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Goodbye, Khrushchevki

Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe

Category Archives: history

I spent my final night in Moscow at my uncle’s dacha, about one and a half hours outside of city center. The dacha is traditionally a second home located in the exurbs of many soviet cities, used by city residents seasonally, especially in the summer months. Land for dachas was provided to city residents free of charge, and was meant to support a soviet lifestyle that was more connected to the land. Many people used the land to cultivate their own fruits and vegetables, which provided basic sustenance. The land also provided a retreat from the city, and weekend trips to the dacha became an important part of the lifestyle of soviet cities, which persists to this day.

Fig 1. Newer dacha building on the Moscow River.

During Soviet times, the size and types of dacha construction was severely limited, usually to a single-story building without permanent heating and with living areas less than 25 m² (source: wikipedia). These restrictions, combined with shared local methods of construction, created a consistent vernacular style among the dachas that can be seen on the outskirts of most cities of the former Soviet Union.

Fig 2. Moscow River.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lifting of restrictions caused the dacha regions to gradually transform to more western-like suburban developments. In large cities such as Moscow, there has been considerable competition for the best lots closest to the city, creating a new property market for the buying and selling of this land. Many top Russian officials, including the president, now live in new gated communities established in the old dacha regions west of Moscow.

Newer dachas no longer have to conform to old soviet restrictions, and thus tend to be much bigger than older dachas, resembling more western suburban-type houses. They also tend to have better heating and sometimes even internal plumbing, meaning they can be occupied throughout the year.

Moscow Metro is the world’s second most heavily used rapid transit system after Tokyo‘s twin subway, with nearly 9 million people using the subway everyday. The key to its widescale use is a combination of the still relatively low levels of car ownership in Moscow (which has been going up steadily in the last decade), and the system’s speed and efficiency.

In my experience, during rush hours the trains run once a minute, and during off-peak I have never experienced a wait of more than 5 minutes. Compare this with New York City MTA, which runs a maximum of one train every four minutes, even during rush hour, which it attributes to safety reasons and the maximum capacity of the lines.

Constructed beginning in 1935, the Moscow Metro was the first subway in the Soviet Union, and was a major factor in the location of the suburban Microrayons. Because of the subway, the large residential areas could be located away from the city center where it was easier to build, but still provide a way for the residents to get to work.

Despite the widescale use and efficiency of the Metro system, the traffic problems on Moscow’s highways are some of the worst in the world.