Something has always bothered me. Soviet power lasted almost 70 years, but if you are a tourist in a Russian provincial town, it turns out that everything you are recommended to see was built in pre-revolutionary Russia – temples, mansions, theaters, shopping centers. Something is a sign of imperial care, most of it is the result of the activities of the zemstvo, which for 50 years of its existence left a very noticeable mark. Traders and industrialists also noted: brick factory buildings and workers’ settlements, built according to the British and German models, stand out favorably against the background of the concrete walls of Soviet-era enterprises.
And what did the Soviet government build? Standard administrative buildings, sand-lime brick barracks, Stalinist cultural houses that look like cakes?
What do you think is the problem? In an era, in ideology? You can not say that they did not build in the USSR. It was built and how. They built a lot: residences, social facilities, industrial buildings, but everything is very ugly. Immediately after the revolution, there was no time for construction, then there was a brief and, I must say, very interesting period of construction utopia, in which there were separate islands of constructivism, like the “town of security guards” in Yekaterinburg. After the Second World War, there was no time left for beauty, the infrastructure was being restored. And in 1955, the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a resolution “On the elimination of excesses in design and construction”, that is, the country was deliberately oriented to boring and massive, simple and cheap, and most importantly – typical. In large cities, rare interesting buildings with architectural grace still appeared, but nothing remarkable happened in small, provincial, unpopulated Russia.
Take a special look at the guidebooks: not just buildings, but also sensible sculptures. How does a typical provincial town work? In the center there is a square where the administration building is stacked and if you are lucky the historical part – a temple, several old mansions, shopping arcades, a fire tower, a few streets. Revolutionary buildings. And then – rows of microdistricts with the houses of Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, which achieved what.
I recently went to Palekh, famous for its lacquer miniatures. Before coffins and pencil cases, icons were painted in Palekh, but icons were not in demand in the USSR, so the artists thought about it and began to paint wooden or papier-mâché chests on their own, following the example of the village of Fedoskino. style. And they became famous, the Palekh school became very famous. And it seemed to me that in Palekh I would see something interesting: after all, this is a village of artists, perhaps thinking not only about miniatures, but also about the surrounding habitat. But, unfortunately, apart from the Exaltation of the Cathedral of the Cross, built in the last third of the 18th century, among other things, funds collected by the population and a few streets of one-story and also pre-revolutionary houses, there is nothing architecturally beautiful in Palekh. But it was an interesting experiment.
A few years ago, the Moscow design bureau “Strelka” took up the modernization of space in three cities of the Ivanovo region: Yuryevets, Kineshma and Palekh. The idea was to change the spatial environment itself, no development was planned. As a result, the appearance of these places has changed somewhat. A little – because it’s expensive, but even a single project cannot affect the path of large settlements, where the main environment remains the same task. In this sense, Palekh is an exception, because it is not a city, but a small village, and creative people live there, artists, so we can assume that cardinal changes will take place in it.
In fact, right at the entrance to Palekh you see a big beautiful square around a beautiful cathedral. And in the square is a fountain surrounded by elegant benches and neatly pruned bushes. Pointers to points of interest (art workshops, museum, gift shop, cafe, restrooms). There is a plan that shows one more attraction – the central park, I saw it, it is beautiful: all the bushes are cut in, only tall lindens and forgetful grass, a few children’s and sports grounds, a little converted Culture House on one side, workshops in Scandinavian style on the other. That’s all, residents believe that 95 million is not enough.
But that’s not the problem. The problem is that Strelka’s ideas immediately clashed with the Paleshans’ (mostly artists, let me remind you) idea of public space. Local residents first of all thought not about beauty and style, but about practicality and economy. What the citizen wants: “Something like a good children’s and sports field, an open-air gym. Leave more trees, smaller flower beds – no one will take care of them anyway. Just put high lanterns, build roads from tiles, even bricks, but better than asphalt, but, God forbid, not granite chips, no, pah-pah-pah … “.
The granite chips in question really turned out to be a headache: There’s nothing to get butts and seed pods out of it, the local janitors don’t have blowers, and it’s unexpected. Lanterns high – do not let the young ones break. In other words, people wanted to be protected from vandalism as well as simplicity and ease of use. Now young people sit on benches in shaded streets, swearing savagely, but they have not yet broken the lanterns, and the unusually spacious park looks spectacular. But has the village as a whole changed?
The needs of residents have been formed over the decades. Adults do not need public space here, there is no experience if, from time immemorial, the only public place is a fair where there is trade, entertainment, taverns and fighting. Today they do not fight especially in the streets and there is no one, the population has aged, but they do not go for a walk either. Ostrovsky wrote in Groza: “The boulevard has been built, but they are not walking. They only go out on holidays, then they take a kind of walk, but they go there to show their clothes… The poor have no time to go out, sir, they have day and night care. And they only sleep three hours a day. Well, now people are sleeping more, but the habit of going outside the trading areas has not yet appeared. And in Palekh there is nowhere to gather. Now there are already three cafes, but mostly they work for tourists. Locals who are their own don’t have a habit of going to the nearest bar to have a glass and exchange news with their neighbors – the way is different. And this is in Palekh, where half the population is engaged in art, there are festivals, exhibitions, some kind of movement.
But 30 km from Palekh in the regional center of Yuzha, the poorest city in the Ivanovo region, which is considered one of the poorest in Russia, Strelka did not appear. But it didn’t come without landscaping.
The center of the city has always been a textile factory, its former owner Shuya merchant Asigkrit Balin is considered the main developer of Yuzha. A large red brick factory building stretches for several kilometers on the shore of the artificial lake Vazal, and a tall chimney (grinel) can be seen in the distance. The factory has been closed since 2009, it is impossible to enter its territory, it is impossible to look behind the high walls. I learned that the project to create a comfortable urban environment, which won the All-Russian competition in 2019, is implemented here. It included Lenin Square and the lake shore, where it was planned to install piers for swimming and sunbathing, benches, bicycle and pedestrian paths, lighting and video surveillance, new bushes, trees and perennial flower beds. Particular attention was paid to the “activation of the abandoned areas of the factory”. It was assumed that the workshops would be re-profiled, something open for tourism and creative entertainment there. 60 million rubles were allocated from one federal source and 26 million rubles from the other. Well, now, of course, it is not up to the development, but something has been done.
When I came to Yuzha as a tourist this summer, I saw the fountain and the playground, Lenin Square. But I couldn’t find any trace of gentrification of the coastal area. I crossed the bridge, saw the collapsed buildings, tried to approach the shore of the lake – I could not, everything was overgrown with grass as tall as a man. Turns out I was just going in the wrong direction. There are landscaping, roads, and lamps elsewhere (the vandals also destroyed some wooden structures, their own vandals, local ones, although the newspapers wrote that some were stolen during the installation process and were expensive).
5 thousand people live in Palekh and 12 thousand in Yuzha. And in general, a few hundred people would probably be found with their own hands to mow another part of the lakeshore to arrange instead of a grassy bush in the city center – a no-project walkway without granite chips. Factory view with lawns for beauty. Not for tourists, but for myself. But – there is no power, money, and most importantly – no desire.
The Soviet experience killed the initiative, the striving for beauty, the love for the material, the sensitivity to the memory of one’s own past. He has an extroverted expression. And it is expressed – literally and figuratively – in wastelands and abandoned buildings, neglected barracks and poverty. And in the last 30 years, little has changed in the depths of our lives despite the changing generation.
The author expresses his personal opinion, which may not coincide with the editors’ position.