Town within a city. Inner suburbs are worthy of Minsk but have to survive
Part 1. How a wooden Minsk grew into a stone one
Video: Anna Schuko
A wooden Minsk grew into a city of stone over the course of one hundred years. Its population surged 20 times since the end of the 19th century and moved from houses to flats. But it didn't happen to everybody. Inner suburbs of Minsk are more than houses, it is a green area with the help of which housing of Minsk residents may be made more sustainable. But it doesn't have any chances to survive anyway.
Foreword about sandals
White sandals have never been taken. They should have been bought in the 90s, just like other clothes that were left in a small house in Zavulak Čyžeŭskich. One-storey*, brick, roofless, with the insulator spilling out, it is empty and half-ruined.
* Russian floor numbering
Bushes of purple flowers used to bloom in summer. On the edge of the plot one can see a pole of a gas pipe, a black and white cat on a concrete manhole. It looks at me, doesn't allow to be patted but stays here. Two neighbouring houses were pulled down just at the end of summer, the others look inhabited. People are going by showing little interest.
Zavulak Čyžeŭskich is destined to demolition until 2020, just like other adjacent streets – Jubiliejnaja and Ambulatornaja.
Where did the residential area that is usually called an inner suburb and sometimes a cottage housing development come from? It will be fair to say that it has always been there. And unfair that its owners may be resettled without asking their opinion or permission. And that the existing houses are "rural" and useless to the city and its communities.
Minsk was wooden until the 20th century
Log buildings with the total area of 172-269 sq ft (16-25 sq m). This is what the development of a town looked like in 11th-18th centuries where modern Minsk is now situated. Three thirds of houses in a mid-19th century Minsk were wooden (that's why it suffered many fires).

However, Minsk was granted Magdeburg rights as a town at the beginning of the 15th century. At that time, a lot of townspeople cultivated the land.

At the second half of the 19th century, Minsk was growing fast – its population surged from 11 thousands in 1811 to 91 thousands in 1897. The number of buildings was also going up. 2,1 thousand of buildings in Minsk in 1860, and 6,6 thousands in 1904.

The total area of the town has mounted up ten times from 1861 to 1899, and Minsk remained primarily wooden.

At the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century, quarters of wooden development were built spontaneously, without paved road and often with nameless streets, the Minskoye Russkoye Slovo (the Minsk Russian Word) newspaper wrote in 1912.
The beginning of the 20th century. A dwelling house in Abojny zavulak, 4 (near Nemiga)
Beginning of the 20th century. Residential construction "was treated with negligence"
The population of Minsk has increased significantly in the 20th century. Some researches and architects assume that it deprived the town of the urban aspects that Minsk managed absorb over the course of the previous centuries.

Some 239 thousand people lived in Minsk as of 1939, and 510 thousands in 1959. 1,8 millions in 2018. The population grew by means of densification of developments and enlargement of town's total area. Yesterday's residents of small towns, neighbouring and faraway villages became new citizens.

During this period, Minsk gobbled up numerous villages (and continues today. In 2003, Kuntsevshchina village was incorporated). The villages that were included into the city boundaries (Stiklevo and Drazhnya, for example) were changing slowly. Firstly, its residents didn't have to move away. And secondly, initially they were planned to be demolished and a permission to improve their state was refused.

Meanwhile, the town was built in open spaces. In 1923, more than 80% of newly constructed buildings were detached houses people built themselves and didn't wait for municipal flats.

"Regardless of an immense growth of citizens in the USSR in the 1930s, housing construction was treated with negligence," a German researcher Sheila Fitzpatrick in her Everyday Stalinism writes. Non-resident workers who received residence permit were settled in barracks and dormitories due to the lack of accommondation. A certain part of these people dared to build their own house.

"The materials used for construction surprise. One could see waste products – slag, log pieces covered by clay and lime. Genuinely "ecological" approaches. Fences made of stamped metal sheets, beams made of rails. People built log and panelized houses."

Polina Vardevanyan
architect and expert of Green Cities Project
After the war
Two and three-storey workers' settlements appeared in the capital
A postwar Minsk was reconstructed on a scheduled basis. Probably, enormous enthusiasm aroused due to a hope to create a new world instead of a fragmentarily ruined old one. It was growing at unprecedented rates unusual for European urban planning.

"When Minsk started to be reconstructed after the war, cottage housing with plain small houses prevailed. When the General Layout of Minsk started to be carried out, everyone had one dream to get rid of the remnants of war, to remove the old as soon as possible," the managing director of Minskgrado Unitary Enterprise (UE) said in 2011.

More multistorey houses appeared in the 50s.

"First of all, residential buildings of Stalinist Empire style, as it is known by its code name now were constructed along the major streets." Unusual residential areas appeared, but it should be pointed out that they were not bad – low-rise (two and three-storey houses) in inner-city villages format.

These are surving famous Osmolovka, and houses situated near factories, including a village in Kaševoha Street, in Partyzanski Praspiekt, and near Komsomolets cinema. Land for detached houses was allocated in Paŭnočny village. In other words, it was a planned process and regulated on the basis of total area and appearance, by the way," Polina Vardevanyan discriminates between the types of detached houses.

After the war, large territories were allocated for construction of cottages on credit, Thomas M. Bohn, German explorer of Minsk confirms. At that time, Sieĺhaspasiolak appeared as a city quarter, for example.

Not everyone liked the result.

"When a Moscow artist visited Minsk in 1963 (probably the main Moscow artist Ladur is meant here), he insulted the Belarusian capital by saying that "Minsk was a village and remained it," Thomas M. Bohn writes in his Minsk Phenomenon.

According to him, Minsk became the fastest growing city of the USSR in the 60s.
The colored map. Dark blue, green, and blue are the oldest parts of the city.

City for Citizens Campaign
The 60s. How Minsk grew higher
One can understand what a post-war Minsk looked like with the help of a 1964 photo shoot. There you can see all arrays of cottage developments constructed after the war.

They are notable for their regular development, and those incorporated into a village are small, little houses stand along one or two streets. You can see the scale – cottage developments weren't rarer than blocks of flats.

But the situation was changing. "In order to use the territory of the city in the most effective way, the construction of cottage developments in the core of the city is stopped and land for these purposes is allocated only in suburbs starting from 1960," the General Layout of 1963 says.
Click here to look at the image in a big size and zoom
A lot of existing detached houses in Minsk were built just before these changes in urban planning in the 50s-60s. Some of them survived since the beginning of the 20th century but only few older houses left, and it had its own reasons, quite practical ones.

"In wooden houses, – that were predominantly temporaries – people couldn't route electical cables in walls, bathrooms and boiler rooms with gas boilers fitted in badly.

That's why brick additions were made or the house was covered with brick. Permanent houses were bigger, that is why they replaced wooden ones easily," Polina Vardevanyan comments.

The issue of infrastructure was addressed centrally – the first in the USSR production of panels for apartment houses appeared in 1961. The first 9-storey building already appeared in 1986 in Minsk. That is how Minsk ceased to be a low-rise city.
Minsk of Baron Haussmann
The number of detached houses is decreasing in Minsk (the data of Minskgrado UE shows). Though the former 2010 General Layout included the growth of Minsk beyond the orbital road and demolition of significantly more detached houses.

Cottage development that was designated "rural" in 2018 is to be pulled down within the orbital road. Project designers haven't established its distinctive features but they mentioned post-war detached houses during a public discussion. Minsk suburbs such as Grushevka happened to be in this type of housing.

What does the current General Layout say?

The regulations of 2016 General Layout state that the image of Minsk must become more of a "capital", and the quality of urban environment must be improved through more effective land use and transition to market relations.

"The most vague regulation of the General Layout concerning the detached housing area is about spatial mixed development. As a result, it leads to "packing" of cottage housing quarters with 9-storey and even 16-storey houses," Polina Vardevanyan explains.
At the same time, more and more cottages appear. As a rule, they pop up near the border of the city but officially beyond it. Thus, low-rise detached houses don't disappear but their location, appearance, and owners change.

This type of housing becomes more and more of a luxury, the managing director of Minskgrado UE said in 2011. Consciously or not, he echoes the idea of urbanist and baron Georges Haussmann. In the 19th century, the center of Paris was rebuilt under his guidance. They removed slums and replaced them and their residents with something different, more suitable for the capital.
What does the city sound like?
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.