Sergei Sobyanin – one year is not enough
Valdaiclub.com interview with Sergey ALEKSASHENKO, Macroeconomic Research Director, State University – Higher School of Economics.
Social development of the city is a key issue on Sergei Sobyanin’s agenda. Do you see any progress made in this issue?
The city’s social development is too big an issue; one year is not enough time to make significant changes. I wouldn’t say that Moscow residents have become more cheerful or friendly, or that Moscow has become a more comfortable city to live in, with unlimited opportunities for Russians and foreigners. Many signs are still only in Russian, and wheelchair ramps are still hard to find. It is too early to speak of major changes.
At the same time, the situation has not worsened.
Are there any grounds to expect changes?
What the Moscow mayor is going to do is still a mystery to me. I still don’t see how he intends to address the problems he inherited.
Is Moscow becoming more attractive for tourists?
Several factors determine whether a city is comfortable and attractive for foreign tourists – the mayor can control some, while others are beyond his control.
For example, visa procedures do not depend on the mayor. For tourists coming to see Moscow and St. Petersburg, visa-free travel should have been introduced long ago. Obviously, the mayor has no power over this, however passionately he or she advocates this change. There will always be government agencies that oppose such measures for various reasons.
The mayor does have the power to change some things, but twelve months is not enough time. Many tourists would be glad to come to Moscow, but they don’t want to pay between 300 and 400 Euros for night at a five-star hotel; they want to stay at two- and three-star hotels, which don’t exist in Moscow. Tourists want to spend money to see the city rather than to stay at a luxurious hotel. If the mayor had proposed a program to build three- and four-star hotels, it couldn’t have been carried out within a year.
At the same time, there are things that could have been changed during his first year. Unfortunately, they are not being done either.
I fear that the Moscow mayor and his staff don’t consider tourism a source for enhancing the Moscow budget and developing the city’s economy. Currently, tourism is a secondary issue and is not given much attention.
Is the city becoming any more attractive to foreign business people in terms of investment?
Moscow will always be attractive for investment, both for Russian and foreign business people. Moscow is Europe’s largest city and home to between 13% and 15% of Russia’s population. It will always have better opportunities than other cities. The city can’t help but attract investments and investors.
I wouldn’t say that the things have become easier for investors. No, they haven’t. Moscow ranks below other regions in terms of ease of doing business. But this issue is not among the city government’s priorities. You can improve general conditions for investors and, as a result, banks and services will develop; or you can focus 90% of your efforts on creating an international financial center that in fact already exists.
Investors want the right kind of environment, better street traffic, and amendments to Russian legislation, not the construction of a new building. The Moscow government goes for flashy projects and believes that 20 new skyscrapers will bring in investors. This is a mistake.
Improving the city’s transportation system is a priority. How effective have measures to reduce traffic been?
The situation has changed but for the worse. To my mind, Moscow traffic has become heavier and more intense. There are more and more traffic jams, and traffic begins earlier and earlier. I fear that Moscow is heading toward total traffic paralysis.
Something will be done about this problem only when things become truly awful and there is gridlock in the city day in, day out.
Will plans to expand Moscow’s boundaries over the next several decades help resolve the traffic problem and address the shortage of affordable housing?
The boundaries extension program has never been discussed seriously. It doesn’t exist as a document. This seems an idée fixe – to expand the area by tacking on a huge plot of land.
The initial development of this area – including the construction of roads and infrastructure, and relocating federal bodies – will take between 10 and 20 years at least. Meanwhile, Moscow within the Moscow Ring Road will continue to be seized by gridlock, and construction won’t help if nothing is done in addition to it.
Do you think it’s possible that Moscow will become polycentric?
You don’t need to tack on new areas for that; you need to develop the areas you already have. Making the monocentric city a polycentric one is the right idea, but different things must be done to accomplish that and money should go to different projects.