Town within a city. Experts talk about a green corner with no future
Part 3. A climatologist, architect, and urbanist talk about the detached housing area in Minsk
Photo: Marina Serebryakova
Gardens and kitchen gardens carry out ecological functions
"Not only sentimentality of citizens supports the houses that make up a "big village". Small detached houses may fit in with urban environment.

As in any other case of urban planning, you can answer the question "Does Minsk need inner suburbs?" with counterquestions where, why, and how?"

Mariya Falaleyeva
expert in sustainable development of cities and adaptation to climate change. Green Network Partnership in Belarus and Eversco public organisation in Ireland
"I spent my childhood in a five-storey building at the very centre of Vitebsk, with the windows facing an inner suburb. My mom lives in that house now and I hope that it will remain there in the coming days.

Because it's about gardens, a nice view from the window, places to walk. Inner suburbs fulfil a perfect ecological function – purify the air, regulate runoff, and preserve a ravine from sloughing down.

My husband says that we
have a unique situation. Europe comes back to the idea of urban kitchen gardens but this culture hasn't disappeared in Belarus," Mariya Falaleyeva tells.
Photo: Marianna Rudakova
By the way, Minskgrado UE assumes that the maintenance of a household plot is "very luxurious" and uneffective. But experts in adaptation to the climate change think that this may be a good ecological practice of creating green areas (example form Čavusy town)

The assessment method of environmental services that appeared in Belarus in 2015 says that one can put a price on the greenery that grows on plots. But noone has done it yet.

Two cases when the assessment method was used were reported in the mass media. One of them was employed in quarters of Asmolaŭka districtresidents of which have been fighting against demolition for years. Scientists estimate that the environmental services of the district with total area of 12,54 ha (31 acres) generate some $190,000 of profit and are equivalent to a 4,26 ha (10,5 acres) park.

Mariya Falaleyeva thinks that inner suburbs are lucrative but they shouldn't turn into automobile repair shops or delapidated houses.
"Inner suburbs, especially old districs on the outskirts are often socially disadvataged. Backyards and streets change into garages and automobile repair shops, and then it's difficult to talk about ecology and historical look.

I think that territories of low-rise housing with gardens are profitable for the city from ecological and urban identity view. But we need a special approach, these areas must logically fit in the fabric of the city. The city may impose its own standards and requirements to preserve the functions of this environment. Broken streets and neglected kitchen gardens at the city centre is an unaffordable and unnecessary luxury," Mariya says.
Photo: Marianna Rudakova
Expert: One and two-storey housing will soon desappear
Anyway, low-rise housing isn't too profitable for the city and that is why it will desappear. But if the aim is to make Minsk comfortable for its citizens, the height of houses should not exceed 6 floors, thinks Yuri Taubkin, architect, designer, co-organizer of Minsk Design Week and ECLAB educator.
Video: Aleksandr Libertad, the Green Portal
Project designers believe in an ideal dwelling, that is why there's nothing to choose from
"Minsk is a unique city, it grew under the conditions of a tough centralized allocation of housing. Seemingly, it was long ago. But no, ideological constructions of paternalistic principles of housing planning have stuck deeply in public consciousness".
Inner suburbs allow to create a choice for citizens, a choice of dwelling that suits their lifestyle. And this real estate market may help the housing stock of Minsk more sustainable.

This is what an architect and urbanist Polina Vardevanyan thinks. She now cooperates with the UNDP Green Cities Project. Before that, she worked in the Institute for Regional and Urban Planning of Belarus that deals with general layouts for Belarusian towns for 30 years.

It's obvious that among national urbanists, there are no people who visited Europe from Dnepr to Berlin and saw good examples of houses, though ruined.

I don't see any "young and forward-looking" architects who were educated abroad among managers of project organisations.

The map of Minsk where colors indicate parts of the inner suburbs subjected to demolition (parts of the city that will be reconstructed).

Areas marked with pink are to be pulled down first, utill 2020.
It turns out that the overwhelming majority of practising project designers are the people who should shape the future but in fact, they've fully formed their opinions in the prime of industrial house construction and still serve it, in the grip of antiquated myths about an ideal urban housing.

The world has already understood that in order to call any city a real "city", as opposed to a village a person should have an opportunity to choose a dwelling depending on his or her income level and according to his or her lifestyle.
It means there should be plenty of (enough) housing and also, it should be various. This variety of types is the major feature of quality of the urban area, its maturity. Our typological range of housing is a lot shorter than those in other successful cities.
Photo: Marianna Rudakova
Every family is already supplied with a flat
One the one hand, the choice of an adequate housing is purely subjective, it directly concerns people's wishes and possibilities. But there are also objective factors dictating requirements for housing imposed by the city.

Thus, official statistics reveals an important fact. The Belarusians have crossed the Rubicon – the number of dwelling units (flats) and households (families) is equal – and the housing policy will change.
Photo: Marianna Rudakova
It means that a statistically average Belarusian chooses a dwelling for real. And votes for his or her choice with money. Sooner or later, the urban real estate market is likely to turn his front on people. Satellite towns and other human ant hills will be built as long as people pay for it succumbing to the myth about property investment that reserves accumulated money.
Nobody made right conclusions after the boom of cottage construction in the 90s that transformed Minsk suburbs into a graveyard of expensive building materials and made some volunteers travel back and forth without any hope that he or she can receive decent medical services and give children decent education at the place of permanent residence (overnight). Not to mention entertainment and vacations.
The rust belt is unaffected
I would like to discuss one more side of the issue. Indeed, not only people have unlimited opportunities but also the city itself. We persist in moving towards the dead end, because we:

- overfill the outskirts of Minsk with multistorey houses that are badly interconnected, far distant from the centre, workplaces, and educational institutions (1);

- leave the "rust belt" of industrial and municipal territories around the city-centre unaffected (2);

- often fall short of the density of residential streets (3), etc.

These actions of urbanists gave the urban infrastructure a gruelling pressure test.

One can see that the green infrastructure accepts the major stroke.
But the transport carcass started to falter. Flows of trolleybuses, regular jams in the rush hour on approach roads to the centre, problems with car parks near offices. But the most important and the most terrible is victims of car accidents.

The fact that glitches in these systems will happen more and more often is not surprising! Because the safety margin of radial and circular structure is limited, especially under the conditions when a deep crater appeared at the very centre.

No city in the world may loosen a narrowing knot of growing demand for the traffic capacity of urban highways (and corresponding demand for car parks in the yard) without reasonable redistribution of population density.

Minsk will not become an exception to the general rules.
Video: Anna Shchuko
Babushka with dill. The worst enemy or a super urbanist?
From this point of view, a low-rise housing is a vital element of urban development. In fact, urbanists are not faced with a choice between fictitious one-storey "shacks" and mythical "social" high-rise housing packed in microdistricts.

Impoverishing ourselves with this imaginary choice, we ignore real processes in inner suburbs. As a rule, the population size increases and it has already reached the level when two or even three families share one house.
It means that senior citizens are looked after by their children and grandchildren, two cars minimum will not claim urban territory, streets and road for trips to country houses will be supplied rarer.

Yes, there are plenty of automobile repair shops. Is it bad? What about employment? In German cities, there are small shops, hairdresser's and cafes in quarters with detached houses. This is a dream of national economists cherishing hopes for the development of small businesses in the service sector.
Our people keep goats and cultivate cucumbers. Is it illegal? Cucumbers on the roof of a New York skyscraper are regarded as a cutting-edge urban practice but a Minsk babushka with a bundle of dill grown in her own kitchen garden risks to become the worst enemy of the chief architect of the General Layout.
Nobody can explain what benefits from demolitions and densifications we receive
Photo: Marianna Rudakova
The more questions you raise, the more frequently you participate in discussions of detailed plans
That raises the issues of demolition or infillment of an inner suburb, the more vividly urbanists have pushed this topic into a blind spot.
At least, I'm not acquainted with any open calculations of economic gain from the elimination of detached housing areas.
Foreign practices show that probably, arguments aganst detached houses do not really exist. Otherwise, why would a low-rise housing stock remain in the capitals of the countries that have a developed real estate market?

The Europeans are guided by a higher provision of housing concerning both sizes of housing (some 40 m2 (431 ft2) per capita in Sweden) and the nuber of housing units (2 rooms per capita). And here the low-rise stock is indispensible.

Besides, it's worth mentioning that under the conditions of active housing mobility (when people constantly change housing according to the stage of their life cycle), a low-rise stock is also essential, because it is in demand among families with children. Couples of senior citizens are also interested in it (a family as an "empty nest").
What migration of one person looks like
In Bonn (!), one and two-storey houses in the former quarter of embassies were bought out by those who want to spend their old age in decent conditions. Today, they are constricted by large families of migrants.

Amsterdam, Stockholm. There are quarters built by workers at the beginning of the industrialization. Cities were given to poor property developers of the area in uncomfortable places (on stiff slopes or marshy lowlands) at the time.

Now these houses gently retain the features of "people's" architecture in their appearance but they all were reconstructed inside and thus, turned into quite an expensive housing.

Low-rise semi-detached houses are the best solution for the families where grandchildren look after the older generation. Also, this format is beneficial for those who don't resort to construction loans.

I build one flat. After I move in and live there, I build a second, more spacious apartment. Then I settle in the bigger flat and I let the smaller one. Or, I save for the home repairs. And your older child has grown up, married, and will move into the smaller apartment.
Don't intimidate with demolition and houses will be beautiful
Photo: Marina Serebryakova
Do not intimidate people with demolition, ensure protection of property rights in the future, and favourable results won't be long in coming. Proprietors will change, they will improve the appearance of housing almost without public expenses.
In foreign countries, private property among a low-rise housing stock is not that common. There are housing cooperatives, cooperative cottage countries, low-cost housing proprietor associations uniting resources to create and support housing infrastructure, and rental housing...

A low-rise housing is easier to transform and implement innovative technologies (energy-saving, resource-saving), its reconstruction may be done without heavy machinery.

Moreover, an improved housing stock will increase the sum of taxes collected. Note that I touch upon only technical and economic advantages of a low-rise housing stock on principle.

Inner suburbs are worthy of Minsk
According to the above-mentioned criteria, inner suburbs deserve to become the key component for qualified urban decisions of housing problems in Minsk.
And disregard that national urbanists demonstrate towards inner suburbs at least suprises, and by and large upsets.

I would truly like to understand the sense of such a tough opposition of public servants to the development of inner suburbs. Why do urbanists waste so much efforts and test their nerves by bucking the global trends in decent and sustainable housing?
Photo: Marianna Rudakova
Special project of the Green Portal

Text, photo: Anna Volynets
Chief editor: Yanina Melnikova
Design: Anton Surapin

The author of the project thanks Polina Vardevanyan, Pavel Nishchenko, Yuri Taubkin for their assistance in preparing the material; heroes of the texts who shared their life, authors of the photos and used materials.