"The Atlas of the Moskovsky District’s Ideas" project was launched on Nov. 29 in St. Petersburg. Its concept is based on the "What Moscow Wants" project by the Strelka Institute, which allowed Moscow citizens to make suggestions on how to improve the capital in 2013 – the year when the website moscowidea.ru was launched, where one could submit ones ideas by finishing three sentences: "It would be great if...", "That way people will be able to..." and "That way the district and the city will be able to...".
Strelka Magazine had a conversation with the creators of the St. Petersburg project and found out how they adapted the idea for their city, how many final projects they hope to receive and which of them will actually appear on the streets.
Tell Me What You Want and I Will Tell You What District You Are From
The head of City Projects, the authors of "The Atlas of the Moskovsky District’s Ideas," Xenia Chapkevich jokes that the district was chosen based on its name, "for it to be symbolic and clear as to where the practice was adopted from. But all jokes aside, the openness of local administration was the main factor. It turned out quite comically: the deputy head of the Moskovsky district Nikita Alexandrov contacted us himself and offered a meeting. We were just trying to determine the geography of the research at that point. At first, we didn’t even believe his selfless interest and, just in case, mentioned that we are focusing on citizens, not the administration. And he gave us books published by Strelka as a present, which is also symbolic, and offered his district as the location for our project. Later he helped us to negotiate the project with the authorities and find a sponsor."
In St. Petersburg, the idea of collecting citizens’ ideas for the improvement of the city has already been in practice. Currently the project "Your Budget" is nearing completion. For one month the residents of the Tsentralny and Vasileostrovsky districts could leave their suggestions on gosuslugi.ru, in "Multifunctional" centers and at Sberbank offices. Next, these suggestions will pass through drawing, commissioning and examination stages. Ten million roubles will be given for the implementation of the winning projects in each district.
"The Atlas of the Moskovsky District’s Ideas" has a smaller range, and there is no competitive component involved. The team defines their main purpose as forming the fullest possible picture of the needs of citizens. Then they have to figure out how to fulfill them and to pass this information on to the administration. "On one hand, officials solve problems, which, in their opinion, are relevant for citizens. But when we go out in the field and ask people what kinds of concerns they have, they name other things. And we want to show what Moskovsky district actually wants," Xenia says.
The research will be conducted in three stages. First, collecting the information. One can already leave an idea online by going onto the website and answering five questions, four of which replicate the questionnaire from the "What Moscow Wants" atlas. The fifth one focuses on how often one happens to be in the district: whether one lives there, comes to visit someone or just once found oneself there as a tourist. It is important that the phrase "It would be great if..." implies not a complaint, but a constructive suggestion. It can be attached to the map at one’s wish.
Also, City Projects decided to conduct field research with an extended questionnaire as an addition to the online survey. It will include citizens’ education, marital status, income, and age. "The website will probably only reach a rather homogeneous audience. We organise a street survey to be able to represent all groups of citizens in the atlas," sociologist Luba Chernyshova explains, "We believe that at least 380 forms are required, but we will collect 500. Offline surveys will begin on Dec. 8 with a New Year holiday break."
Collecting the ideas will end on Feb. 3, whereupon they will be analysed and the trends in five municipalities of Moskovsky district will be determined. They will then be transferred to architects, businessmen, and designers, who can come up with and put forward specific projects. All the ideas and decisions will be published on the website within a month.
The final stage will start on June 1 when the best ideas (the organisers hope there will be 30 or more) will be passed to the city administration, which promises to implement the most interesting and well-formed of them.
How to Hear What the City Is Asking For
"Our colleagues, who conducted the Moscow research warned us that the stage of project development based on citizens’ ideas will probably be the hardest because not all specialists can work with requests from below," Xenia says, and gives an example: "Not long ago, I was talking with some people who want to create a map of city organisations with an accessible interface. When I asked whether they had people with limited mobility on their team and whether they consulted with anyone, it turned out that they didn’t. Moreover, they missed the fact that many old buildings in St. Petersburg don’t have ramps and a person with a stroller can’t leave the building without great effort."
In order to minimise similar errors, City Projects will hold workshops on frequent mistakes concerning working with citizens’ requests and ways to avoid them. For this, they invited the European University sociologist and co-creator of the Your Budget project Oleg Pachenkov and the architect and SPSUACE (St. Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering) professor Daniyar Yusupov. The participants will have two and a half months to come up with solutions. Then the results will be sent to the city administration. "The atlas of ideas can provide very helpful and truthful information to both officials and businessmen," Xenia believes "and we also really want to influence the tendency for people to leave the city for Moscow or Europe. Any activity and attentiveness towards people is a contribution to keeping this place so lively."