MOSCOW - According to the authors of a recent strategy for Moscow’s development through 2025, there are two main scenarios. Moscow could continue on same trajectory with no changes -- a scenario that the document’s authors at the Academy for Civil Service and the Institute of Economics consider as "negative." The preferred option laid out in the plan for the city's future would involve a complete transformation of the political economy.
The Moscow development strategy authors recommend removing all uncompetitive and/or resource-intensive and polluting industry from the city-- including auto factories and chemical or gas processing plants.
The plan also emphasizes the importance of building clusters that would “become the engines of the whole city economy.” Each cluster would have technology, financial and medical services as well as education, tourism and cultural opportunities.
But, as the plan’s authors stressed, this evolution will not be possible without a modernization in the way that Moscow is run. There is thus talk of developing local self-governance and involving Muscovites in the decision-process. As the document itself says, “small-scale democracy” will be needed for a bold new Moscow to emerge. The new norm should be a “society-level discussion of all new laws and a decision-making process that includes everyone.”
Baby steps towards modernization
This new, more livable Moscow, that focuses on the needs of the population, is still quite a ways off. As recent events in Russia have shown, the country’s capital is often embroiled in national political showdowns, and it has surprisingly little autonomy to take care of its own citizens.
The Moscow city council passed a new law in June that will grant the city increased power to oversee the regional government, which makes nearly all the budgetary decisions for the city. Overseeing regional decisions is not, however, the same as being able to make those decisions on the local level.
For Vladimir Klimanov, one of the report’s authors, the June law is one first baby step towards a modernization of the city government. In his opinion, there will never really be self-government in Moscow if the city is never given the power to make its own budget, based on the taxes collected in the city. Klimanov suggested founding an Institute of Development in Moscow, saying that “today, nobody is really thinking about these complex questions besides the department of economic development.” The institute, he said, could be not only a place for experts to discuss development questions but also for citizens to get involved.
According to Moscow’s deputy mayor, Anastasia Rakova, the Mayor’s office is already taking steps towards citizen involvement. “We are creating new citizen councils, opening new websites where you can see what city workers are doing and inviting people to give us their opinions about the upkeep of buildings in the city,” she said. She added that having the city government overseeing the regional government was a step towards more local government, and that it is a way to see which budget items would be best to handle at a local level.
But not everyone is so optimistic that the city will ever get out from under the yoke of regional and national politics. Political scientist Natalia Zubarevich thinks that if the local government gets any money, it will be very little. She also noted that Moscow has been talking about transforming itself into a more livable, European capital since the 1990s - and that the whole city is still waiting for those 15-year-old proposals to be adopted in practice.