Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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The Creative Economy: Case Central Russia

The data to be presented are obtained from a study within two neighbouring big cities of Central Russia: Ivanovo (its population is about 413,000) and Yaroslavl (approximately 604,000 inhabitants). Our respondents were kindly requested to write a few sentences concerning their attitudes and stereotypes as well as their value orientations and life strategies.

While our study is still in progress, the report includes only some preliminary results from samples of 560 and 728 respondents living in Ivanovo and in Yaroslavl, respectively. With their age between 17 and 73, the sample represents all main social and professional groups of contemporary Russian society. As a result of content analysis of the reported answers, the data has been organized in accordance with their frequency distribution.

Collectivism, common sense, authority, power seem to be significant for the majority of the respondents from Ivanovo. Their life strategies are connected with rigid stereotypes about their gender roles, social statuses, or age, among other things. To solve their problems, people from Ivanovo, including the business persons (82 respondents), are not sympathetic to innovations, but would rather increase their profits in a laissez-faire manner. Unlike the general sample from Ivanovo, the students who live and study in this city (136 respondents) demonstrate much more tolerance and creativity. But the majority of these students (67 percent) expressed that after their graduation they would like to leave Ivanovo for other cities, especially for Moscow.

While analyzing the data obtained from Yaroslavl sample, the data showed that individual achievement, personal autonomy, knowledge and competence seem to be significant for our respondents. Not only the business persons (95 respondents), but the majority in the Yaroslavl sample tend to welcome new ideas, innovation, and creativity. As for the students living and studying in Yaroslavl, the majority of them (64 percent) do not want to move from this city after their graduation, like the young people from other relatively “prosperous” cities of Russia, including Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

To understand the differences between both samples, we have analyzed some local traditions both in Ivanovo and in Yaroslavl.

Having been known since the 16th century as a centre of the Russian weave handicraft, Ivanovo has been institutionalized as a city in 1871 with the Act of the Emperor Alexander II. But Ivanovo-Voznyesensk (as this city was named until 1932) continued to develop as a closed system, preserving the lifestyle of the Russian rural community obshchina. The differences in this regard could be influenced also by geographical factors. Despite of its proximity to Moscow, Ivanovo is situated away from big rivers and the main railroads. Moreover, the city expanded only due to the growth of the textile industry. Because of this mono-structural economy its social structure was homogenous including mainly former impoverished peasants. In a closed mono-professional and mono-cultural community with rigid traditional instruments of social influence and social control, a high degree of conformity has been required. Tradition tends to affect the emergence of the mental space in its rigid manner. As a result, the closeness of the mental space motivated people to be more authoritarian.

During the Soviet era the Communist authorities were trying to turn Ivanovo into a model of a “city of future”. Today the results seem to be the opposite. On the one hand, Ivanovo has become one of the biggest university centres in Russia. Now there are nine universities and other institutions of higher education in the city, but on the other hand, the structure of the local economy is still based mainly on the textile industry and has not been considerably changed. The extensive development of this industry required many low-skilled workers from the countryside who were forced to move in the city because of the collectivization of their lands. A large and sudden invasion of new people inevitably awakens a strong sense of community (Freudenburg 1984: 697-705), and this is probably what happened here. But the elements of local traditions were mixed with official ideological patterns (it would be possible to define this phenomenon as “quasi-traditionalism”). As a result, the new and old inhabitants of Ivanovo started to experience a kind of identity crisis. This crisis became much more obvious in the post-Soviet era, because of the crisis in the local mono-structural economy, which consequently led to high unemployment rates and deteriorating social conditions. In spite of the improvement of the situation in the mid-2000s, resulted from the rising oil prices and the influx of investments from Moscow (along with many traits of the lifestyle of the capital city), mainly low-wage service jobs have been created. The current global crisis seems to threaten considerably this model of the development of the city.

These circumstances seem to be important for estimating the quality of life in Ivanovo. Within the academic community of the city new ideas and technologies are successfully elaborated. They could help the local economy to be restructured in a way of introducing new high-tech industries. But the dominant tradition is still defined by the closeness of mental space. As a result, quasi-traditional ideas, attitudes, and values, while mixed with the main elements of the consumerist culture, are encouraging people to act in the authoritarian spirit and to oppose any serious innovation. For instance, despite of increasing traffic difficulties, people prefer to drive their automobiles everywhere. The automobiles themselves are regarded not as vehicles, but rather as symbols of wealth and prestige. Consequently, pedestrians or bike riders are often treated as being of low social status. As a result, the pedestrian zones or biking tracks are not developed. Although it is not the main reason that motivates potentially mobile, much sought-after talents (including the students involved in our study) to move to other cities and regions of Russia, it may be considered as one of the obstacles in improving the quality of life.

As for Yaroslavl, it is considered as one of the oldest Russian cities, and, perhaps, as one of the oldest centres of the Slavonic cultures (like Prague, Cracow, Kyiv, or Veliky Novgorod). Yaroslavl is still situated at the crossroad of the traditional pathways of Russian merchants. Therefore, throughout its history this city tended to develop an open system of mentality. Its traditions have been flexible to different lifestyles of various social and professional groups and tended to affect the emergence of the conventional mental space. This has been encouraging the city dwellers to be more tolerant and open to change. In the national sense many innovative practices and novelties have been introduced in Yaroslavl, such as the first Russian professional theatre established in 1750 by Fyodor Volkov. The development of the city was seriously accelerated by the reforms of the 1860s. These reforms gave way to the appearance of the middle class in Russia, and Yaroslavl has become one of the centres of this process. As a result, it developed all the elements which make a small town comfortable and those that make a large city cosmopolitan.

During the Soviet era the Communists tended to consider Yaroslavl as an ‘unreliable city’ due to the anti-Bolshevik rebellion which occurred in July 1918. However, once it was included in the Communist social experiment, Yaroslavl was not considered as a model of the “city of future”. The result of this is that not only cultural (architectural) heritage of the city, but also traditional tolerance and openness are quite distinctive. Combined with a diversified structure of local economy, this situation favours providing ideas, know-how, creativity, and imagination so important in estimating the quality of life. For instance, unlike in Ivanovo, a vast pedestrian zone has been created in the centre of Yaroslavl. It can be considered as an alternative space so crucial in preventing traffic difficulties and air pollution.

The numerous economic and social problems of Yaroslavl (such as the gap between affluence and poverty, high crime rate, terrible air pollution, etc.) are existing, but in comparison to the majority of communities in Russia, Yaroslavl, like Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Yekaterinburg, and some other cities, is today perceived as one of the most probable places in Russia to provide a good quality of life .

Sent by Mark from Ivanovo, Russia

One Response to “The Creative Economy: Case Central Russia”

  1. Libby Says:

    Do you have any quotes from respondents/participants that you can share about how they view life in their city?

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