Communal Living in Russia: Essays
The World of the Soviet Citizen: Outer city housing complexes (Novostroiki)
  This essay explains the growth history of St. Petersburg; comparing the older, central neighborhoods with the new construction (novostroika) of the outer areas.
  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  The construction of the historical center of St. Petersburg took place almost exclusively before the 1917 revolution. Most large apartments — and thus, most communal apartments — are located here.

Neighborhoods further out from the center were constructed in various periods of the twentieth century, but most apartments there have two or three rooms (counting all rooms except the hallway, kitchen, bathroom, and lavatory). The resettlement of multiple families into such apartments occurred throughout the Soviet period, but wasn't the norm: these outer neighborhoods were made up mostly of individual family apartments.

The severe housing crisis in post-war Leningrad continued until the massive construction of low-cost housing projects — the so-called "Khrushchevki" — of the 1950s and 1960s. In contrast to the more spacious and comfortable apartments in Stalin-era buildings (which were distributed largely to political and cultural elites), apartments in the concrete-block Khrushchevki were cramped and uncomfortable. Moving there from communal apartments in high-ceilinged older buildings, people normally had to purchase new furniture, because their existing things were simply too large.

The housing complexes of the last twenty years of Soviet rule were even farther out from the center than the Khrushchev-era projects (see map of city neighborhoods), and consist overwhelmingly of huge — often the length of a city block — concrete-block houses from nine to sixteen floors high.

The majority of shops and decent jobs, whatever cafes existed, and all theaters, museums, and other requisites of "cultural life" as well as the wonderful gardens and embankments of Leningrad are concentrated in the center, providing residents with characteristic ways of spending time. The huge, newly-settled regions with their vacant lots and one indistinguishable block after another provided nothing like that. Whatever prestige and relative attractiveness the new regions had was determined by how close they were to the center or to a metro station.

As Aleksandr Galich (a well-known bard-singer and poet) wrote in "The Flea Market": "there are neighborhoods like this in each big city of the Soviet Union — depressing, identical apartment buildings, with identical roofs, windows and entrances, identical official slogans posted on holidays, and identical obscenities scratched into the walls with nails and pencils. And these identical houses stand on identical streets with identical names — Communist Street, Trade Union Street, Peace Street, the Prospect of Cosmonauts, and the Prospect or Plaza of Lenin."

Leningrad's newer neighborhoods differed significantly from the central neighborhoods in their social makeup. On the right bank of the Neva River, not far from industrial plants, were the dormitories of "limitchiki" (migrant laborers, whose rights were restricted by their residency permits) and blocks inhabited chiefly by workers. These neighborhoods were and remain significantly rougher than the new regions to the north, which have a much higher proportion of white collar workers. Among these white collar residents are people who even in Soviet times were able put their own money into the construction of cooperative apartments.

Some residents of post-Soviet communal apartments in the city center have remained in their single rooms for the sole purpose of not moving to the outskirts, even if they can't then have apartments of their own. We can see this sensibility in the clips "The Archangel Michael" (Tour 5) and "Outer City Housing Complexes" (Tour 8). It must be said, however, that in Soviet times, many residents of overcrowded communal apartments dreamed of moving to a private apartment in the new neighborhoods; this was the most important goal in their lives.

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