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Hallmarks of Soviet postwar building boom are finally meeting their demise (washingtonpost.com)
53 points by iamjeff 213 days ago | hide | past | web | 53 comments | favorite

The real problem with this is the manner in which compensation is handled. Rather than doing "equal-value" exchange for new property for people who are affected, they're doing "equivalent" exchange. The former means that replacement has the same market value. The latter means that replacement has the same area and the same number of rooms - but it can be in a much nastier location, worse commute etc.

On top of that, they've passed some new laws specifically to accelerate this process, that skip some usual review stages before demolition, and curtail the ability of affected citizens to contest either the decision itself, or the amount of their compensation, in courts.

Simply put, as implemented, it's a blatant money grab. Many of these buildings are in areas where real estate is very expensive now, and their residents in many cases couldn't afford it if they were buying new; they own apartments there because they were living in them back in USSR, and could privatize them afterwards. Now these residents get kicked out, "compensated" with much cheaper apartments further away from downtown (and their jobs), while new expensive real estate development can be done in that place, and sold for full market price.

So, the said people, who were given apartments for free, are now complaining of their new apartments, given for free as well, most likely in much better conditions compared to the time of initial free housing received from the state? They complain that although the buildings that they actually own are in a condition that worsened (value drop) over time and have to be demolished (i.e. having a negative value) now, they demand to be compensated for some plus of value to which they haven't contributed in any way!? Did I got this right?

Well, nothing is free. They all pay them one way or another. It's just that this time they don't hold enough value for the system so they get kicked out. Simply said the wise guys got their properties. It's not really unusual in communist/ex communist countries.

What can the people really do when they live in a communist country? Isn't it just the government's way or hit the road?

Russia is not a communist country, and hasn't been for a long time. Authoritarian, yes, but that's a different thing.

And it's a "soft authoritarian" system. Meaning that elections not only exist, they actually do count for something. Sure, there's still a lot of electoral fraud by the ruling party, to get higher percentages. But even without it, Putin would still be the elected president, and his party would still have the majority in the parliament.

So, for starters, people can start voting against politicians who pass laws like this.

Except that

1) The government controls the media, so it is really hard for an honest reformer to get his message across to the public.

2) If a reform politician starts to really get somewhere, the government throws him in jail or has a bullet put through his head.

If case you don't know communist countries held elections too except in practice you could vote a single party.

communism [kom-yuh-niz-uh m] noun

1. a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.

2. (often initial capital letter) a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.

In what ways is current Russia different than the second case? From what I understand Putin's party fits much of this description. I'm not being argumentative, I appreciate your insight.

Communism is better described by the line of thought started by: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-m...

I generally feel that taking a definition from a dictionary dominated with post war US propaganda terminology, might not be the best way to hold a constructive conversation regarding communism.

Taking a definition from literal communist propaganda website (marxists.org, really?) isn't much good either. I'm sure national-socialists describe themselves in nicest terms too.

I am taking one of the foundational documents of the marxist movement as a basis... I feel it might be somewhat more authoritative to start a discussion on the ideas espoused by them. However at this point I give up, it feels relatively pointless to try and discuss Marxism in this thread, especially when to do it properly you need to get into the details of the economic theory versus it's implementations on particular pre-existing socio economics systems.

Just because I can't resist if you are curious, try to read about how Marxists proposed to implement communism, and what sort of pre-requisites they envisioned in order for a transition to be successful, versus how it was implemented in existing societies.

It's more like a creed: "here's what you're supposed to believe in if you want to call yourself a communists". We generally accept that religious movements' definitions of such creeds; why not political movements?

National-socialists had one, too. I'd say it's pretty upfront about what they really were about: http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/25points....

I don't know where you got this definition but it's so broad that it would easily encompass Nazi Germany, which was certainly not communist, or Napoleon III's France.

Any modern form of Communism must have some link to the theories of Marx and Engels. Putin's Russia has no such thing, it's a simple oligarchy led by a semi-formalized dictator for life. See also: Gaddafi, Pinochet, Batista, Mugabe etc etc etc.

What the article doesn't mention is that Muscovites are right to be concerned about "replacement" apartments offered by the government. There have been plenty of cases across Russia where "replacement" apartments were sub-standard, unlivable, or in some extreme cases existed only on paper. (In a variety of circumstances, e.g. after homes were destroyed in the wildfires in Khakassia). This is of course the consequence of corruption (which unfortunately hits hardest on the poor, the elderly, the working class, etc).

Another interesting point that the article doesn't bring up is that "khruschevka" apartments are not just limited to ex-Soviet countries - you can find them in other ex-Soviet allies, most unexpectedly in Cuba!

Yes, from East Berlin to Kamchatka. One size fits all.

The advantage for me was that I always knew where the bathroom was, even if I didn't speak the language. Rather than my usual act of disappearing into a cupboard...

What I heard in Moscow is that Khrushchev was impressed by the new-style architecture in Cuba, and imported the style to Moscow. It sounded like the reverse of what you say.

Of course not. Khrushchev started mass construction of series buildings. That means that all buildings in Chertanovo(Moscow) look like any other building in Voronezh. They're really uncomfortable. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khrushchyovka

Wait, shit, did I grow up in one? Serious question - I always imagined them as mostly built out of large concrete blocks, but all the examples there look like slightly shorter versions of my family's apartment in Moscow: http://i.imgur.com/dL34whm.jpg

It's not five stories, though.

That's "Plattenbau", a much later invention. Khruschevkas were built using traditional technology onsite, plattenbau is prefabricated and assembled in a fraction of time.

The buildings are so similar (the walls and floors etc. were produced in a factory and then shipped to the building site) that they serve as a plot point in the movie "Irony of Fate" - unknowingly landing in St. Petersburg, a Muscovite directs the cabbie to take him to his street address - the identically named street in St. P has an identical looking khruschevka - and the key to his apartment in Moscow, works in that same numbered apartment in St. Petersburg!

I watched that movie, thought it was hilarious but could never understand how it could be possible. Now it all makes sense!

"These are my 32 square meters!"

If you're from Russia you probably get the reference, for everybody else:


I was expecting fugly brutalist buildings like I have seen in East Berlin. In fact, these buildings look nicer than many apartment buildings I have lived in in the northeast US.

Yes, ditto. Having seen the tragedy of "urban renewal" in my city (Hamilton Ontario), where solid buildings with good bones were torn down and replaced with strip malls and bad 80s brutalism and parking lots, I can't help but think that Moscow is following our mistakes.

> In fact, these buildings look nicer than many apartment buildings I have lived in in the northeast US.

Absolutely and strongly concur. USian housing is a complete shitshow, between the government's disinvestment from any sort of public/social housing and the existence of zoning laws (and other land use restrictions) that make any sort of high-density housing extremely difficult to build.

For many people in US (especially those who are poor or elderly or disabled or working-class) a unit in one of those "khruschevka" would alas be an upgrade.

Actually, only Stalin's era buildings are comfortable for living. https://cdn.cian.site/3/194/601/peredelkino-blizhnee-moskva-... This is ordinary new buildings in Moscow. No trees, no sun, everywhere wrong parked cars, and so on. It's like living in hell, but on earth.

Salvageable: Build more buildings in the middle with dense ground floor retail, and replace the cars and parking lots with parks, trams, woonerfs.

Biggest mistake to me looks like that there should have been fewer, shorter buildings, closer together to achieve roughly the same overall density but without all the for-cars space and weird not-parks. And yeah, ground-level retail, which would be more feasible without all that space between them.

Probably built in an area where you have to commute by car, though, so eliminating or reducing the car-owned space to make it more walkable, attractive, and human-friendly is likely not feasible. Which means you'll also have to drive to shop, and, and, and... further driving things apart with more parking, driving surface, and buffers for cars, and removing all other options as they become impossible (walking, biking) or impractically slow/expensive (buses, trains) due to low density. Same disease most of the US has.

Kinda looks like hotel/condo developments along the US East and Gulf coasts, actually.

Agreed. A big problem is the canyoning effect that happens when buildings rise above 5-6 stories. The scale just becomes way off for humans to feel comfortable and to walk.

Have you been to Tokyo? I was walking through it and in one neighborhood thought "These buildings are very short. I'll count the stories". There were 9 stories. The problem with high buildings isn't their height, but the absurd amount of space Western city planners put around them. It's a residential block, not an obelisk - it doesn't need a ginormous lawn around it.

I have; though admittedly it was 3 years ago, and I stayed with a friend in a more residential part of the city (2-3 story buildings).

A large reason why planners leave open spaces around tall buildings are for environmental reasons like shadow impact, and wind tunneling. Without the open space, the canyoning effect would be much worse--look at most financial district areas. So the taller the building, the more open space required.

If you've been to Berlin, I think their altbaus strike a fine balance between housing a lot of people while still maintaining good street life. The flip-side is that Berlin's streets are generally wider than most other cities.

Can you point out one of the buildings pictured in the article that's better than many of the places you lived in the northeast? There are four photos, one of which is demolished, another one which only shows a view out of a balcony, and one which only shows the outside view of many buildings.

I was thinking the same. These look better than the sad buildings across NYC from the same era.

Soviet buildings and urban identity are not that bad.

I say this after having lived there, in several other places and by being an architect. e.g. Is Australian / US low income housing better than Soviet?

So as somebody who lives in London, explain to me why Los Angeles always looks so featureless, so lacking in any kind of urban identity I'd expect to find in a city? It always looks to me no so much as a city, but rather merely some buildings that are connected by freeways. [1] [2]

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14112031

[2] http://www.walkinginla.com/

They must have never been to rodeo, Hollywood, venice beach, or many many other iconic LA places. Featureless my ass.

Curious question from someone with no idea to the answer: what's modern Russia's attitude towards its own history?

I ask because the Chinese in recent decades seem to have decided that letting Westerners steal their cultural treasures was undesirable, but there doesn't seem to be huge government support for preservation either (yet?). This based on what I saw at the Great Wall.

There's a lot of hypothetical pride for it, but as far as financing and material support of museums etc, that's still lacking. The government mostly sees it at a propaganda investment, and so goes for more flashy stuff over more interesting or important.

Then there's the whole thing about suppressing the bits that are hard to whitewash. There are a bunch of laws currently in force that ban "denial of facts established by the ruling of the International Military Tribunal, approval of crimes, established by that ruling, as well as dissemination of knowingly false information about actions of the USSR in WW2 period". That last bit is the catch-all that can be used to censor pretty much any opinion not in line with official propaganda. Here's the law in question (in Russian):


For example, last year, a man was convicted and fined for sharing an article about Soviet occupation of Poland on his social media feed, because said article stated that USSR attacked Poland jointly with Germany, and therefore both countries bear equal responsibility for starting WW2. This was deemed as "contrary to the findings of the IMT" by the court (which is true, since any such questions related to Poland were effectively sidestepped under Soviet pressure). Here's the article in question (in Russian):


Like most places it varies depending on the person. I work in Russia and my colleagues range across from having very deep seated patriotism and believing in all things Russian to more moderate reviews of it. World War 2 is exceptionally relevant nearly 70 years out, with the major cities having monuments/statue after statue and so on.

Many of the major attractions in St. Petersburg and the surrounding areas are historical and were rebuilt after the siege of Leningrad, though at great pain due to difficulty in raising funds to do the restorations. The city thrives on the more world renown cultural heritage (ballets for example), and many of the old soviet performers are still draw huge crowds and fill arenas/auditoriums. Many older Russians I've met look very fondly back at the USSR; younger generations have a mixed attitude, many just echoing their parents' sentiments, others enjoying modern Russia.

As far as preservation goes, I think it depends on just how crappy it is. There's a few buildings downtown in St. Petersburg that are the last few that were directly involved in the Siege of Leningrad (remnants of former buildings) and there is discussion on what to do with them - knock'em down and replace or restore as a historical site. It's prime area and the buildings weren't of any importance, but at the same time, the history of WW2 is just really tightly woven into pretty much everything, so there is some deadlock on what to do. Much of SPB was rebuilt to "it's former glory" after the siege so there is interest in restoring what was lost. But it also hasn't stopped gigantic shopping malls from being installed downtown in these spaces, with the exterior of course matching the surrounding architecture.

    Many older Russians I've met look very fondly 
    back at the USSR; younger generations have a 
    mixed attitude, many just echoing their 
    parents' sentiments, others enjoying modern 
I have family in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and have often heard that sentiment - that things weren't too bad back then. Hard to say how much of it is due to viewing the past in rose tinted glasses or missing their youth though.

My partner's mother explains it like this; while she's happy with modern Russia, she misses when it was a super power. She recalls having enough month at the end of each month for new outfits, apartment paid for (owned), plenty of food, and a nice vacation every 3 months or so. She also says she likes having a focused and goal oriented leader, and that democracy makes her head spin since it seems like nothing ever gets done.

We (partner and I) haven't pressed much into how much she actually knows about what was happening politically, but that's the perspective that a lot of other older folk echo. The few older people I have seen pressed on it usually just get stubborn about the bad parts of the USSR and don't want to talk about it.

Czechoslovakia was never a super power, and communism was to an extent forced upon it by the soviet union, but still people miss the security of the old system: you would basically never get fired or worry about the basics like clothes and shelter as long as you didn't rock the boat.

This seems to be the main point rather than democracy being hard to comprehend or inefficient.

Someone from Yugoslavia described it to me as "back then, everyone had a little something; not much, but something. Now some people have lots more, and others have nothing."

> what's modern Russia's attitude towards its own history?

Looks like they're beginning to rewrite it. "Russian state is 1000-years old", "Russia singlehandedly won WW2" and so on.

Combined with "Westerners are evil" rhetoric it helps keep population under control.

Great wall is pretty much a bs produced by some Chinese billionaire together with the nationally treasured director Zhang Yimo, who pretty much has little idea of making good commercial movie.

> letting Westerners steal their cultural treasures

I cannot see where this comes from. Is there any stealing at all?... The movie Great Wall uses Great Wall in a way that is trade-mark hollywood, i.e., purely symbolic, none of cultural connection at all. The story of Great Wall can be made on almost any world famous building/artifact... If that counts a steal, then hollywood cannot make anything not stealing...

Ethbro used the definite article on Great Wall; I don't think they're talking about the film.

To flesh it out, I hiked a few portions around Beijing. Next to the entrance to the restored / touristy part there's a smallish musuem / cultural building.

I'd put it on par with a small town's local museum. Maybe the expectation was that people would go to the larger museums downtown, but it seemed surprisingly undersized and thrown together for a large tourist site on a pretty amazing object of historical significance.

Here in Lithuania there have been quite a few projects started to renovate these apartments. Here is a presentation (in English) from a couple of years ago, at the time the works cost €166/sqm. From the outside the renovated apartments look as good as any new apartments.


There is a lot of new development going on here as well, but when it costs €80k+ for a 40sqm studio it's unaffordable for most people (minimum wage is €380/mo). New developments usually have underground parking which is a plus, but developers are often selling the spaces at over €10k. It's a good time to be a developer here :D

The different reactions from soon to be ex-residents are worth noting. It's certainly a problem we have in the US. It seems a sure thing that the apartments are quite dingy and faulty plumbing would be frustrating. I can't imagine myself living in one now. But five years ago? Absolutely.

Wide ranges of age in apartment stock allow for more than one group to live in the same place. For the elderly or the young who have no accumulated wealth, crappy buildings like this can be wonderful. Not every apartment needs to be something a doctor or lawyer would be happy to live in. Plus, if you can get those different demographics living close to one another, you get the huge benefits of varied patterns of life, where people are around during the day and not all trying to use infrastructure and retail only during peak times.

Not really, in the movie it is not one of these buildings, there was an elevator and a large entrance hall - krushovkas don't have them.

I've lived in one for a few months. Most of them are really nice and incredibly well designed actually.

The fact that this is happening mostly in Moscow hints at what others have suggested this is: a new development money grab for land that has become expensive...

Function has it's own beauty, why can't anyone take pride in that.

(I'm typing this from a "temporary" building that was supposed to be demolished "in the next few years" since the 1960s)

Flagged as inaccessible.

Another propaganda piece by Jeff Bezos and Co. and the military industrial complex of the US empire.

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