Sustainability In Action

It can be both challenging and de-motivating to find green urban spaces in central areas of St. Petersburg. However "Neva Bee" and other people attempt to create spots where creativity, environmental and social action converge and inspire local habitants to adapt greener practices.

by Andreas Rossbach & Valeria Lazareva

Green urban spaces in St.Petersburg

The design and planning of cities, public spaces and surrounding environments, whether urban or suburban, can affect people´s health and well-being. In some cities around the world, according to the strength of the urban health inequalities, life expectancy can vary significantly from one neighborhood to another. In St. Petersburg, the second biggest Russian city, with a population of arround 5 million people, there are numerous historical parks and gardens like the Summer or Alexander garden. Furthermore compared to the more central areas, of the city with its very dense built infrastructure, districts that were created later during the Soviet era have quite a high amount of green area. But after years of lacking effective management of these green areas, they are in need of extensive repair and improvements. However the biggest problem are new residential areas constructed which are often lacking any greening.
"There are a lot of Urban Engineering experts in St. Petersburg, but it seems like most of them fail to understand the most important goal."

Prof. Valery A. Nefedov
St. Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineeering

New green visons are needed

But what is the most important goal now? We need new green visions in ever more crowded St. Petersburg! Alarm bells are ringing for existing parks and the hope for future greenness is in danger. On a tour trough streets in central urban areas of St. Petersburg we ask local people about their new green visions. Starting in Sadovaya Street and finishing in Nevsky Prospect. On the way we pass streets, see a lot of cars and ancient houses with beautiful facades. Suddenly, out of nowhere a facade with lots of flowers and green plants appears – Café Zoom– it says at the entry door. We step into a room that provides us pleasant smells and a cosy appearance. Polina, a 24 years old woman is smiling and tells us that she and her colleagues care a lot about the plants they have inside aswell as outside because they create a warm atmosphere and make the fassade look nicer. She thinks green plants and flowers have a positive impact on people´s wellbeing and that there should be more green spaces in central areas of St. Petersburg.
Our path searching for green urban spaces and opinions | click on the map

Lack of environmental awareness

Not everyone thinks like Polina, instead many people in Russia still think about sustainable development just in terms of economics. However, it is more than just economics and we need an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability. A lot of people write or talk about it, but they do not really understand what it is claims Dr. Irina Shmeleva, Head of the Institute of Sustainable Development and Strategy. Green urban spaces have a very positive impact on the health and mood of people . The distruction of ecosystems proceeds continously and forests make way for new buildings and streets. Prof. Valery Nefedov wonders why many people still don´t want to make the city better.
"Sustainability is the relationship between three pillars. In which both economy and society are constrained by environmental limits."

Dr. Irina Shmeleva,
Head of the Institute of Sustainable Development and Strategy
On our way we also meet Xenia, 25 years old and the manager of the restaurant Market place. She explains us that in her opinion people in St. Petersburg should life a healthier and more sustainable life. Thus we need to care about existing green urban areas and to create new green spaces.

Benefits of green urban areas

Green urban spaces have a very positive impact on the well being of people especially in big cities, where air pollution is high. They help to regulate air quality and climate, reduce stress, create and stengethen communities and there are many other social, environmental and economic benefits. But the distruction of ecosystems proceeds continously and forests make way for new buildings and streets. Prof. Valery Nefedov wonders why many people still do not want to make the city better.
"I always try to explain the relevance of sustainable urban development – almost every single hour a day – because people in St. Petersburg must wake up!"

Prof. Valery A. Nefedov
St. Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineeering

"Neva Bee" and the hope for new green visons

After all there are some people organized in communities that are strongly commited in various environmental actions in St.Petersburg. One of these groups is named "Neva Bee", a small group of around 30 activists, but very successful in what they are doing. Their actions include petitions, protests and articles. Local habitants like Anna Denisova, Sanika Musatova engage in various initiatives for a greener city. Vadim Kuzmitzky, a graduate of the journalistic department of the Saint Petersburg State University and working as a journalist and activist now, is the founder of the group. He writes for the russian newspaper "Vedomosti" and his articles on environmental topics are well - known. The members of "Neva Bee" engage in projects like stoping the felling of trees in the Semenov garden. Another interesting project last year was to create an art space nearby the Gulf of Finland as part of a rooftop garden. However the story had a sad ending and after putting much effort in advertising the project, suddenly it failed because of insufficient funds. But there is hope, if Sustainable Development becomes an important part of education, as Dr. Irina Shmeleva puts it. Schools and universities should allow every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.
"Education for Sustainable Development means including key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning; for example, climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity (...)"

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Green infrastructure must be more integrated in the overall architectural and urban planning

Black smoke arising from chimneys of an old heating station.Right in front of the buildings – some trees with any other color but green.

Experts like Prof. Valery A. Nefedov and Dr. Irina Shmeleva or people like Polina and Vadim understand the importance of green urban spaces in St. Petersburg. In the future our understanding of cities both in theory and practice, is at a turning point. Urban areas worldwide, also in St. Petersburg face complex and rapidly evolving challenges. What shape should a city that inspires and engages citizens, governments and the public sector and private sectors to work together actually take? By promoting a more sustainable urban form and function, cities become healthier and viable communities for citizens. Efficient urban forms also help to protect the hinterland ecosystems that cities depend on. In many ways, the advantages to sustainable communities are underlined in the characteristics and definitions of urban sustainability – a good quality of life, natural open spaces, reduced waste, a sense of community, clean air, are just a few beneficial characteristics.

New Holland a role model for new green visons in St.Petersburg

The island "New Holland" is the last place of our journey after we have seen an old heating station sourrounded by trees not looking healthy at all. We hope to find green areas here. What we find, is a big construction side and a big sign indicating that it is forbidden to enter the island. Anyway we are optimistic and think it could be a promising new green urban space in St.Petersburg and thus role model for following projects, where creativity, environmental and social action converge.
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