Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Siberian Cities look like

Like almost all inhabitants of my hometown, Barnaul, I was pretty sure that I lived in a small town. It had a population of 650 000. When my English improved so that I could communicate with people from other countries, my international friends didn’t understand why I considered the Barnaul city a small town. The reason was that near Barnaul, there was Novosibirsk city with a population of over 1 million. To the West, there was another city — Omsk with a population of over 1 million. To the East, there was Krasnoyarsk city, that has a population of about 1 million. Indeed, Barnaul was like a suburban village compared to other Siberian cities. To my surprise, in Europe and North America the scale of what is a large city and what is not, differs much from mine. Now I realize that Barnaul, though not being the largest city in Siberia, is quite a big industrial center with well-developed infrastructure.

Wooden houses are not common in Siberian cities. Normally, private houses are built from bricks, we call them cottages.Often, cottage communities are separated from the rest of the city and located in the suburban areas. The vast majority of people in Siberia live in condos. During the 1960s, the Soviet government deployed a country-wide construction program in order to solve the shortage of residential real estate in cities. Since then typical, rather ugly condos were built all across the country. Siberia was not an exception. According to the Soviet government, it was a temporary solution, but, like Russians used to say, there’s nothing more permanent than temporary solutions. These condos still serve people, and more new condos were built during last 20 years.

During World War II, many industrial enterprises and factories were moved from the European part of Russia to Siberia by the rail way. While Western Russia was at high risk of being occupied, Siberia seemed to be a pretty safe place. Most factories in Barnaul and Novosibirsk are ones that were moved there during WWII. Since then Western Siberia has been an important industrial region with a predominantly urban population.