Futuregrad? Welcome to Kiev’s ‘Stone Jungle’

Kiev beyond Maidan: Nadya and Alexander Khvan write about how the scarcity of parking spaces in their newly built microdistrict creates community – and a lot of tension.

 

This photo, taken in late 1980s shows one village on the left bank. Source: retroua.com.
This photo, taken in late 1980s shows one village on the left bank. Source: retroua.com.

Kiev was one of the cities that grew significantly during Soviet times. The construction of the bridges across the river Dnieper forced the rapid transformation of the small villages on the left bank into densely populated Soviet-style commuter suburbs – also known as ‘sleeping districts’ (spal’nye rayony). The construction of multi-story panel houses accelerated in the 1980s and continues up until now, forcing those tiny villages to surrender. However, even now some enclaves of the old past remain visible if one goes deeper into the districts.

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A sign of resistance: an old family house amidst high-rise mass housing. Image: Andrea Peinhopf.

We live in one of such newly created districts in a 25-story house. Surrounded by a seemingly endless number of similar housing blocks, all the facilities are shared by an enormous quantity of people. This, and the fact that the district is slightly remote from the highways and metro lines that connect it to the city, causes a number of practical problems. In order to reach the main transportation hubs, one can either take a small bus, known as “marshrutka”, or get a car. However, to get a spot in one of the overcrowded mini-busses, one usually queues for at least fifteen minutes. And this is only the first step to get to the nearest metro station, Poznyaki. From there, it’s still a long way to the centre, as you can see on the map.

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The underground system in Kiev does not reach the new micodistricts. Image: Igor Skliarevsky.

Of course, if you have a car the situation is better, but still complicated. The area is built in a way that a set of for example ten 25-story houses has only one exit to the main road. The road also serves as an entrance route to the inner area of the housing blocks. This usually leads to traffic jams and deadlocks in the morning and the evening, when everyone is leaving or returning from work. Either there is a traffic jam because everyone wants to leave or a deadlock because a few cars want to enter.

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Neglected in the planning: tiny car parks between buildings and playgrounds. Image: Andrea Peinhopf.

Parking places are very scarce. Because of this the cars are parked in several rows, where the last row ‘locks’ the previous one. The owners of the cars who block the others usually leave their mobile phone numbers on the windshields. When a driver needs to get out, he or she calls the driver of the car that blocks the exit. Ironically, this practice has fostered contact among otherwise anonymous neighbours and perhaps even created some sense of community. But it mainly creates tension.

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A concrete jungle with a bit of green but no trees. Image: Andrea Peinhopf.

The whole district is now nicknamed ‘stone jungles’ because of its enormous amount of houses and lack of trees. Despite all these problems, moving somewhere else is not an option. We do not believe in the sustainability of this form of housing, especially because of the high density of population and the infringements upon personal space that its causes. And still, there is one justification for staying, namely the relative affordability of apartments. Even though prices are too high in terms of average per capita income, they are still much lower than for private housing. People opt for such multi-storey houses simply because they do not have much of a choice. Once the economic situation in Ukraine improves, the demand for this kind of housing will certainly decrease. The ‘stone jungles’ can only be a temporary solution. But ‘temporary’ can be a long time.

About the authors: Nadya Khvan holds an MA in International Relations and European Studies from Central European University and currently works as a National Project Officer at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Kyiv Office, dealing with issues of human trafficking and cybercrime. Alexander Khvan holds an MA in International Relations from Far Eastern Federal University (Russia) and an MSc in Environmental Science from Central European University and University of Manchester. He currently works as a Product Manager in an IT company.

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