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Cities of Russia
Total population: 143 million
% Urban population: 73.4%
Total Urban population: 105 million
Ur ban Growth Rate: -0.57%
Number of Megacities: 1
3 Largest cities: Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk
World cities: Moscow
Key Chapter Themes:
•3 distinct eras: Tsarist, Soviet (Communist) and Post-Soviet. Urban landscape of Russia portrays the 3 distinct eras: Tsarist-era
buildings and monuments, concrete-and-steel structures of the Soviet-era and the newly erected European style of the post-
•2 reconstruction phases in the 20th century, one after the creation of the Soviet Union in 1917 and the other when the Soviet
Union collapsed in 1991.
•Main pattern in urban system was established in the tsarist era.
•Russia has historically experienced urban growth and contraction for the last thousand years.
•As a result of the disintegration of the Soviet-era socialist support system, crime and corruption have hindered the emergence of
a democratic post-Soviet government and civil society.
•Environmental issues recognized as severe and have become an important issue to be addressed by Post-Soviet City leaders.
•In the post-Soviet period, cities are no longer subsidized by the central government
•Cities that are prospering are those with superior location, strong historic roots, or attractive environment for foreign investment
and economic growth.
•Ur ban landscape of Russia characterized by ornate Tsarist-era buildings and monuments, concrete-and-steel structures of the
Soviet-era and the newly erected European style of the post-Soviet-era.
•Multi-cultural urban populations. Occurred during most of the 20th century, since the resignation of the last Soviet leader Mikhail
•15 independent states of which Russia Federation was the Largest.
•Ruralization – a process where workers moved from cities back to rural areas to practice subsistence farming.
•Uneven distribution of wealth across Russian cities.
•The harsh climate, a poorly developed network of roads and immense distances worsen the division of the Russian urban system.
•The advent of commercial retailers, private transportation, and new housing construction is changing Russian urban landscapes.
•The Soviet planning system resulted in the construction of cities in unexpected, potentially hazardous, and ultimately
unsustainable sites, such as the remote reaches of Siberia and the Arctic. Cities are often sited near natural resources. For
example, Noril’sk, a nickel-melting city with over 100,000 inhabitants, was built far above the Arctic Circle.
•Deemphasized now is the focus on the military-industrial complex in determining urban investment and growth.
•In the Soviet period, many cities had become closed cities (cities requiring permission to visit) because of their role in the
military-industrial complex. For example, Zhukovsky was a closed city because an air base and airplane institutes and
production facilities were located there.
•Perm and Magnitogorsk, grew in economic importance and population precisely because they were integral parts of the military-
•Today, cities previously entrenched in the military-industrial complex are undergoing economic restructuring processes. For
example, cities such as Ekaterinberg are becoming transportation and corporate centers for European businesses and other
gateway cities near the Chinese border such as Khabarovsk are transforming Russian-Chinese business relations.
•The 1900s marked the beginning of rapid widespread changes in the location of urban development both within cities and
Evolution of the Russian Urban System
•Beginning of the 20th century, Russia had 1/5 of its population living in urban places, and today, almost ¾ of the population lives
in urban places.
•Percentage of people living or moving to urban places increased throughout the Soviet period.
•The regional distribution of the urban population highlights 2 important characteristics of urban demographic change in Russia
during the Soviet period: 1) rapid urbanization as a result of industrialization and 2) growth of cities in harsh, inhospitable
regions such as Siberia.
•Significant population losses nationwide and depopulation of many urbanized regions in the post-Soviet period are clear signs of
the failure of communism.
•In the final years of the century, Russia’s cities lost population and experienced a significant urban crisis. For centuries, the
population moved out from the European core of Russia primarily to cities in the south and to Siberian and Arctic cities. In the
post-Soviet period, there has been significant movement out of Siberian and Arctic cities back to European Russia.
•The reversal of the long time west-to-east trend of urban population movement is accompanied by a new trend: suburbanization
and new housing development outside city limits. This trend is especially prevalent in the European portion of the country, yet, it
is spreading eastward
The Pre-Soviet Period: Birth of the Urban System
•The pattern of eastward spread of urban population may be traced to the first Slavic cities, at the end of the 9th century. The
patterns have been largely related to access to water, transportation and the location of military and economic outposts.
•The Russian plain served as a vital trade route between Scandinavia and the eastern Mediterranean.
•The Vikings established a set of city principalities, the collected toils from merchants who travelled through the region. Kiev (the
capital of Ukraine), Novgorod and Smolensk were among the earliest urban settlements of this type.
•Kiev became the focal point for Slavic political and economic development because of its favourable location.
•Most cities in Kievan Rus were located along the vast network of rivers in Russia and were originally established as forts, known
as Kremlins. Kremlins were always located on high river banks.
•The famous Golden Ring of cities outside Moscow (Yaroslavl, Suzdal, Vladimir) have Kievan Rus origins and continue to thrive
as historic centers.
•Downfall of the Tatars in 1480 – emphasis on eastern urban development.
•By late 14th century, a new type of urban network had developed called Muscovy Rus.
•Cities developed in imperfect circles away from rivers.
•Tsar Peter the Great founded St Petersburg in 1703. He sought to catch up to Western Europe.
•St Petersburg was built for economic reasons, and to be a naval and commercial port.
•The creation of this new, Western-oriented city fuelled social tension between those who believed in westernizing the country
and those who emphasized Russia’s Slavic origins.
•In Moscow and surrounding centers (Tver, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma), textile manufacturing predominated.
The Soviet Period: New Urban Patterns
•During the Russian Revolution in 1917, the communist party took control and established an economic system guided by
communist and socialist principles instead of market forces. It was called command economy.
•Command economy – a group of central planners located in Moscow determined not only what was produced, but where, who
could acquire the products, and at what price. City government and residents had little influence over local economic
development, urban growth and internal city structure. When locating new economic activity, planners considered the proximity
of natural resources.
• In 1918, the leadership moved the capital from St. Petersburg back to Moscow. Moscow, the country’s heartland would be easier
to defend. The communist leadership established a hierarchical urban administrative system to assist in carrying out political and
economic agendas, as well as to reflect the new ideology.
•By setting up a system of administrative centers in the oblasts (political units comparable to states or provinces), planners
controlled resource allocation and use in each region. Many function like primate cities in other world regions, creating uneven
•Planners also used investments to develop a system of secondary industrial cities focus on heavy industry – automotive industry
in Togliatti, aluminum and related industrial production in Bratsk – or natural resource exploitation – nickel in Noril`sk, oil near
•The location of Soviet cities depended more on the concentration of industrial investments in selected regional centers – new
system of larger cities developed.
•Soviet urban growth depended on transportation routes.
•In the 1970`s, planners began constructing a second Siberian rail route, the Baykal – Amur Mainline.
•Planners used formal control mechanisms such as the propiska, which is a legal permission to live in a specific city, that were
ineffective at limiting urban growth. People found ways to go around it.
Ur ban and Regional Planning
•Planners influenced the internal spatial structure of Soviet cities.