13:35 GMT +318 April 2019
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    Okhta Center skyscraper to be relocated

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    St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko has announced that the controversial Gazprom office building, the Okhta Center, will be relocated away from the city's historical center. This sets an important precedent for the development of civil society in Russia.

    St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko has announced that the controversial Gazprom office building, the Okhta Center, will be relocated away from the city's historical center. This sets an important precedent for the development of civil society in Russia.

    The parties involved in the dispute, which has raged for the last two or three years, were quite intransigent, refusing outright to listen to each other's arguments.

    Gazprom's specialists and some members of the municipal government had claimed that the project's critics were merely incompetent amateurs who live off western grants and wanted to see this vital commercial project fail. Representatives of civil society, in particular radical human rights activists such as Maxim Reznik, the head of the local branch of the United Democratic Party Yabloko, gave as good as they got, blaming the authorities for everything.

    Some members of the public agreed that the business center should be built, but not in downtown St. Petersburg. The pro-project group tried to win them over with fine words about the project's importance for the city, or claimed that the "transparent" skyscraper would be "almost" invisible.

    But even the city's moderates refused to budge, arguing that if built in Okhta the 400-meter skyscraper, however transparent, would irreversibly damage the cityscape.

    The current decision is something of a compromise. It chimes with the views of the moderate majority, conceding that the undisputed need to boost development and build modern buildings in the city should not prevail at any price.

    The stern, graceful vision of St. Petersburg, praised by Pushkin in his poem The Bronze Horseman, is of such lasting value as part of Russia's rich heritage, that it should never be sacrificed on the altar of economic gain, no matter how lucrative, as in the case of Gazprom's skyscraper.

    Typically, it is the radicals who shout the loudest about their great victory.

    "This is a victory for the city of St. Petersburg, past, present and future," said Maxim Reznik.

    The public corporation Okhta Cultural and Business Center, established to implement the project, refused to comment. While radicals on each side were unabashed in defining each other's shortcomings.

    This makes sense: there is a part of business that keeps silent about its victories and losses, and there is a group of citizens who love to play the role of "martyrs for the idea."

    Actually, victory in this dispute was not due to either the radicals or the conservatives, but to common sense, that constructively minded part of society, and the country's authorities who listened to the prevailing public opinion.

    "The Khimki forest [a part of Moscow's "green belt" across which a federal highway was to be built] and the Okhta Center cases are significant because they show that the authorities should discuss their plans with society and consider its opinion seriously," said Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies. Who would argue with that?

    The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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