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Will ghost towns like US Detroit appear in Russia?

July 16, 2015, 17:52 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
©  ITAR-TASS/Igor Zotin

MOSCOW, July 16. /TASS/. Will ghost towns like Detroit in the United States appear in Russia? The problem of single-industry towns inherited by Russia from the Soviet Union is far from being resolved, despite the efforts, which the authorities are taking. In the current crisis conditions, it is unrealistic to hope for considerable progress in this area. The resettlement of these towns is hardly realistic either, experts say.

Mono-towns are communities, which exist only thanks to one or several enterprises. The Russian government’s resolution suggests that there are currently 319 mono-towns in Russia. They are divided into three risk zones. Single-industry towns, which are in the most complex social and economic situation, are referred to the "red zone." Compared with 2014, the number of crisis-stricken mono-towns has increased in the country. Last year, 75 single-industry towns were in the "red zone" and now their number has risen to 94, Deputy Economic Development Minister Alexander Tsybulsky told Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

Russian state corporation Vnesheconombank established a Fund with capitalization of almost 30 billion rubles last year to assist the development of single-industry towns.

The Mono-Town Development Fund (MDF) allocates financial resources for launching real infrastructural and investment projects for building gas-fired boiler houses, sewage and water intake systems, roads, new electric and thermal power facilities that create new jobs.

However, only four out of 94 "red zone" mono-towns will receive financial support from the MDF for infrastructure construction: these municipalities are in the most difficult situation that requires immediate measures, Tsybulsky said.

The authorities can help the other single-industry towns by offering them a possibility to get the preferential regime of an advanced social and economic development territory. This mechanism pursues the same goal as the Mono-Town Development Fund: to create new jobs alternative to the town-forming enterprise.

The problem of single-industry towns in Russia has come to the fore after a high-profile incident in Pikalyovo. Residents of this mono-town in the Leningrad Region in northwest Russia blocked a federal highway in the spring of 2009 in protest against their desperate position, which exacerbated after the local town-forming enterprise was shut down. The situation prompted then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to interfere to help resolve the problem.

Since then, the Russian government has started for the first time ever to conduct a comprehensive policy towards single-industry towns: the state has decided to switch from allocating support funds for these municipalities to their targeted subsidizing.

Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has no plans for abolishing mono-towns so far, the deputy economy minister said. According to him, the model of "managed compression" offered by experts, which envisages providing jobs/resettling residents along with deactivating or closing down a town-forming enterprise and optimizing the community’s territory while preserving its social facilities, is "a rather good method," if a mono-town has no development prospects.

The state’s active support for single-industry towns launched after the economic crisis of 2008-2009 and the Pikalyovo events has not produced any special effect because it was not well-thought-out, Director of the Institute of Regional Studies and Urban Planning at the Higher School of Economics Irina Ilyinykh told TASS.

"And now, considering the current crisis manifestations in the economy, the problem will only exacerbate as some industries, for example, car-making, are experiencing a decline. The problem of mono-towns can’t be resolved separately from restructuring the entire economy," the expert said.

"The problem will be very acute. State support, on the one hand, is needed. But on the other hand, it demotivates the local authorities. In this situation, support should be provided to towns, which can not only live with this money but also stimulate growth. This primarily relates to the population: if there are a lot of young and well-educated people, then new ideas can be put forward," the expert said.

No practice exists in Russia for resettling mono-towns, the expert said.

"It is absolutely unreal to tell residents: start resettling immediately. Similar programs abroad are normally designed for many decades," she added.

So, most likely, this will be the process of the natural demise of towns with a small population size, the expert said.

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