Three more dispatches from various fronts of the war being waged by “developers” and bureaucrats against Saint Petersburg and its citizens. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Valentina Matvienko
The St. Petersburg Times
November 20, 2009
TV Campaign Against Gazprom Tower Mounts
By Sergey Chernov
The controversial Gazprom Tower found itself under harsh attack last week on Russia’s main state television, Channel One, for the third time in the past four weeks — and its supporters struggled to offer any good reason to back the 403-meter-tall skyscraper in close proximity to the city center.
First slammed by the Kremlin-controlled channel in its primetime weekly news roundup on Oct. 18, the Okhta Center, as the building is officially known, was derided in the comedy show “Prozhektorperiskhilton” (Paris Hilton’s Spotlight) a week later, and last week became the subject of “Sudite Sami” (Judge for Yourself), a political talk show hosted by Maxim Shevchenko.
This time Okhta Center representatives — communications director Vladimir Gronsky and the project’s chief architect Filipp Nikandrov of the British firm RMJM — were given a chance to present their case for the skyscraper, which is planned to house state energy giant Gazprom’s headquarters and was described by Bloomberg News critic Colin Amery as “just another global corporate monolith — banal, dull and inappropriate.”
The unsuspecting Okhta Center team, which enjoys full administrative support in St. Petersburg, arrived at the studio to discover that the show was to be called “The Tower Against the City.” They were then refused the opportunity to show their presentation of the project, and were instead confronted with a barrage of questions — including ones they had ignored or mocked during the heavily policed public hearings held in St. Petersburg.
With no backing from City Hall, OMON special-task police or menacing individuals scattered around the room pushing and kicking opponents, as there were at the public hearings, the Okhta Center’s representatives appeared helpless and confused.
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“During the past 80 years, no architectural masterpieces have been created in the city,” said Nikandrov, following one of the lines of the Okhta Center’s publicity campaign, to which the presenter Shevchenko asked whether Nikandrov considered the project to be a “masterpiece.”
“I think that this tower is a masterpiece,” Nikandrov replied.
Professionally, Nikandrov’s reasoning was confronted by Andrei Bokov, president of the Russian Union of Architects, who gave examples of Soviet architecture in St. Petersburg.
“I don’t know you, and I am shocked that a man whom I, the president of the Union of Architects, see for the first time, has taken responsibility for such a complex undertaking,” Bokov said.
“This project is naive and aggressive; it is dull, it is archaic. Chinese cities are being built with buildings that are vastly more interesting and better than what you are offering. Your brains haven’t been turned on.”
Advocates of the tower who were present in the studio struggled to come up with good reasons to support the project. The arguments they made frequently sounded eccentric.
Film director Vladimir Bortko claimed that the tower would be an “adornment” to St. Petersburg. When Grigory Revzin, Kommersant’s architecture critic, asked him to specify with what it would adorn St. Petersburg, Bortko replied, “With beauty!”
“You mean there’s no beauty [in St. Petersburg]? Not enough?” Revzin asked.
“Not enough,” Bortko responded.
Boris Nadezhdin, one of the leaders of the pro-Kremlin “liberal” party Pravoye Delo, touched on the political meaning of the tower, implying that it would symbolize the growing power of Russia.
“This tower is a symbol that Russia is rising from its knees, among other things,” he said.
“In clear weather it should be visible from the NATO Headquarters in Brussels!”
Gronsky applauded his own remarks, as if giving a sign to the pro-tower rent-a-crowd used at hearings in the past two years, but there was no rent-a-crowd to back him among the show’s audience.
At one point during the 45-minute show, film director Bortko, who appeared to be verging on hysteria for most of the program, rushed out of the studio, failed to find the exit and circled the speakers again before managing to leave.
Summing up the debates, Valery Fadeyev, editor of Expert magazine, said that the planned tower should be thoroughly discussed on a national level.
“We should return to the first phase of this project,” he said.
“The project has now gone outside of St. Petersburg. This problem has become national.”
The national uproar and Channel One’s campaign against the tower began after City Governor Matviyenko signed a decree exempting the Okhta Center from the height regulation law on Oct. 6. Some media suggested a rift in the Kremlin over the project and even took it as a sign that the project may soon be cancelled by the Russian authorities.
This is no longer a metaphor. What which was awaited for, feared but not believed finally happened – the bulldozers of Gazprom assaulted the ruins of Nyenskans (XVII century) and Landskrona (1300) fortresses. They broke into one of the bastions, leaving a 50 square meters pit where an 1.6 meter ancient earthen wall stood. A hole large enough for an armored regiment to break in. A part of Landskrona moat was destroyed as well.
A report (with photographs) on what is at stake if Gazprom’s bulldozers finish the job:
Photography is forbidden on the territory of the future Okhta Center. Security men from the Gazprom press office allow only a few chosen to come onto the site—journalists, photographers and cameramen who have been vetted ahead of time. And for some reason these people aren’t interested in archaeology. They record in close-up only the infrequent visits of officials from high or low levels of power. And according to the conditions of an agreement with Gazprom, even archaeologists who have been digging here for three years do not have the right to invite in journalists or to publish their findings.
We have decided to translate and post the following long article by Petersburg journalist and Yabloko Party activist Boris Vyshnevsky on the Gazprom skyscraper controversy not because we agree with his politics (except when it comes to resisting the skyscraper and the overall savage “redevelopment” being visited on the city), but because it is simply the most detailed and complete account of the whole ugly story out there. We will soon be posting on the recent (successful!) demonstration to defend Petersburg that Vyshnevsky describes at the end of the article. In the meantime, check out the second half of our most recent post on the topic to find out what you can do to aid the people of Petersburg.
Saint Petersburg versus Gazputinburg
A living city gathers its forces for the struggle with a dead city
In the mid-eighties, in what was then still known as Leningrad, a civic resistance movement emerged: people joined forces to defend two historic landmarks – the poet Delvig’s house and the Angleterre hotel, both of them threatened with demolition. The person responsible for city cultural policy then was Valentina Matvienko, deputy chair of the Leningrad Executive Committee.
This story is being repeated today: a multitude of people has united in defense of historical Petersburg, which is now menaced by the administration of Governor Valentina Matvienko. The symbol of this threat that hangs over the city like an ominous shadow is the Okhta Center skyscraper, a project of the Gazprom Corporation. On September 22, 2009, the city government passed a resolution permitting the building to attain a height of 403 meters, despite the fact that the maximum height allowed on this plot by the city’s Land Use and Development Rules is 100 meters.
On October 10, the coalition of grassroots organizations and opposition political parties trying to save one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Saint Petersburg, from runaway redevelopment will be gathering along with other concerned citizens for a so-called March for the Preservation of Saint Petersburg. So-called because city authorities have nixed all the coalition’s requests for actual march routes, permitting them instead only a standing demo outside the Yubileiny sports complex, on the city’s Petrograd Side. Anyone familiar with current practices in the Cradle of Three Revolutions (and Russia in general) will know this means that the non-march is likely to be yet another “kettling” operation on the part of the police — hundreds (if not thousands) of beat cops, plainclothes officers, and the riot squad (OMON), plus metal detectors and barriers. Continue reading