Habitat is not just an apartment

Habitat
John Leech. Museum Square in Vienna

We can call our own habitat our own room (if you are lucky enough to be the owner of a separate room), an apartment, a multi-storey or private house, a quarter, a microdistrict, a city, a country and, finally, a planet.

As someone very smart said a long time ago – “everything is learned in comparison.” Therefore, in order to understand how well our habitat is equipped, it is worth comparing it with another place where the same people live. It has not yet been possible to compare our native Earth with other planets, how much our Russian mentality differs from the Western one has long been known, and our country is really unique, almost impossible to compare.

But trying to find successful (and, to put it mildly, not very good) examples of an urban habitat in the vastness of Russia and compare with other cities, for example, in Europe, is a completely feasible and not uninteresting task..

It is generally accepted that Russian cities are gloom and horror in comparison with the famous European capitals: and it is clean there that you can walk barefoot, and the owners immediately clean up the dogs, and sports grounds on every corner, green courtyards … And what about us? What can I say – no words!

But this was not always the case. In the period from the XIV-XV to the XVIII-XIX centuries, foreigners who came to the Moscow kingdom, and then to the Russian Empire, noted the striking difference between our cities from Paris, Berlin, London, and they were clearly different for the better! If in medieval Paris the cemetery was located in the very center of the city, slops flowed along the few sidewalks, and residents poured the contents of the night peas out into the street, then in our cities at that time the houses did not stick to each other, but stood freely and wide, were traditionally spacious, green, ventilated courtyards.

People lived in “peace”, that is, in communities, which means that the pieces of the streets were “common”, all residents, without exception, were responsible for their cleanliness, so no one, like in Paris, could throw out a bucket of slop just at the feet of passers-by, clearly showing that only my house is private property, and the rest is simply not given a damn!

It is interesting that the only city in Russia, which, according to foreigners, was as vile and smelly as European cities, though not in squares where order was kept vigilant, but in gateways and residential quarters, was St. Petersburg, which was under construction in the image and likeness of all the same cities of civilized Europe. It is not for nothing that Dostoevsky captured this specificity of the Northern capital in Crime and Punishment, and this was already in the 19th century.

So what has happened over the past hundred years that has so drastically changed the opinion about our urban development? Of course, first of all, this was facilitated by the fact that the cities of Europe from garbage dumps during this time turned into megalopolises, famous not only for their cleanliness, but also for their careful attitude to architectural monuments, history and, most importantly, to the needs of their own residents. And while European cities were developing, ours were simply growing, building up with typical multi-storey towers, pleasing neither the eyes nor the soul.

Apparently, the main difference here is nevertheless in relation – for many Russians their habitat ends precisely behind the reliable, metal door of the apartment, but for Europeans it extends to the entire area, where you can not only take a quick walk with the dog, but also have a great day. By the way, remembering the old Soviet films – most of the life of the then townspeople took place in the courtyard, which is only the eternal grandfathers with dominoes and chess or grandmothers on the benches. And now finding a cozy bench in a quiet corner of the yard is a big problem..

In the new quarter Bo01, which is located in the Swedish city of Malmo, everything possible has been done for the convenience of residents: the residential buildings, although standing close to each other, were created by different architects and are very different in style and facade design – each house here is a bright individual.

Quarter Bo01
Bo01 quarter, Malmo, Sweden. Photo – Maxim Katz

Clos Tamm became the planner of the quarter. According to the author, this whole area is the best example of what a neighborhood acceptable to all residents looks like. And although in many media the new district of the city is positioned primarily as environmentally friendly, but, according to the designer, all components have come together – the economic, social and environmental aspects of development. The peculiarity of the Swedish project is also in the fact that not one single house was planned, but the whole quarter. In Russia, this approach has not yet been adopted, and if we are talking about a building on a larger scale than one building, then, most likely, as a result, another “elite” with a closed, protected area behind a high fence will be born.

When designing the Bo01 quarter, Clos Tamm strove to create a place where people would be comfortable and pleasant to meet each other and spend a lot of time outdoors. Tamm says beauty is at the heart of a truly comfortable city, and when you look at the cozy corners of the Swedish Quarter, you really believe it.!

In the center of the Bo01 quarter, there is a small reservoir, on the banks of which there are many cozy places for picnics and socializing.

Pond in the Bo01 quarter
Pond in the Bo01 quarter. Photo – Maxim Katz

On the embankment, a wooden sidewalk attracts attention, which was immediately chosen by the locals, here you can freely sit down just on the wide steps.

Quarter Embankment Bo01
Embankment of the Bo01 quarter. Photo – Maxim Katz

By the way, if anyone is interested, you can learn more about the Bo01 project in the live journal of Maxim Katz.

If we compare this cozy Swedish quarter with the pompous buildings on the banks of the Moskva River, then personally I would definitely choose Bo01. For example, the most ambitious project of the capital is the Alye Parusa residential complex, whose monumental towers simply overwhelm the surrounding space. These skyscrapers, in my opinion, have nothing to do with such a romantic name, and Assol on such a “embankment for the rich” with a yacht club will never wait for his captain Gray (and he will not wait).

Scarlet Sails
View of “Scarlet Sails” from the river, Moscow

Another difference between the Bo01 quarter in Malmo and the Moscow project – the apartments here were equipped with the expectation of all segments of the population – there are rather complex, two-level apartments with their own elevator and all the attributes of ultra-modern housing, and there are simpler ones, intended for residents over 55 years old.

In general, the main difference between the Swedish quarter and the “promoted” Moscow projects is precisely humanity. In such a cozy quarter, it is easy to imagine children playing on a green lawn, whom parents can simply watch from the windows of an apartment or a couple sitting on an open balcony and watching passers-by. You don’t want to hide from such an environment behind the door of the apartment, this is a really great place to live.

However, even if we do not take such a part of the city development as a whole block, but, for example, an ordinary courtyard of a typical high-rise building, then here too our reality is significantly inferior to the European.

You don’t have to go far – here is the view from the window of my apartment in an ordinary “Khrushchev” building in a residential area:

Courtyards

Very cute, isn’t it? On the opposite side of the house – the same picture, even worse, because garages are literally a few meters from the building and often residents are woken up by headlights and the hum of motors.

Courtyards

Yes, the door is not just lying on the ground – it closes the sewer hole! Something like this … But, this is already a question for utilities, although it has the most direct relation to the improvement of the yard.

And in the evenings in front of a row of garages a line of cars is also built, because the number of vehicles is growing, but the number of “houses” for cars is not. And at the same time, our yard is not the worst option, in the summer there are many flowers in the front gardens and there was even a place for a sandbox (homemade, of course).

There are courtyards that look even worse:

Courtyards

It seems that the main thing for us is the comfort and safety of the “iron horse”, and everything else is the tenth thing. Interestingly, most of these metal boxes and brick garages are illegal squatter (in our area there are literally 100% of them). So the authorities seem to be not to blame for this – it just happened..

To the age-old question – “What to do?”, You can, of course, refer to the example of European cities, where underground parking lots are being built everywhere. For example, in Germany, they began a program of adding mansard floors in old buildings, where residents then move from the first floor, which turns into an underground parking.

It is not difficult to imagine this here, but simply unrealistic. For example, I cannot imagine that the authorities of our city would go broke to demolish the unauthorized construction and improve such a large territory. And the owners of garages themselves will not lift a finger, on the contrary, they will hold on to their property to the last.

Yes, and old houses will not be able to withstand such an additional load, they are already falling apart just before our eyes, losing balconies, plaster and porch canopies.

And one more nuance – even if someday all these garages are demolished, most likely, another standard multi-storey tower will appear in their place, which will definitely not decorate the view from my window.

A beautiful and comfortable courtyard of a residential building may look like this:

Courtyard in Malmo
Courtyard in Malmö. Photo – Maxim Katz

Or even like this:

Courtyard in Copenhagen
Courtyard in Copenhagen. Photo – Maxim Katz

Say, it’s not very beautiful, too provincial and even somehow rustic? From my point of view, a beautiful courtyard is, first of all, a place where I can safely let my child out, a place where he can walk calmly, without fear of cars, where he has something to do. In our courtyard, where someone constantly comes or leaves, you can only marry with your mother, and there is really nothing to do there. And here the kids calmly ride bicycles, there are comfortable benches with tables and it is quite cozy.

So, under the opinion of the designer Clos Tamm – “beautiful means convenient” – I can definitely subscribe.

Of course, the problem of courtyards is being gradually solved in new residential complexes. Most often, trying to attract buyers and increase the price per square meter, developers erect a playground in the courtyard, break a flower bed, which can then be called in the avenues with the loud phrase “landscape design”, but here, too, most of the space is immediately occupied by cars, and cozy corners , where you can sit, watching the child playing on the playground, there is practically no.

Residential complexes of a new type are being built in Prague, the courtyard of which may look like this:

Residential complex Zlichin
Residential complex Zlicin, Prague, Czech Republic

It would seem a typical project, but there are all the conditions for life – there is a lot of greenery, and there is a children’s playground, but there are no cars, therefore it is quiet, comfortable, and the inhabitants of the first floor can quite afford to equip a real open terrace.

Of course, in Russia there are also quite beautiful residential complexes that claim to be a successful project. The most striking examples can now be found in Sochi, which is actively preparing to become not only a resort, but also an Olympic capital. For example, the Alexandria Mayak residential complex is located next to the Black Sea coast, with its own closed, guarded territory, truly decorated with landscape design, a luxurious hall, shops and offices on the ground floors. But! The cost of one square meter of a residential apartment here reaches 500 thousand rubles, unthinkable for an ordinary Russian (they caught up and even surpassed Moscow), so there is no need to say that this is a typical new building. And the proximity to the sea played a role in the attractiveness of such a resort apartment..

Alexandrian lighthouse
Residential complex “Alexandria Mayak”

In general, many new buildings are now striving to approach European standards of comfortable living. For example, this is how the Gorky Park residential complex in Sochi will look like:

Gorky Park
Residential complex “Gorky Park”, Central district of Sochi

Of course, this courtyard is too big to become truly cozy, but there is also an underground parking and a place for walking.

It remains to state that the presence of underground parking is still the prerogative of elite new buildings, most often – monolithic towers with a height of at least 20 floors (so that the sale of apartments could recoup the costs of building a parking lot).

Of course, in Paris, Berlin and even Vienna, which was recognized as the best city to live in the world last year (and this is not the first time it receives this title), you can find districts and courtyards that cannot serve as an example of ideal urban development. However, already in the 70s, when only “Brezhnevka” buildings were built on the streets of the USSR in Vienna, for example, the Alt-erlaa complex appeared, consisting of high-rise buildings with outdoor pools on the roofs, underground parking, shops, children’s and sports grounds, surrounded by greenery and even with its own metro station.

Alt-erlaa
Public complex Alt-erlaa in Vienna

And this, by the way, is social housing! Apartments in this complex began to be issued to low-income families in 1985.

It is impossible to unequivocally answer the question of why our courtyards, districts and cities are still losing to the European ones. Is it the fault of the authorities, who let everything take their course, or our notorious mentality ….

I would like, of course, to believe that all this is a difficult legacy of the Soviet past, that there will be no “Khrushchevs” and “Brezhnevoks”, and new complexes will appear in their place, no worse than in the capitals of Europe, you just have to wait, so 40 years -50 (judging by the rate of demolition of “khrushchob”, no less).

But when designing new quarters, one must not forget that this is the habitat of people, their permanent place of residence, along these streets they will have to get to work, and their children will live in this courtyard..

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