Tag Archives: Living City

“Noblesse Oblige” as a Wrecking Ball (Paradny Kvartal, Petersburg)

Legality of Demolition of Historic Barracks Contested
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
May 11, 2011 (Issue # 1655)

Another planning controversy is developing in the city, as more historic buildings in the center were demolished last week to make way for luxury apartment and office buildings.

Built by architect Fyodor Volkov in the early 19th century, the demolished buildings on the corner of Paradnaya Ulitsa and Vilensky Pereulok are known as the Preobrazhensky Regiment’s Barracks and used to house one of the Russian army’s oldest regiments, formed by Peter the Great in the late 17th century.

Following a public outcry, Governor Valentina Matviyenko ordered an internal investigation into the legality of a construction permit issued by the St. Petersburg State Construction Supervision and Expertise Service (Gosstroinadzor). The agency is subordinated directly to Matviyenko.

Matviyenko’s orders were based on a memorandum sent to her by City Hall’s Heritage Protection Committee (KGIOP) after the last building was demolished on May 3.

Yulia Minutina, a coordinator of preservationist group Living City, said that Gosstroinadzor issued the construction permit that contradicted the protected zones law.

The local press suggested that the investigation may result in the dismissal of Gosstroinadzor’s head Alexander Ort. Preservationists and public figures such as film director Alexander Sokurov asked Matviyenko to dismiss Ort in a petition in January.

The developer failed to show the demolition permit, according to Minutina.

“Demolition is a separate type of work that requires a separate permit,” Minutina said Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, it was not presented to us, nor have they seen it at the KGIOP and I’m not sure it ever existed. Of course this is a violation.”

“Besides, buildings in the center can only be demolished if they are in a poor condition, but we haven’t seen any document stating that the building was in a poor state and impossible to restore either.”

Minutina said the demolition was one of the issues the preservationists are planning to raise during a planned meeting with Matviyenko on Thursday.

While the last building was being destroyed during the May Day holidays, the authorities did not react to the appeals of concerned residents. At the same time, police reportedly harassed activists who picketed the demolition site, rather than checking whether the developer had the necessary permits.

“We waited for two hours for the police to arrive,” Living City’s Pyotr Zabirokhin said.

“But instead of stopping the demolition, they started checking our passports, copying our placards into their notebooks and threatening to disperse us if we didn’t go away.”

St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Sergei Malkov has written a complaint regarding the police actions to the St. Petersburg police chief Vladislav Piotrovsky.

The tactic of demolishing historic buildings during public holidays was recently used when a large portion of the 19th-century Literary House was destroyed on Nevsky Prospekt during the Russian Christmas holidays in January, Zabirokhin pointed out.

“It has turned into a bad tradition that not entirely legal cases of demolition start during or just before holidays, when people are not ready to get mobilized quickly, and while officials are on holiday and nobody can be reached,” he said.

According to the project’s web site, the area previously occupied by the Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks will be home to an “exclusive” Paradny Kvartal, an isolated “mini city” of 16 office and residential buildings.

Call Now!

“The true adornment of the quarter’s center will be a square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” the web site said.

However, apparently as a result of the controversy, the site was no longer available on Tuesday, redirecting to the web site of the developer, Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga. The original site can be viewed as files cached in Google.

Anna Mironovskaya, the marketing director of Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga, a subsidiary of the LSR Group, said Tuesday her company was only a sub-investor and was not in charge of legal matters and permits, citing the Ministry of Defense as the project’s developer and the Pyotr Veliky Construction Company as the commissioner.

_____

http://paradny.ru/questions/

— Who acquires real estate in Paradny Kvartal?

One of the main advantages of Paradny Kvartal is the social homogeneity of [one’s neighbors]. Our buyers are people of high social status. That is why we will be able to create “our own world” in which it will be pleasant and comfortable to live.

[…]

— What does the phrase “noblesse oblige,” which is frequently applied to Paradny Kvartal, mean?

The well-known phrase has rightly become not just the slogan but the authentic motto of Paradny Kvartal. It translates as “[one’s] station obliges [one].” For in Paradny Kvartal each detail underscores the project’s elitism, its exclusivity.

_____

Photos courtesy of Zaks.Ru and Chto Delat.

Leave a comment

Filed under Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

The Unbearable Lightness of Saint Petersburg

The St. Petersburg Times
February 2, 2011
Governor Tries to Remove City’s Historic Status
By Sergey Chernov, Staff Writer

Actor Oleg Basilashvili and author Boris Strugatsky were among artists, teachers and rights activists who wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday asking him to deny City Governor Valentina Matviyenko’s request to exclude St. Petersburg from the Register of Historic Settlements.

“Recent years have demonstrated convincingly that the city authorities are not capable and, more importantly, do not want to protect the historic center of St. Petersburg,” they wrote in the letter.

“The ‘planning mistakes’ that appear one after another, distorting the unique appearance of our city, are a direct consequence of the permits and authorizations issued by the city authorities.”

The letter cites the new Stockmann building erected in place of two historic buildings demolished to make way for the Finnish department store, which has altered the view of the portion of Nevsky Prospekt close to Ploshchad Vosstaniya, and the 19th-century Literary House on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka River that is being demolished right now, as the most recent examples.

Matviyenko’s letter to Putin, in which she asked him to strip St. Petersburg of its historic status, was leaked to the press last week. According to an article published by Kommersant on Thursday, City Hall deemed the city’s protected status as a historical settlement to be “excessive,” hindering investment projects and construction activities.

St. Petersburg was included in the Register of Historic Settlements in July, along with 40 other Russian cities. The status implies stricter control over valuable historical objects and demands that the local authorities authorize construction plans and regulations with Rosokhrankultura, the Ministry of Culture’s heritage watchdog.

“Considering that neither Pskov, Novgorod or Moscow have been included on the register, I am asking you to consider excluding St. Petersburg from the said register,” wrote Matviyenko to Putin, according to Kommersant.

Since taking office in 2003, Matviyenko has been accused of overseeing the gradual destruction of St. Petersburg’s cultural heritage. According to preservationist organization Living City, more than 100 historic buildings, including six on Nevsky Prospekt, have been demolished during her tenure.

Late last year, Matviyenko made moves toward preservationist activists, inviting them to take part in a discussion — an initiative that appears to have reached a deadlock over the scandal caused by the demolition of the Literary House at 68 Nevsky begun on Jan. 7.

“I appreciate the activities of preservationist organizations; they are sincere in their care for the city, and I am open to dialogue,” Matviyenko was quoted as saying in November.

“Preservationists and the city authorities are interested in the same thing — in effective work to preserve historic heritage.” Matviyenko also offered the job of deputy chair of the [city’s] heritage protection committee to Living City coordinator Yulia Minutina, who works as a schoolteacher.

In late January, after film director Alexander Sokurov spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to stop the demolition of the Literary House, City Hall’s stance seemed to change.

“Teachers should teach, doctors should treat patients, film directors should make movies; if people attempt to do a job for which they are not qualified, mess and madness ensue,” Deputy Governor Roman Filimonov was quoted as saying last week.

Meanwhile, the demolition of the Literary House continued Tuesday. “Maybe one third of the building remains, two thirds have already been demolished,” Living City’s Natalya Sivokhina said by phone Tuesday evening.

Activists of Living City and a newly formed group called Nevsky 68 continue to picket the building, collecting signatures for a petition to President Dmitry Medvedev.

Their demands include a halt to all the work, the future conservation of the site, punishment of the city officials responsible for the destruction of the historic building, the withdrawal of permits and the site from its current owner and a broad public discussion on the restoration of the building.

Photos by Sergey Chernov. See his entire photo reportage of the destruction of the Literary House here.

Leave a comment

Filed under protests, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

Goodbye, Gazprom Tower

http://sergey-chernov.livejournal.com/559307.html

The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1633, Friday, December 10, 2010
Governor Scraps Plans for Okhta Center Tower
By Sergey Chernov, Staff Writer

The controversial Okhta Center project was scrapped Thursday, as St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko cancelled her Oct. 2009 decree allowing the planned Gazprom Tower to increase its planned height to 403 meters, contrary to the 40-meter limit for the site set by the law.

“We had talks with Gazprom and took a mutual and final decision about moving the project to another site,” she was quoted by Ekho Moskvy as saying.

Matviyenko made the statement during a planned meeting with journalists during a congress of construction businesses in St. Petersburg. She said she had already signed the decree.

Last week, Matviyenko first admitted that the move was possible. “We are interested in ensuring that the city is unified, that there is no tension and confrontation,” she was quoted by City Hall’s official web site as saying on Dec. 3.

A new site for the planned skyscraper has yet to be selected.

Okhta Center’s press officer Tatyana Yuryeva said she had no comment when called Thursday.

St. Petersburg residents, preservationists and the political opposition have been struggling against the project since it was announced in 2006 – despite the massive pressure from the authorities as both the Kremlin and City Hall demonstrated full support for the project.

Opponents warned that the planned skyscraper that was to hold the offices of Gazprom Neft threatened to destroy St. Petersburg’s UNESCO-protected skyline, among other objections.

One of them was the threat to archeological findings on the site that was once home to two medieval Swedish fortresses and a Neolithic settlement.

“It’s a victory for the whole of St. Petersburg, it can be credited to all those who fought against all the odds, in the face of being told that doing anything was hopeless, it’s a victory of the spirit over the belly, a genuine achievement for the civil society,“ said Maxim Reznik, the local chair of the Yabloko Democratic Party.

According to Reznik, the party’s firm stance against the project led to his party being dismissed from the local parliamentary elections, when the signatures needed for the party to be registered for the elections were declared “inauthentic” by the St. Petersburg election committee in 2007.

“We paid a high price, but it was worth it,” Reznik said.

“It was strange to have to fight for four years for things that are so obvious,” said Pyotr Zabirokhin of the preservationist organization Living City.

“It’s a first concrete action that should put an end to the project in its current form, which is exactly what the defenders of St. Petersburg fought to achieve over the past few years.”

The Other Russia’s local chair Andrei Dmitriyev described the Okhta Center’s cancellation as a “great victory for the whole of civil society and the opposition,” but warned that other controversial projects could appear under the political system created by Vladimir Putin.

“I wouldn’t want to indulge in euphoria; we will only be able to solve our problems when the St. Petersburg authorities will be accountable to the residents,” Dmitriyev said.

“A hundred Okhta Centers could appear in every sphere of life, and until we start electing the governor, until we have honest elections and until we have normally organized self-government, such situations will appear all the time and we should demand political reforms.”

Putin canceled the election of governors in 2005 as a “security measure” following the 2004 terrorist attack in Beslan.

1 Comment

Filed under activism, protests, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

Defenders of the Fatherland (Rogov House, Petersburg)

“This Demolition Is Illegal”/“Petersburg Is Being Murdered Here”

Yesterday (February 23) was celebrated as Defender of the Fatherland Day in Russia. Once upon a time not so long ago, February 23 was known as Red Army and Fleet Day. Now, apparently as a counterbalance to “International Women’s Day” (March 8), a holiday utterly emptied of its original radical/progressive/feminist content by the forces of consumerism and patriarchal reaction in Russia, February 23rd has become a kind of one-size-fits-all “men’s day.” The homely and sexual virtues of women are thus celebrated on March 8, while on February 23 the allegedly warrior-like traits of men are honored.

The reality of gender roles is, of course, more complicated. As is the question of what “defending the fatherland” means today. We would argue that this defense now entails work on very different fronts, such as the struggle against neofascism, rampant police abuse and violence, and lawless, union-busting employers. A no less important front in Russia today is the fight for the right to the city, whether this means battling  to save a humble albeit leafy courtyard in Petersburg’s new estates from the developers’ chainsaws and bulldozers, trying to stop the erection of a 400-meter-high skyscraper that would rape the city’s sublime skyline forever or, as you’ll read about below, keeping watch over historic landmarks that stand in the way of mindless redevelopment. This particular struggle is fought by men and women, the old and the young, communists, anarchists, and liberals alike.

Finally, we should stress that the “little” motherland/fatherland at issue here (Saint Petersburg) is the common property of all humanity (as our comrades from DSPA point out, below): the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re unhappy with what the combined forces of stupidity, greed, and bureaucratic corruption are doing to our common property, please write to UNESCO. Please write to us (at the e-mail address in the sidebar) if you need more information about the destruction of Saint Petersburg.

Vigil Set Up To Stop Demolition Of Building
The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1550 (11), Wednesday, February 24, 2010
By Sergey Chernov
Staff Writer

A round-the-clock vigil has been established in central St. Petersburg by concerned locals attempting to prevent the demolition of a historic building.

Defenders of St. Petersburg’s cultural heritage set up camp near the Rogov House on the corner of Zagorodny Prospekt and Shcherbakov Pereulok as attempts to demolish the building continued during the weekend and into this week.

Sergey Chernov / The St. Petersburg Times
The Rogov House pictured on Monday, following demolition work that began over the weekend.

At every attempt by workers to start demolition, which the protesters describe as “illegal,” the activists called the police, who repeatedly came and stopped the work because the workers had no demolition permit.

But the workers, equipped with a hydraulic excavator labeled “Building Demolition Association,” managed to almost completely destroy the top floor of the three-story historic building in one sweep on Saturday and two sweeps on Monday.

On Saturday, two cars parked on Shcherbakov Pereulok were reported to have been damaged by falling stones due to the haste with which the work was carried out. After the third sweep on Monday, the workers present at the site were detained by the police, who ordered them to write explanatory statements.

The protesters say that Prestizh, which bought the right to develop the site from the city, deliberately started demolition work at the beginning of the long holiday weekend in order to complete demolition unhindered before Wednesday, when a court hearing about the legality of stripping the the Rogov House of its cultural heritage status is scheduled.

Prestizh is planning to build a seven-story business center with underground parking on the site.

The Rogov House, named after the merchant who built it in the late 18th to early 19th century, is the oldest building on Vladimirskaya Ploshchad. Located next to the Delvig House, it is valued as a relic of Pushkin-era St. Petersburg.

“The exact year of construction is unknown, which is often the case with buildings from that era,” Alexander Kononov, deputy chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Association for the Protection of Monuments (VOOPIK,) said by phone on Tuesday.

“It was built between 1798 and 1808, because on the 1798 map of St. Petersburg this building isn’t yet featured, but it is already on the 1808 map of St. Petersburg — with the same dimensions and configuration as it has now.”

According to Kononov, the building is the oldest in the Vladimirskaya Ploshchad ensemble — older than the Delvig House, which was built from 1811 to 1813 — and, unlike the Delvig House, it has never undergone major renovation or reconstruction work.

“It has all the authentic elements of construction and decor inside and out — the staircase and everything — including large wooden cross-beams,” he said.

“It is precisely as it was built, except for minor changes on the first floor due to doorways having been moved.”

The Rogov House has been under threat since the 1980s, when it was damaged during the construction of Dostoyevskaya metro station. Kononov insists that the building could have been restored, but City Hall’s heritage committee stripped it off its heritage status in November last year.

According to Kononov, organizations such as Lenmetrogiprotrans (Leningrad Metropolitan State Institute for Transportation Design and Planning) and Giprostroimost (Institute for Bridge Design and Construction) said in writing that they were ready to design projects for the repair and preservation of the building, including strengthening weight-bearing structures and the foundations.

“Unfortunately, Prestizh, which currently manages the site, doesn’t want to get in touch with the organizations that are ready to preserve the building — quite the opposite, they look for experts who will say that it is impossible to preserve the building and that it is in a dangerous state of repair,” Kononov said.

Prestizh was not available for comment on Tuesday.

According to the preservationist organization Living City, more than 100 historic buildings have been destroyed in the center, including six on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, since Governor Valentina Matviyenko took office in 2003. [You can see more of Sergey Chernov’s photos of the Rogov House demolition here.]

*****

Here Alexander Kononov talks to Petersburg Channel 100 about the battle over the Rogov House. Even if you don’t understand Russian, it’s worth a look for the visuals at the end of the segment, when the Channel 100 anchor reads off a short list of the more than one hundred historic buildings demolished during the reign of Valentina Matviyenko.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

*****

On the morning of February 23, activists from the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (DSPA) hung the following banner on the threatened Rogov House:

The text on the banner (“Citizens! Under Matviyenko’s Administration, This Side of the Street Is the Most Dangerous”) refers to the famous warnings stenciled on buildings during the Siege of Leningrad: “Сitizens! During bombardment this side of the street is the most dangerous.” Beginning in the early sixties, these stencils were restored on several buildings in the city, including the most well-known example, on the building at Nevsky Prospekt, 14.

DSPA issued the following communiqué in connection with this action:

By destroying Petersburg’s historic built environment and demolishing old buildings, the authorities violate the people’s right to aesthetic pleasure, which is no less meaningful than other civil and political rights.

The days when hi-tech buildings served as futuristic manifestos have long since passed; today’s glass boxes are built by dull and greedy bourgeois. They find it more profitable to demolish a historic building and erect a new one in its place: investing money in the restoration of an old building is too expensive. They thus infringe on the cultural property of all humanity.

A typical example of this infringement is the case of the Rogov House (Zagorodny Prospekt 3/17), an officially listed architectural landmark. Strictly speaking, little has survived of this neoclassical building complex, erected in the late eighteenth century: only the street-side wing remains; the rest of the building was barbarically destroyed during construction of the Dostoevskaya metro station in 1987. Preservationists successfully defended this part of the building, but in the twenty-some years that followed, the authorities dreamt not of restoring it to a condition befitting its landmark status, but of destroying it completely. Despite the fact that, in 2009, independent experts showed that it was still quite possible to restore the building, attempts to force through a demolition in order to build yet another commercial building on the site resumed with renewed vigor late last year.

During the six or so years of Governor Matviyenko’s administration, Petersburg itself has “shrunk“ considerably: the preservation zone in the central districts has been reduced by a factor of 4.5; the city has rid itself of 144 architectural landmarks and other historic buildings, as well as several dozen squares and green spaces; and the city’s central plazas — Sennaya, Kazanskaya, Vladimirskaya, and St. Isaac’s — have been irreparably disfigured.

We realize, however, that it is not so much Matviyenko herself who is personally to blame for all this, as it is the economic system of capitalism. The governor is merely a small fry in the big pond of the Market and a servant of High Profits. Only greed and the desire for profit are capable of demolishing works of art and erecting lackluster business centers. Big money is the only cause of all the horrible things that are happening to our city.

Governors come and governors go, but their policies remain the same. And during each of their reigns, both sides of every street remain the most dangerous.

There is only one solution — resistance!

Today, the Rogov House got a reprieve when a Petersburg district court declared a temporary halt to an earlier decision (on February 2) by the city’s heritage preservation committee (the now-notorious KGIOP, whose mission in recent years has been to rubber-stamp whatever atrocities the hearts of developers desire) to strip the building of its protected status. All the details of the suit, filed on behalf of the house by representatives of VOOPIK, can be found here (in Russian). The next court hearing of the case will take place on March 9. Activists, however, have promised to continue their vigil at the house.

alert-dog.livejournal.com/100900.html

“The Rogov House: Don’t Demolish It, Restore It!”

1 Comment

Filed under activism, protests, urban movements (right to the city)