Brics and mortar

Muscovites have learned to expect the worst from summer: fires, coups, defaults. This year, however, the city has been in for a treat for a different kind: a massive overhaul of Moscow’s sidewalks.

Moscow authorities have began replacing the asphalt pavement with bricks on Moscow’s biggest drags in an effort to cut down, they say, on the harmful emissions the asphalt releases in the summer and also the frequency at which the sidewalks need to be replaced. For Moscow pedestrians, however, the reconstruction presents a daily dilemma: is it better to trudge through endless piles of dirt and sandpits, or risk your life among the cars on a whizzing six-lane highway?

While two months of pondering has done little to help this layman find a suitable solution – or discover the aesthetic reasoning behind some bricks being red instead of grey – the Moscow authorities are having to answer even bigger questions.

Earlier this month, one of the mayor’s deputies announced that the city would only be able to complete 400,000 sq metres this year, or about a third of the 1.1m square metres it had planned.

Moscow bricks

The city has chalked up the delay to the 16 contracted brick producers not having enough supply to finish all the work before the fall when the weather turns colder and children return from their summer dachas and go back to school.

However, one of the brick companies, Monolit-5, told Russian daily Kommersant that it was only 15-20 per cent behind on producing the number of bricks it had promised, while two other factories, Yevrotsement and Krost, said they would fulfill all their contractual obligations on time.

Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor since the ouster of Yuri Luzhkov nearly a year ago, has vigorously defended the sidewalk programme and denied rumours that his wife was in some way benefiting from the project. (Mr Luzhkov himself has denied similar claims, especially at the end of his 18-year stewardship.)

In a Monday interview with Vedomosti, the FT’s sister paper, Sobyanin dismissed the references to his wife as ridiculous. “We had not even started the work yet before this all exploded - look, a wife, corruption. My wife works as an educator in a kindergarten and never had any ties to business. And here is all this hysteria out of nothing.”

Sobyanin has also had to defend the entire reasoning behind the project. In the Vedomosti interview, he notes that the entire re-pavement project would cost 2bn roubles ($70m), a small part of a 600bn rouble investment programme, while others in the administration say bricks should be able to last 15-30 years before replacement, compared to 6-7 years for asphalt.

Moscow authorities also say that the project has ecological benefits and that in the summer 1m square metres of hot asphalt can release up to 650 tonnes of harmful emissions into the air. As Sobyanin told Vedomosti: “It’s like you’re in the kitchen all the time, heating up a frying pan with motor oil.”

For this beyondbrics reporter and other pedestrians, there here have been times this summer when even that kitchen sounded more appealing to the dirty, dicey alternatives of pavement hopping. But as Mr Sobyanin reminded Muscovites, the inconvenience is just for a little while longer.

“Of course it’s uncomfortable but it’s just temporary and in two weeks, after the work is finished, no one will remember it,” he said.

Until, of course, they see the tell-tale piles of bricks of next year.

Related reading:
Sergei Sobyanin has hastened the stone age, Kommersant
Moscow ponders mayor’s face lift, The Moscow Times
Interview with Sergei Sobyanin, Vedomosti

Brics and mortar series
[1] Brazil’s slums recycle
[2] China: watch that kitchen counter, it could kill you
[3] Why Czechs love swimming pools
[4] Rio de Janeiro: sun, sea, and exploding manholes
[5] A tall order for Dubai’s Muslims
[6] Cuba: let a hundred golf courses bloom
[7] Brazil: the high cost of parking
[8] Russia’s dreams of Olympic glory get more expensive
[9] Indian hotels: the Wall St effect
[10] Croatia’s spat with the Vatican

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