Moscow’s big move: is this the biggest urban demolition project ever?

In the most extensive Russian resettlement project in half a century, a full 10% of Moscow’s housing is set to be torn down and 1.6 million people moved as the city’s ‘Khrushchevka’ flats are destroyed. But residents won’t go easily

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Up to 7,900 other Soviet apartment blocks in Moscow are to be torn down and replaced, in what will be one of the largest resettlement programmes in history.
Up to 7,900 other Soviet apartment blocks in Moscow are to be torn down and replaced, in what will be one of the largest resettlement programmes in history.

In the 1970s, machinist Yevgeny Rudakov was living in a communal apartment with 30 people in north-central Moscow where “there was always a line for the toilet”. He was also in line for his own flat, through the institute where he worked.

Finally his turn came, and he and his wife were given a two-room flat at 16 Grimau Street. Built in 1957, the four-storey, 64-flat building is considered the first “Khrushchevka”, a kind of prefabricated, low-rise flat block that was erected in the tens of thousands across the USSR and came to be called after then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (The colloquial term has come to apply to almost any late Soviet five-storey residential building.)

Now 16 Grimau Street, along with up to 7,900 other Soviet flat blocks in Moscow, are to be torn down, in what will be one of the largest urban resettlement programmes in history. With the backing of the president, Vladimir Putin, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin has declared the programme an “absolute necessity” to replace ageing housing. He promised the replacement flats would be 20% larger on average.

To Rudakov, however, it is just another example of profit taking precedent over heritage. “This is the first housing block that Khrushchev built. They don’t have any regard for this now,” he said of his home. “Money comes before anything else.” He added that he didn’t “know why Putin said” to tear such flat blocks down. “The building is good, the walls are thick.”

Many residents have joined him in speaking out, fearful that the government will build huge housing towers rather than comfortable neighbourhoods, and resettle people far away from their current addresses. Many of the Khrushchevka buildings could be renovated, they say. Analysts have argued the demolition project is driven by politics and profits. […]