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Modernising Murmansk

Most of the buildings along "Prospekt Lenina" the main street in Murmansk, have recently received newly painted facades, repaired gutters and often new windows as well. One usually finds the same improved standards on the inside. Some streets and pavements have been repaired and the smoke from the chimneys of the central power-stations does look cleaner. In short, major infrastructure improvements are being undertaken.

“Krutsjovky”  blocks in Murmansk. Note the new facades (light green) with extra insulation. Photo: Odd Iglebaek

"Krutsjovky" blocks in Murmansk. Note the new facades (light green) with extra insulation. Photo: Odd Iglebaek

The large concrete skeleton of the Hotel Artika has however remained empty for a number of years. Planned reconstruction was halted and the facades have in the meantime been covered with huge photos advertising new flats for sale. In addition, a number of new office buildings in the international style with glass-facades have been constructed.

Murmansk is the largest city in the Arctic. Recently, Okei, the large Russian supermarket-chain opened its second branch in city - with no less than 40 cashier-desks in a row. This is probably the largest supermarket in the whole of the Arctic. People travel from all over the Kola-peninsula to shop here.

The supermarket is situated at the very heart of the city; there is no trace here of the western-style out of town shopping outlet culture here. There are of course ample parking facilities around and below the centre of the city and a small playground for children. The citizens of Murmansk, who would generally have preferred that the space be used for a much needed urban park, did not however get their way. They had to accept that this time they were the losers in the struggle for the new Murmansk.
All the towns and cities of Northwest Russia are, in planning terms, characterised by a city centre with a history that goes back to just before or after World War II. This was the period when the wilderness was rapidly populated in order to extract minerals and secure the ice-free harbour. Outside these centres there are row upon row of grey concrete structures with flats, mostly in the five storey "Krutsjovky" style. Sometimes, and particularly in Murmansk, there are also more recent tenements reaching nine storeys.

There are however major changes occurring here. Studying the windows one quickly sees that they have been changed. Modern double glazing and plastic frames have replaced the frames with double layers of single glazing. However, in most cases the exterior walls have not been improved, but there are a few buildings where extra insulation has been attached to the outside of the concrete-slabs and covered with tight protection-layers - often in bright colours.

For many people however wages remain low. A teacher in Murmansk will, on average, make only the equivalent of around 400 euros a month after tax. That means that there is very little money available for home improvement. However many people make more, the average net wage in the city is closer to 700 euros while some 20% of inhabitants earning 1000 euros or more (Morgenbladet 29. april-5.mai 2011).

As in the west, many of these people also spend a good proportion of their income on improving their homes, particularly on new kitchens and bathrooms. – This we are also very happy about, notes Evgeniy V. Nikora, speaker of the Murmansk Regional Duma. – The fact that people here can materially improve their standard of living is very important for us in generating interest in, and a willingness to, live here he says.

By Odd Iglebaek