Comfortable living

Multi-functional residential modules to soon replace districts — in their traditional understanding — in Belarusian cities, including in the capital
By Vladimir Khmelevsky

Town general development plans are elaborated for the coming thirty years. However, every 8-10 years, they are usually updated to reflect changing needs and fashions.

How should a contemporary city look? Naturally, we want to feel safe and comfortable, with convenient access to amenities. Following these principles, the State Scientific-Research Institute of Town Construction is developing a new model for urban micro-districts. In fact, the idea is to put aside old ideas of housing, kindergartens, schools and shops being centred on a particular territory. Rather, multi-functional residential modules are planned, offering not just accommodation and services but employment at small enterprises housed inside high-rise buildings, neighboured by offices and departments.

Such modules are to be built in satellite towns. “We’re drawing on European development plans,” notes Dmitry Semenkevich, Belarus’ Deputy Minister for Architecture and Construction. “To reduce the need for daily commuting, we should endeavour to create self-contained structures. Of course, you can travel elsewhere to work if you wish to but we expect most residents to find employment within this compact ‘organism’.”

Not only the Belarusian capital but regional centres are to gain satellite towns. Zhabinka, near Brest, alongside Skidel, which neighbours Grodno, are prime examples. “Our idea is not to build new towns around regional centres but to develop existing settlements situated nearby,” explains Mr. Semenkevich.

Smolevichi is to be the first to become a satellite town, while special attention is being paid to Minsk (being the country’s largest city, with its own set of challenges). Alexander Akentin, who heads the general plan development group, tells us that the potential of the capital is greater than previously supposed. “The city can become home to 2.5m people within the limits of the created compact structure, when you can reach the centre in 45-60 minutes. It’s a real possibility which we shouldn’t ignore. Regarding restriction of expansion due to farming lands on city outskirts, we expect the situation to change in future. The EU boasts about 2,000 square metres of agricultural land per capita. Germany has 1,200 while we have around 6,000; more efficient agricultural methods would allow us to reduce space dedicated to agriculture.”

The new plans are to take into account space dedicated to housing, as well as shops and parking. “We’ve become too involved in the construction of ‘pure’ housing, to the detriment of the provision of adequate amenities. We use square metres in statistical data, but need a new index showing the integrated nature of our living environment,” explains Mr. Semenkevich.
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