted by speakers on every monumental lamppost. People around were walking and relaxing in the parkish exhibition, youth were drinking outside and others apparently shopping, carrying many bags. It turned out most of the pavilions were filled with small cabins functioning as small shops. Some functioned as restaurants with on the outside smoky open air kitchens for shashliki. Often accompanied by a terrace and loud (karaoke-?) music with shouting singers. Only a few (bigger) dilapidated Modernistic pavilions were functioning as exhibition area. I never saw such an eclectic environment.
The area seemed organized by a simple routing but if you deviated from the main axis you could get lost in the tangle of rear pathways and pavilions. This made it even more interesting and is actually a system many shopping malls follow. The exhibition was fascinating with it’s golden statues, space rockets being on the same square as the low tech smelly toilet cabins, stray dogs and deposit bottles collecting grannies. Also it was confusing, was it a park? Or a shopping mall or exhibition? Why were there only dilapidated attractions but no playgrounds even tough so many kids were around? Were all those cars driving dangerously around allowed there? Why were vast areas covered by ugly crumbling asphalt? Why was the area of VDNKh totally fenced off to the nearby Botanical and Ostankino parks, leaving small impractical gates for passing? If the origin is an agricultural exhibition and people shop here why we don’t find a food market on the terrain? Tourists most of the time love them too for their authenticity. We did find next to VDNKh a small market hall and shopping hall with cabins clearly targeting only the surrounding neighbourhood.
Every visit later the area improved step by step. The ugly market next to the entrance burned and disappeared. Funny enough its forever documented in the blockbuster movie Nightwatch. A missing link was filled in by a futuristic monorail. The statue worker and kolkhoz woman was reconstructed into a museum just a bit further up. The well-known fast American cuisine chain analysed it as a place where much people come and will be hungry and started two restaurants. The place started to become more part of the city, but also of the contemporary world. Landscaping improved, pavilions were restored and all shops in it were done away. A big exhibition complex was built and the memorial cosmos was reconstructed into a popular museum. youth started to drink coffee as all kiosks and shops were not allowed to sell take away beer anymore. Every year less commons cars drove in the area and it became more safe. Lots of vendors renting out roller skates, bikes and all sorts like popped up. Interesting events and exhibitions started to be held again. It has been a positive driver for the economic redevelopment caused by the change to capitalism.
Recently the area is connected to the Ostankino and Botanical parks next to it by clearing the separating gates and fences. Ostankino itself is totally refurbished. Pathways, street furniture, playgrounds there are now made of the best materials. Open concert tribunes, venue like dolphin show or miniature Moscow, new pavilions in old Russian style and good restaurants are recent a great adds to the spectrum. The nearby television studios at Ostankino gives the area an extra touch of flair. Sometimes there are television shootings in the park and one can have the chance to see well-known tv-reporters or actors. Strangely the surrounding area of VDNKh, the rayon Ostankino didn't see much (elite) housing, shopping malls or offices constructed though to my mind it's one of the best qualities places in Moscow outside the busy centre. What Ostankino lacks is a centre for the neighbourhood. VDNKh sometimes functions like that but it’s clearly not designed for this. The small market hall and just renewed shopping centre next to VDNKh are dating from the wild nineties. They are not well connected to VDNKh. Being designed as practical buildings they offer no (positive) emotional experience. One doesn’t wish to be there besides for buying pelmeni or shoes. VDNKh revisited I conclude the exhibition it’s not a meeting place on daily basis. But the area does have this potential.
Metropolitan interaction environments
The theory of metropolitan interaction environments being drivers for metropolitan development is based on the Metropolis Function Index which indicates five metropolitan functions: politics, economics, science, infrastructural and cultural. According to this index the Dutch metropolitan area called the Randstad is surprisingly third, after London and Paris, but before even much bigger cities like Moscow. The method is developed by the German Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung it’s has been used and elaborated by Dutch professor Maurits de Hoog to measure the growth of different urban agglomerations caused by these different aspects and indicate it’s drivers in the form of metropolitan interaction environments. Likewise surprisingly these are not always the high rise Central Business Districts one would think of, like La Defense in Paris or Moscow-City . They are the areas or centres where people exchange all sort of things, ideas and capital. And qualitative places with great international connectivity where one likes and can easily meet each other. This in turn has a gravitational pull on companies and people from elsewhere.
The metropolitan interaction environment can be a cultural cluster, an exhibit/congress cluster or a knowledge cluster with good public spaces and great international connectivity or pull. When different clusters overlap in one area they form a metropolitan district, which is the strongest metropolitan interaction environment. These metropolitan districts can be the driver for economic growth even in changing economies and technologies because they form the birthplaces or are first in adapting to those changes. In a world of competing cities for the talented and in the future probably even more mobile people of generation Y and their businesses and companies this can be an insurance worth investing in!
Parks – effects and future
Interesting is to think of VDNKh being a park and what this means. Known is that well designed parks a positive effect on urban citizens and city development has. This is reflected in higher house prices, more healthy people, more positive thoughts. It makes an neighbourhood more interesting for different types of households like families with young children. The Amsterdam Big Park research shows parks are changing by their users. More people are able by mobile communication techniques to meet each other and even work in parks. Generation Y maybe will expect pavilions in VDNKh where you can flexible rent a workspace or use office services. Also they are more easily informed on events, seasonal beauty and special interest or possibilities in the parks. In parks often leisure functions are to be found. This is internationally a growing economical segment and closely linked with quality of life in the city attracting more people to its parks. This raises the visitor numbers. But as we and certainly generation Y is more well informed and travelled the demand for qualitative parks will also rise. So the future seems that parks in general, but VDNKh especially can expect more people on daily base. Important is to keep or even upgrade the parkish atmosphere.
VDNKh a metropolitan interaction environment?
Analysing according the theory I state VDNKh is a metropolitan interaction environment. It has a great pull due to its attractively but has a low international connectivity. VDNKh has a cultural cluster according the definition of having three popular cultural functions in walking vicinity. VDNKh itself being an open air museum added by the popular museums of the Cosmonauts and the Worker and Kolkhoz woman. Also the theatre at hotel Cosmos adds to this cultural cluster. The nearby television centre adds also to the cultural cluster. Often cultural clusters attract functions like shopping, hotels, restaurants and nightlife. These are also good infrastructure for exhibitions/ congress clusters consisting of congress facilities with rooms for at least hundred persons again within acceptable (walking) distance of each other. It's obvious VDNKh is reckoned to this cluster with its many exhibit pavilions. On the side of conference or congress facilities the cluster is not very strong and is much depending on the congress facilities of Cosmos Hotel. In the area of international meetings there is a direction towards more congress, conference types of meetings.
Knowledge cluster are mainly formed by the presence of universities, academies, ministries, hospitals, research institutes. Within a (cycle-able) vicinity of three kilometres of VDNKh we find the Finance Academy under the Government of the Russian Federation, Ostanskinskiy Institute for Television and Radio, the Russian State Social University, State Academy of Emergencies of Russia and of course Moscow Botanical Garden of Academy of Sciences. Due to the relative big spread and not very big size of each this knowledge cluster is underdeveloped. The present clusters, one cultural and one congress, are giving VDNKh two metropolitan interaction functions. Altogether we cannot speak of a metropolitan district, yet.
The almost presence of three clusters at VDNKh makes it a great asset to the city of Moscow. Excluding the centre and Moscow-City I don't find such variation elsewhere. Clusters like the knowledge clusters Moscow State University on Vorobyevy Gory, the government around Smolenskaya or the cultural cluster Zoo-Planetary don't create the strong metropolitan districts. Sometimes the even strong functions like Moscow International Performing Arts Centre or Sokolniki Exhibition don't even form a cluster due to lacking either nearby similar functions or a good public space and international connectivity and pull. Interesting is the creation of Skolkovo. Will it succeed in becoming a innovative knowledge cluster lacking all the needed variation in functions and attractive pull factors what a metropolitan district offers? Would one in retrospective not want to develop such environments on the 'fertile urban soil' within the city. This would cost less energy in the making by upgrading existing metropolitan interaction environments, like let’s say VDNKh. Ask the current members of generation Y where they would like to spend their future days. Working at far away Skolkovo or working and enjoying urban life at the beautiful fountains, pavilions which maybe their great-grandparents helped to build?
The steps to a Metropolitan Park of Achievements
From Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy to Metropolitan Park of Achievements as an driver for city development and economic growth. As analysed it needed to focus on enhancing the congress cluster and developing the knowledge cluster. When the three cluster together overlap they create a metropolitan district or park. The metropolitan park of achievements. Maybe this great idea is even not new but argued now on a scientifically base. Anyway it should be communicated by telling it to citizens and businesses. A focused response can enhance the idea further. The goal should be part of a city wide consultation before making it an urban planning strategy. In the implementation and detailed planning phase inhabitants of Ostankino neighbourhood can participate, respond to places and designs. And invited to come up with their own initiatives. There should be time to take it in to consideration and room to fit it in. Please note I don’t propose to rename VDNKh (BDHX) into Metropolitan Park of Achievements but use this working title as reference to the definition metropolitan district.
The first step can easily be achieved. By increasing the congress and conference facilities in and around VDNKh the cultural cluster can be completed and cover the international trend in exhibits. To strengthen it further the international connectivity can be improved by letting the Aeroexpress from Sheremetyevo halt at Timiryazevskaya which connects by monorail to VDNKh. To improve the infrastructure for both cultural and congress clusters one can reconstruct the nearby common commercial buildings into several mixed city block with a nice looking farmers market hall and arts and craft centre generating authenticity to the area. Here tourists, students, workers can daily meet in informal setting creating another driver for innovation. By self-driving transporters visitors can cross the vast area of VDNKh. Logistical transport is replaced by other self-steering electric vehicles adding up to the futuristic image.
Second step is a focus on developing a fine network for pedestrians and cyclists within a radius of some three kilometres in order to connect the existing knowledge institutes better to VDNKh. The same for extending a finer network of public transport to VDNKh. Generation Y should learn of what generation X in Moscow does. By using their cars daily they create immense gridlocks, famous throughout the world. Anecdotes about Muscovites selling their gridlocked cars in order to buy one more in front of the traffic yam are even known in Holland. The generation Y will live differently in the surroundings of VDNKh. By going to work in the park every morning using their bikes, walking or by taking public transport. In the park they use the flexible workspaces located in some beautiful, maybe the Rabbit-growing named, pavilion, designed by architect Zaitsev, or just work in one of the coffeehouses or restaurants. A huge transferium can be created by adding a big car parking to the bus, tram and mono rail depot at ulitsa Sergeya Eyzenshteyna. This way VDNKh can comfortably host big crowds coming by car and be a hub in daily use for commuters transferring from car to public transport into the centre. This has a positive influence enhancing it as meeting place.
Step three should be creating the knowledge cluster by either a new academic institute, university or hospital. These are functions which not every month pop up. But when they do the municipality of Moscow should steer or offer an location or building in vicinity of VDNKh. I am sure I can point out some ruins or under-used terrains next to VDNKh, on Second Ostanskinskaya ulitsa. The foresight by locating such a function here can be a well-educated neighbourhood. When this population itself attracts innovative new economic industries a Silicon Valley scenario is created. So it’s worthwhile thinking about housing for just graduated students, keeping them nearby.
Effects of the Metropolitan Park of Achievements
What can investing in this driver, the Metropolitan Park of Achievements, have for city development and economic growth lead to? This would be step four or, more popularly called nowadays, 'organic development'. VDNKh showed it stayed a driver in turbulent economic changes. By adapting continuously it kept facilitating people in work and meetings. Developing the area into a metropolitan district by completing it with a third cluster of knowledge the surroundings will profit of this insurance for economic continuity and quality of life. Prices of real estate must be stronger than elsewhere and unemployment low. Hotel, office and commercial investments will rise as the neighbourhood has lots of visitors, wealth and expectation. The well informed by travels now older generation Y will finally want to have better quality housing. And safe and nice looking public spaces, even in common streets. The phase can be a long going one as I see enough dilapidated plattenbau, underused terrains and brown fields around.
Even though it's a slow process, urban planning, I do hope to see some of the proposed results for this younger generation called Y at VDNKh. A similar process, I myself know out of personal experience, led to the creation a metropolitan district in het centre of The Hague. Here a knowledge cluster was added to an existing cultural and congress cluster. Public space for pedestrian was improved and expanded. It now profits of many market investments into real estate, a growing population and a good quality of life. Just now the municipality decided to build a new cultural complex in the centre with halls and rooms also useable for congresses. This will further strengthen the metropolitan district and probably attract a new wave of real estate investments, working places and housing.