With its miles of snaking traffic jams, clouds of exhaust fumes and a creaking public transport system, Moscow is clearly a city much in need of improvement, but the government’s latest plan to beautify the place has most residents shaking their heads in confusion.
Across the Russian capital, miles of asphalt sidewalks are being ripped up and new brick pavements are being laid down, forcing pedestrians to dodge the traffic in the road and blow up clouds of dust.
Nickolay Torobov, a spokesman for the mayor’s office says the RUB4bn (€98m) project will repave over a million square kilometres of sidewalk by the end of the year.
City Hall is thinking green, says Torobov. In addition to being lasting longer than asphalt paving, brick doesn’t disrupt the water needed by trees and shrubs, or emit toxic fumes in the heat.
“In hot weather asphalt emits toxic vapours with a touch of benzol, ferrum, magnesium and other chemicals. Brick repaving a quarter of Moscow sidewalks will result in the reduction of toxic emissions by 118 tonnes per year,” he says.
Critics say that planting actual trees and creating green spaces the city so desperately needs would have been a better use of the cash.
“There is no doubt that in Moscow there are a lot more vital problems to tackle right now,” said Denis Vizgalov, an expert at the Institute of Urban Economics. Traffic, parking, and upgrading the air-conditioning on the sweaty subway should all take priority, he said adding: “It is important that we should consider the arrangement of green spaces as the city is suffocating with car exhaust fumes.”
Moscow’s infrastructure is desperately in need of some attention, having suffered from decades of neglect. Under the 20-year rule of mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was sacked earlier this year, Moscow sprawled out unattractively and little was done other than hand out real-estate contracts to the mayors’ cronies.
Now, fears about corruption are being voiced by residents and the media, and questions are being asked about whether there is any link between the paving work and new Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s wife Irina, who was involved in a brick and curbing business in Tyumen when Sobyanin was governor in the city several years ago.
Torobov says that the bidding process was open to tender and that there have been no underhand dealings with awarding contracts.
One thing is for sure though, Moscow lovelies in their high heels better watch out and cobblers could be in luck, as it’s all too easy to get a stiletto stuck between the cracks of the new bricks and break a heel.