A green city project in Russia comes alive

The project is supported by thorough research into what works best to create a green city, a large injection of funds and the participation of lots of volunteers

This is part 5 in our series Healthy cities

By Natalia Pryadilina,
Roy Damary
and Allan Bonner

The green city movement has given environmentalism new energy and purpose.

Large urban populations offer economies of scale and walkability, and bring businesses closer to each other, their customers and their suppliers. But all of this comes with costs: pollution and waste.


Understanding the greening of cities is helped if they’re thought of as circulatory systems, for the movement of people and vehicles. Think of rush hour as lungs breathing in and out.

Energy is part of the circulatory system, from the sources of electricity to heat generation in each building (and sometimes one heat source serving an entire district).

Fresh and waste water are also part of this system, circulated by rivers, streams, lakes and pipes.

Our research is focused on the industrial city of Ekaterinburg. Russia’s fourth largest city is home to 1.5 million people and is a leader in the green city movement.

Ekaterinburg’s green city project is multi-faceted and includes:

  • landscape ecology, or the relationships between ecological processes and particular ecosystems, including the landscape;
  • dendroecology, or the study of the growth of woody plants given the impact of environmental conditions;
  • how the entire project (from the preservation of the city’s recreational system to the linking all the green spaces) works together; this takes into account various components – parks, woodlands, streets and even roofs – and how they interact.

The project is supported by thorough research into what works best to create a green city. Ongoing trials in the woodlands of Ekaterinburg, including test plantings, are telling:

  • which tree species best resist dust;
  • which have the most powerful phytoncides (the moisture from trees that kills bacteria);
  • which species are likely to adjust to the climate several decades later;
  • how much maintenance each species requires;
  • how fast the trees grow.

Ultimately, scientists and other professionals who are greening the city will know what tree species and overall ecology will best serve the citizens and nature.

Such a project requires planning, money and time, as well as a team of committed and well-led professionals. Ekaterinburg city council began planning the green city project as early as 2004, but execution didn’t start until 2013, when final approval was given. The project sets specific milestones for up to 2020. And there are more general objectives up to 2025.

A committee has been established to monitor the implementation of the project, chaired by Tamara S. Blagodatkova, a city employee. A number of implementation task forces report to her committee, and include:

  • a cross-section of the Ekaterinburg public;
  • city administration;
  • municipal services and institutions like art galleries, sports facilities and theatres;
  • the business community;
  • educational institutions with the relevant competencies, notably universities, but also training schools and even secondary schools;
  • public organizations like the transport system and utilities;
  • Svedlosk regional government;
  • the federal forestry agency;
  • nature management authorities;
  • the media.

The open and public character of the green city project is apparent from the city’s website, which has photographs of every committee member, their contact details and their responsibilities.

The project has a budget of almost eight million rubles or about US$140 million. The money comes mostly from the city budget, with about eight per cent from a federal grant.

In the first few years of the project, it met some public skepticism. That’s died down now that yearly targets are being achieved and critics can see evidence of new plantings and better maintained woodlands.

Since the beginning of the project’s implementation in 2010, more than 29,000 hectares of urban forested land have been earmarked for transfer from federal ownership to the city, which will be responsible for its management. This will double the area of plantings per inhabitant, and approach the healthy-city standards proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO): 50 square metres of common open green space and 111 square metres of city woodland per person. Common open green space includes parks, landscaped squares, boulevards and any urban greenery accessible to the public.

A complete inventory of green space and landscaping elements has been drawn up. Regular maintenance of squares, parks, boulevards and lawns has been organized involving city employees, with volunteers pitching in.

Thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted and cared for. In particular, more than 17,000 tree crowns have been trimmed. Damaged trees are removed, for both safety and ecological reasons. Maintenance encourages new growth. And deadfalls and even healthy branches can cause injury and damage in storms.

The green city project tries to involve all residents. They’re the ones who use the squares, parks and woodlands, and benefit from the renovation and urban area designing, including new sculptures. One of the best illustrations of citizen involvement is the participation of about 250 organizations in the annual city floral decoration competition.

The project has become part of many residents’ daily work and leisure routines. As they commute to work, take children to school, go shopping or simply take a walk, they experience first-hand the beautification of Ekaterinburg.

During its development, the project had no parallels in the Russian Federation. However, similar projects have emerged in several Russian cities, including Volgograd and Omsk. Cities of more than one million population include Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan. Smaller cities include Tver, Savansk, Suzdol, Klintsky and Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Yet Ekaterinburg is the pioneer.

And that pioneer is showing how a large industrial city can become beautiful, sustainable and healthy.

Dr. Allan Bonner is a Troy Media columnist who is an urban planner and crisis manager. His next book is Cyber City Safe: Emergency Planning Beyond the Maginot Line. Dr. Roy Damary, Oxonian, Harvardian and graduate of Lausanne University, is president of the Swiss-based Graduate Institute of Business and Management and honourary professor of the Ural State Forest Engineering University in Ekaterinburg, Russia. He teaches online business courses at Robert Kennedy College, Zurich. Natalia Pryadilina is associate professor of the Department of Economics and Economic Security of the Ural State Forestry Engineering University (USFEU, Ekaterinburg). Her main scientific interests are strategies for development of regions and enterprises, and forest management. The results of the research work have been published in more than 50 scientific articles.

green city russia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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