Living in the city
Russia offers so many different attractions for tourists to enjoy – amazing architecture, vibrant nightlife, and an endless range of cultural and historical attractions. But what’s it like to live in one of Russia’s vast cities?
For a start, most Russians (74%) do live in the cities. But what many foreigners don’t realise is that the tourist photos they see of Moscow or St Petersburg don’t show what most of their residents see out of their windows every morning. Moscow’s historical centre is undoubtedly impressive and beautiful, though its suburban ‘sleeping districts’ are anything but.
To cater for cities’ ever-growing need for residential housing, building outside the city centre was the best option. So Russia’s town planners designed buildings that could fit in as many inhabitants as possible, located close to each other and offering a basic infrastructure such as a kindergartens, schools, clinics, stores, playgrounds and maybe a park.
Moscow is a huge city of around 14 million people, and traffic is congested for much of the time, so living closer to the centre is a bonus, meaning less time wasted commuting. Close to the city centre, there are several nice residential areas with their ‘Stalin buildings’ – thick brick walls and high ceilings, these large apartments have nice views towards the river and big parks nearby. More recently constructed buildings offer indoor parking, gyms, private security and other benefits. However, these are for the wealthy only, and most Muscovites live in the sleeping districts, which are far less attractive.
Around 99% of Russian urban dwellers live in apartments. There are several types of apartment buildings in Moscow. The least prestigious are five-storey buildings, built in the 1950s-70s. Named ‘khruschevki’ after Nikita Khruschev, who ruled the country at the time, or ‘pyatietazhki’ (five-storey buildings), most of these cramped buildings have been demolished and their former residents moved to more modern accommodation.
The next level up from the ‘pyatietazhka’ is the ‘devyatietazhka’ – a nine-storey building dating from the 1960s-80s containing about 300 1–3-room apartments, bigger than their earlier version but still very small.
More modern residential buildings can have up to 21 floors, but are built of panels for ease and speed of construction. These apartments are bigger and better laid out, but people generally prefer the type of brick- or block-built accommodation built under Stalin.
Most people rent their apartment. Mortgages are a relatively new idea, and interest rates very high. Previously, people had to wait until they had saved enough money to buy the apartment. If you buy a ‘second-hand’ apartment, it’s likely to require renovation work. New-build apartments are basically just a shell – you have to arrange all your own decoration, fit your own bathroom and kitchen, wiring and so on.
Renting isn’t cheap, but for most, it’s the only real option. There’s plenty of choice, but unless you’re wealthy, don’t expect to look out onto the Kremlin or one of Moscow’s wonderful parks – you’ll most likely have countless other anonymous apartment buildings as the view from your window!