There are some amazing gentrification and repurposing projects which have transformed some of Moscow’s old industrial land, especially such hipster havens as the Red October chocolate factory site and Winzavod. Now Mayor Sobyanin is also looking at the sprawling Zil car plant site and whereas his predecessor Luzhkov seemed only really interested in shopping malls and office complexes (a cynic might say because of the corruption opportunities there), Sobyanin is also keen on amenities, liveability and creating the kind of startup, cultural and quirky sites that are making Moscow an exciting global city.
There are, of course, sites which have yet to be transformed. Some like the AREMKUZ municipal bus repair depot I explored last year are essentially ruined and abandoned. Others, like the A. V. Ukhtomsky Agricultural Machinery Plant in Lyubertsy, are stuck somewhere in the middle, neither DUMBO nor derelict.
Founded in 1899, it expanded under the Soviets thanks to the demands of collectivisation under Stalin and the Five-Year Plans. It stretched along a kilometre between Oktyabrsky Prospekt and the suburban rail line and even by the collapse of the USSR, by which time it had become essentially bankrupt, it had 18,000 workers. Workers were sacked, hours were cut, wages were not paid, and a variety of underground cottage industries arose in its crumbling buildings, not least run by local crime gangs. And down it slid into closure.
Now, well, it’s no longer empty, but it’s hardly thriving, either. It’s a mix. On the one hand, crumbling buildings, empty lots, kilometres of rusting pipes, potholed roads. The central spinal road that runs through the site is called Sixty-Five Years of Victory Street; the trouble is that this that Ukhtomsky really only had about twenty-five victorious years after the end of WW2, by a decade of stalemate and some twenty-five years of defeat.
On the other, a variety of often-forlorn efforts to make use of the space, but seemingly unplanned. No art sites here. Largely it’s the kind of businesses that need cheap space and don’t have to worry about foot access, such as carwashes and garages and industrial machinery retail. (I was almost surprised not to see a paintball arena.) There are some grim looking cafes that I imagine simply cater for the local workforce. And a few other incongruities, including a couple of book-and-stationery shops (which I was saddened but not amazed to see empty).
In a way, this is sad, in a way it’s OK. Lyubertsy is quite far from the centre and not well-placed for the all-important metro. This is not the obvious and attractive place to go. But at present what Moscow needs is housing and what the struggling economy doesn’t need are bijou boutiques and performance spaces. Sites like Ukhtomsky might offer options for DUMBO-style residential development — a refreshing change from the current mania for massive, and I suspect shoddily-built apartment blocks — or other economic development. But the presence of these kind of sites does give the city to grow without expanding. They may not be as suited for prestige development as Zil and the like, but there’s hope for something to be done with what is, after all, at present a shabby and rather sad reminder of the deindustrialisation of a country whose forebears were driven by dreams of industrial modernity.