Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kiev Stressed As Population Grows

KIEV, Ukraine -- City government is drafting a new general plan, but experts said it’s not good. Teeming with people, jammed with traffic, stinky with pollution and endangered by crumbling infrastructure, Kyiv is crying out for help.


The city government is drafting a new development plan, but experts have already condemned it, saying it promises to offer little or no help in solving the city’s major problems.

Yuriy Dmytruk, a Kyiv City Council member representing Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s political faction, is one of the fiercest critics. Dmytruk said the plan under consideration would effectively endorse all the shady deals that have happened in recent years – such as opaque “land grabs,” in which huge parcels of property have been sold off for low prices to insiders without competitive bidding.

The city is trying to devise a new development strategy until 2025. The idea of a new plan was supported by 112 of 115 council members during a Sept. 18 vote. But the new detailed draft is not expected to be submitted for debate until 2010.

The existing plan was adopted six years ago and is supposed to provide a framework for the city’s development until 2020. But Denys Bass, deputy head of the Kyiv city state administration, said it’s already out-of-date and doesn’t address today’s realities.

“It was worked out for a population of two million people and half a million cars,” Bass said. “And now at least five million live in the city and the number of cars including transit is almost one million and a half.”

But the ideas in the new city plan are controversial indeed. To ease traffic congestion, for example, the city authorities want to adopt Moscow’s strategy, widely ridiculed as a disaster.

Roads account for just two percent of the city’s territory, compared to an average of six percent in other European capitals, Dmytruk said. Kyiv officials plan to visit Moscow at the end of November to discuss cooperation, according to Maryna Shapoval, spokeswoman for Kyiv's general office for city planning architecture and design.

But residents of the Russian capital know that traffic there is approaching permanent gridlock. “The situation with traffic jams is close to catastrophic. The average car speed is about 15-18 kilometers per hour,” said Moscow resident Leon Gudkov. While new roads aren’t being built, Moscow’s local government has not succeeded in limiting traffic, Gudkov said.

The Kyiv city government plans to build underground tunnels to optimize traffic flow in the central part of the city and provide parking spaces near metro stations so that people can leave their cars and use the metro. The construction of underground parking in the city center is another priority.

Volodymyr Nudelman, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Architecture, said the construction of expensive underground infrastructure is a waste of money. “Learning our neighbors’ experience is good, but not enough to solve problems,” he said. “If we begin tunnel construction, we won’t have resources for solving other problems.”

Nudelman offers a radical alternative solution to the traffic problems in the city center: move the central government institutions to the periphery.

Another major problem the city government wants to address is the reconstruction of outdated residential housing. Once again, they look to Moscow, where an extensive project is under way to reconstruct “Khrushchovkas,” the five-storied buildings named after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. They were initially built in the 1950s and 1960s as temporary housing, with a maximum life of 25 years, but are still housing millions of people today.

In Moscow, residents of “Khrushchovkas” were supposed to receive new apartments in the same neighborhoods where old residences are being torn down to make way for reconstruction, Shapoval said.

But Gudkov said that many such Moscow residents were, in fact, moved to the outskirts of the city. Also, new bigger residential houses were constructed with an existing utilities infrastructure that became overloaded.

Nudelman said Moscow’s experience with “Khrushchyovkas” should be regarded cautiously by Kyivans, since it would mean squeezing more residents into the same space.

Experts fear that some of the city’s more serious problems are not going to be addressed at all in the new plan under consideration.

Kyiv has an outdated sewage system that could spell ecological disaster. But the issue is not even of the council’s agenda, Nudelman said. The other time bomb is an outdated network of gas pipes.

But as with so many actions undertaken by city government, ulterior – and nefarious – motives are involved, said Dmytruk of Tymoshenko’s bloc.

Dmytruk said that one of the main reasons for local government’s interest in developing a new city plan is to legalize dubious land deals approved in the recent years.

Nudelman said that residents must be involved in the process if the city hopes to adopt an effective plan. The city’s budget also needs transparency and accountability. “Any strategy for changes should be voted at a referendum,” he said.

Source: Kyiv Post

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