In TASS special project Top Officials, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin speaks about the view from his office window, the food embargo, car park prices and migrants.
About the view from the office window, number one theme, ‘babushkas’ on the benches in the yard and force majeure
- This view from the window of your office is impressive, indeed: the whole center of Moscow at a glance. Even the Kremlin, which is just a mile away, can be looked down at.
- Looking down in general is very wrong, whoever may be in front of you. Doing one’s job right is a far more useful pastime. In all respects…
True, the view of the city is really beautiful, but the reason for choosing this particular office was different, of course. The building in Voznesensky Pereulok for the government of Moscow was put up back in the second half of the 1990s. However, for some time the rooms here were leased to various businesses. Several years ago the Mayor’s Office had an idea of building a new residence for itself in the Moscow City business compound. The project was eventually dropped and the selected site sold. We decided to have our head office next to the historical mansion at Tverskaya Street 13 to keep all of our divisions at once place. The business people who had been using the office where asked to move elsewhere.
- You’ve been Moscow’s Mayor for four years now. I reckon this is your personal record of work at the same place and in the same position.
- I was the speaker of the Khanty-Mansi District’s legislature a little bit longer — from 1994 through 2000. But you are right in a sense. Moscow is a special case. And for a city like Moscow four years is a very short period of time. All projects have a different scale and dimension. Translating them into reality within tight deadlines is just impossible. It takes at least five to seven years to have a sensible result.
- And still, the time since the moment you took office is apparently quite enough to say where you have been successful and where not?
- I should tell you that on all priority tracks that we had declared we have achieved certain results, but it is surely too early to draw a bottom line. Let may say once again. These are very large-scale projects. There is practically no area where we have made no progress. From housing construction to reforming education and health care. The pace of progress is high everywhere. I would even say it is the highest possible.
- But there is surely something that is number one priority for you?
- You know, the city is like a living organism. Remember: it is home to twelve million locals and no less than three million guests permanently present within its limits. As a result you get a bundle of problems, expectations and wishes that do not let you say: “OK, this problem is number one, while everything else can wait.” For instance, if we decide to focus all of our efforts on transport, somebody will surely say: “Listen, there is no vacancy for my kid in the local pre-school center, and I couldn’t care less about this traffic jams problem of yours...” And somebody else would possibly say: “My health is failing, so I believe that nothing is more important that having good municipal outpatient clinics with competent staff.” And businesses have their own requirements. To thrive and grow they need a friendly environment…
In Moscow you can’t afford to dedicate yourself entirely to a single task. You’ve got to identify the key projects and to push ahead with all of them. That’s what makes my job so complex and so thrilling.
The list can be prolonged indefinitely. In Moscow you can’t afford to dedicate yourself entirely to a single task. You’ve got to identify the key projects and to push ahead with all of them. That’s what makes my job so complex and so thrilling.
Projects vary, while their ideology is the same – making the city a convenient and comfortable place to live for its residents and guests. Tasks should not be in conflict with each other; they are to complement each other. And that’s quite a challenge! As I’ve already said, very often we encounter conflicting expectations, wishes and opinions. To take such basic things as putting and keeping in order each yard locked among several apartment buildings. It might seem this is not a problem at all, but don’t forget that such plots of land in the whole of Moscow number 20,000, or possibly more. Taking care of them requires much time and effort. Besides, in each such tiny public garden there are benches where our senior citizens are fond of having a long afternoon chat away from the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Young women with small children would love to have a nice playground with sandboxes, swing sets and merry-go-rounds, while people need a sports ground for ball games. The neighbors’ interests aren’t always the same. So there has to be a project to everybody’s liking that would make one and all say: “Yes, we do like it.” The same is true on the city scale. Some are going to put up a huge office building, while others are for another residential compound, and everybody wants to have a nice view from the window. Reconciling the projects is a no easy task at all, but…
- It turns out that you start your mornings with inspecting the yards?
- All of our projects are built into larger city programs. All priorities have their own budgets, and progress on each project is reviewed systematically. I chair such process meetings myself.
For instance, we may begin a Monday with a discussion of how best to develop commuter transport and we may have to get back to various aspects of this issue several times during the week. On Tuesday, the Moscow’s government meets in session to consider the whole package of problems. The theme of construction enjoys unflagging attention. I am regularly present at the hearings of the urban and land development commission, which considers the largest and most complex projects. Other meetings may be devoted to health care, education and culture. Each set of tasks has its own timetable.
When I see that some extra issues arise, we meet in session more often. Sometimes twice a week. If we manage to get the project underway and it does not require daily intervention, it appears on my business schedule once in two or three weeks. But all of the programs are under control and the people responsible never forget: we will get back to that issue again and again. All of our plans will be discussed thoroughly and each person responsible will have to present a detailed account. This is the sole way of keeping the projects going the way they should. True, lot depends on those who actually work in the field, but if the manager fails to keep it under continued control, the project will either die down or go wrong to produce an effect very different from the originally conceived one.
When I am asked what my idea of fighting the crisis is, I always say: it is confined to retaining all of the programs we have launched, ensuring their logistics and financing and taking proper administrative measures and ensuring steady progress.
- Does the force majeure factor make itself felt often?
- There is no way of getting away from it altogether. It’s impossible to foresee everything in advance. But systemic work allows for minimizing the effects of emergencies. We do our best to ensure we have as few unpleasant surprises as possible. When I am asked what my idea of fighting the crisis is, I always say: it is confined to retaining all of the programs we have launched, ensuring their logistics and financing and taking proper administrative measures and ensuring steady progress.
These are the basics of success. No emergency campaigns and feverish attempts to patch holes, but steady, systemic work. Imagine we have turned out backs on infrastructure development to focus on something else. The whole investment activity in the city will be ruined. Push ahead steadily with the plans you have identified, and there will be far fewer emergencies.
- And what if an emergency has occurred after all? What is the sequence of steps you follow?
All of my deputies, ministers of the Moscow government and the heads of key departments have a hot line to me. All of them have my mobile phone number and they feel free to call any time. No problems about that.
- When was it you got the latest such emergency call?
- Just recently. Remember the powerful thundershower, when some areas of Moscow got a month’s rain over just several hours? It was an emergency. Some roads, street underpasses and tunnels were flooded. And before that there was a household gas explosion in a café.
- Do you always hurry to the emergency site yourself?
- I do, if casualties are heavy and there is a potential risk of major systemic disruptions.