Back to the theme of the week: my mother-in-law had been telling us that we wouldn't recognise her home town when we went back this summer, and she was pretty much right. What I like about Krasnodar is that the centre has been - mostly - spared the high-rise monstrosities that afflict many other Soviet cities: like so much of Russia, urban planning never really seemed to take account of aesthetics; indeed, urban mythology holds that the newer apartment blocks on the edges of Leningrad -as it was then - were planned in such a way as to best deflect the fall-out from any nuclear blast.
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Krasnodar, in contrast, enjoys many low-level, individual houses, in areas known collectively as chastnyi sektor, literally 'the private sector'. This is a typical example of the traditional style, overlooked by the contemporary incarnation - part of what James described as the "scramble for comfort".
Sadly, at least in my view, many of these low-profile dwellings, so redolent of the South of Russia, are slated to be demolished, so that shiny new apartment blocks, which could go in any country in the world, can go up in their place. Now, it's easy for me to grumble, I don't have to live in these houses, some of which still have very basic facilities. Others, though, have been made very comfortable; they are clearly still usable buildings, so why waste their embodied energy by tearing them down? Well, and again this will hardly be news, the land they stand on, close to the centre, has rocketed in value. Developers will get a much better return on the many apartments they can build on the footprint of just one such house.
The same is true of commercial outlets. The Russian legislature passed laws forbidding non-Russians to hold market stalls, the vast majority of which were indeed run by other nationalities. The law worked as a sop to the increasingly xenophobic tenor of (ethnic) Russian nationalism, but because there was not, for some reason, a rush of Russians to take up the new business opportunity - indeed, at least in Krasnodar, Russians who made living staffing market stalls for non-Russian employers have been hit quite hard - the law also had the happy side-effect of freeing up a lot of prime real estate. So characterful open markets are vanishing, while the same soulless supermarkets you find every-bloody-where else are appearing. The latest sensation in Krasnodar is the Krasnaya Ploshchad (Red Square) shopping mall: a vacuous air-conditioned temple to Mammon. Ikea are building a store on the outskirts of the city. Is this really progress? Sorry, Tim, you may well
believe that an American-style country club gated community just outside Krasnodar will be very popular with Krasnodar’s upper middle class and wealthier families.but frankly it just fills me with horror: yes, of course I understand the impulse for a bit of luxury following the horrors of the Soviet era, the hardship of perestroika and the collapse of certainties in the immediate post-Soviet era, but isn't that the baby that just went flying with your lush-scented foaming whirlpool bathwater?