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Gone West

City: Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine

Unless the Kiev government can work miracles, 14 million people – almost a third of the population – are expected to leave Ukraine by 2050 in search of a better life. In coming years, Dnipropetrovsk will be the world’s fastest-shrinking city.

Gate keepers

Russia

During the Soviet era, only Russia’s rural poor lived in houses; everyone else, from rank-and-file workers to top party functionaries, lived in apartment blocks. But as some Russians get richer they are rediscovering a taste for real houses of their own. These new properties tend to be for the elite, built in varying levels of taste and in gated communities on the outskirts of major cities. “There’s a definite trend for people to move outside the centre, with new residential developments popping up all the time,” says Christer Lystad, director of residential investment sales at Cushman & Wakefield in Moscow.

But in Moscow, the stress saved from avoiding the hustle and bustle by moving out of the city centre is replaced with hours sitting in slow-moving traffic. Rublevskoe Shosse, Moscow’s billionaire row, is solid with SUVs and sports cars during rush hour. “Developers will have to start thinking about infrastructure,” says Lystad. They are also going to have to think about the visual pollution that they are inflicting on future generations of Russians.

Where the other 0.5 per cent live:
Vita Verde — Many wealthy Russians have second homes in Italy; now they can have an Italian home in the outskirts of Moscow. Construction has just started on this 221-unit development of faux Italian villas.
Pokrovsky Hills — A gated community adjacent to the Anglo-American school. Aims to recreate the atmosphere of a small European village for expats.
Belgian Village — A gaudy version of Flanders consisting of over 100 mansions “in the Belgian style”.
Zakharkovo — A taunkhauz (townhouse) development of terraced houses billed as “new-generation living”.
Barvikha — Out-of-town luxury with a history. Lenin relaxed here, as did many Soviet cultural and political bigwigs. Older mansions are being supplemented with new developments.

City vacant

France

Already this year the youthful members of Jeudi Noir (Black Thursday) have occupied two vacant apartment blocks in central Paris, but these “citizen commandeers” want nothing to do with the image of graffiti-spraying squatters. Formed by students in 2006, the group wants to spotlight the vast number of vacant apartments in France’s cities. According to a 2006 report, just over 10 per cent of apartments in Paris are unoccupied at any one time. Yet there is a lack of affordable accommodation in Paris, and a 10 sq m apartment can cost €600 a month. In France, Thursday is the day rental ads appear in the newspapers, hence the “noir” in Jeudi Noir.

In May, Jeudi Noir occupied a vacant lot along Boulevard Montmartre, only to be turfed out by riot police hours later. The occupation of a block in the Marais in the 3rd arrondissement last February ended in May when the 35 occupants were expelled. Influential allies are emerging. Pierre Aidenbaum, the 3rd arrondissement’s socialist mayor, has called on the government to impose a heavy tax on speculators who leave buildings in their possession empty.

Tunnel vision

Italy & Germany

As more metropolises promote high-speed rail for short-haul travel, architects are being called in to design elaborate terminuses in city centres already short on space. In Stuttgart, mayor Wolfgang Schuster has backed plans for an underground hub that integrates neatly with suburban and metro lines, built under the existing station. Not to be outdone, Florence has approved a subterranean scheme (designed by Foster & Partners), complete with shopping arcade and — in a nod to tradition — covered by a sprawling glass and steel roof.

Arresting development

Spain

Is there hope for Spain’s over-built coastline? Grass-roots groups in Valencia are demanding a moratorium on the land grab: “People realise they have to speak out against the planning chaos,” declared campaigners Committed to the Territory at a recent rally. But the best antidote looks like being the collapse of Spain’s housing market. Some credit-crunch good news.

Finnish beginning

Finald

Commuting is a growing phenomenon in Finland. According to a recent study, a third of the country’s working population are now employed outside their home town. The majority of the commuters are young families who are fleeing the capital in search of lower living costs and better access to child care. A prime example of the rise of these new dormitory towns is Lahti, which, despite being 103km from Helsinki, is increasingly seen as a part of its metropolitan area (see essays, page 62). Situated right where Finland’s famous lake district begins, it has several golf courses, is cosy but not tiny, and has housing prices that are half of those in Helsinki.

The town of about 100,000 inhabitants has been growing steadily since a new motorway to the capital was completed in 1999. The growth has picked up even more since a new high-speed rail link between the two cities opened in September 2006. The Z-train, which takes passengers from centre to centre in an hour, has made the stretch of track the fastest-growing railway route in Finland. During the first year of its operation, the state-owned train company VR reported 600,000 trips – which is double the amount that were taken the year before.

“Lahti is close to nature, but is a real town: we say that we have everything except an opera house,” says Tarja Pellinen, head of communications at the Lahti Regional Development Company. It’s a trend all Europe’s mayors will be worried about – nobody wants a city with a declining population.

Q&A- Bjarke Ingels

Architect, founder of Bjarke Ingels Group

Copenhagen

Which city has mastered quality of life?
I think Tokyo is extremely liveable, despite its huge population. Each neighbourhood has a distinct identity and a human scale.

Who leads the agenda – public or private sector?
If private investors provide artworks or fund new squares or parks, it makes their apartments easier to sell and office space easier to rent. The creation of the community has to be married with common economic sense.

Are there design/planning elements that all cities should embrace?
We have just worked on a project for a planning competition in Nørrebro in Copenhagen. There are over 60 different cultures living there, and our proposal was to shop for the best urban furniture from each of those countries – phone booths from Brazil, ceramic-tiled benches from Portugal, a Moroccan water fountain, cast-iron litter bins from Britain. It’s about using ethnic diversity as a spice.

Are cities becoming less fun?
No, at the moment I’m seeing a lot of “slum nostalgia”. After years of “Disneyfication”, there is a tendency now for encouraging what used to be underground to come above ground and be appreciated.

Street of shame

Sweden

Sweden is known for its natural beauty, welfare benefits, tolerance and equality. What’s less talked-about are its problems with immigration and integration. Malmvägen, a street in Sollentuna just north of Stockholm, has recently seen a bank robbery, two taxi drivers robbed, several people hurt in a knife fight and a suspected murder. Initiatives have been set up – Sollentuna Municipality is removing the walkways that run along the buildings, where much of the criminal activity takes place – but little has changed.

Malmvägen was part of the “million programme” in the 1960s and 1970s, when politicians set out to build a million flats to solve the housing crisis. The result was large areas of cheap blocks, where many of Sweden’s immigrants now end up. Torbjörn Rosdahl, head of Sollentuna’s Municipality, still has faith in the initiatives. “We are also creating jobs. There’s going to be a shopping centre here, people coming in for work and eating in the restaurants,” he says.

Streets behind

Italy

Milan’s Corso Buenos Aires avenue is an example of how Italian high streets are losing their way. Although the local farmacia and alimentari persists, many workshops here have given way to shops peddling the fast fashion and fast food found elsewhere in Europe. The result is a dull shopping experience, as artisan trades get squeezed out – over 70,000 artisan jobs were left unfilled in 2007. Residents, meanwhile, are left to deal with sales staff more worried about pushing a product than providing a good service.

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