Ivanovo ///

Ivanovo lies almost three hundred kilometres north-east of Moscow. It has 448.000 inhabitants and is the capital of a district of the same name, with a population of 1.1 million. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the region began to develop from rural settlements into a centre of the Russian textiles industry. Politically, the labour movement was strong in the towns of district. Between 1920 and 1980, the population grew rapidly.

After 1990, however, the industry's monostructure became its downfall. Like many other manufacturing plants, Ivanovo's large, fully-automated "8th March Textile Factory" was closed down; its buildings were converted into a shopping mall. These days, unemployment, partly overt and partly concealed, is high. The number of its inhabitants, who mostly live in vast, pre-fabricated housing estates, sank by 5.8 percent. In some towns and villages in the area, almost one-fifth of the populace moved away.

During the mid-Nineties, almost two-thirds of those living in the city had to live off products from the gardens of their dachas. Young people, especially the better educated, continue to leave Ivanovo to look for work in Moscow. The birth-rate, too, is dropping. These developments are paralleled by an increase in those attending religious institutions in Ivanovo, both Christian and Muslim.


Situated in the "Golden Ring" of old towns around Moscow, the region of Ivanovo, consisting of sixteen towns, a further thirty-one urban settlements and numerous villages, counts as one of the poorest areas in the Russian Federation. A worker earns, on average, the equivalent of thirty euros per month.

The industrialisation of Ivanovo began early in the eighteenth century, when the first textile manufacturing works were founded there. At the end of the nineteenth century, production grew dramatically, as did the labour movement. Some of the most important events of the Russian Revolution of 1905 took place in Ivanovo; the first "soviet" was set up here. Around 1935, the city became the Soviet Union's main centre for the manufacture of clothing. The economy flourished. This growth, however, brought the problems attendant on monostructure ever closer.

As early as the nineteen-forties, the region of Ivanovo began to suffer from lack of investment of any sort, because the Five-Year Plans of the USSR concentrated all resources on the development of heavy industry. The textile branch became increasingly side-lined as a result. The siting of new mechanical engineering works in the region's capital city during the nineteen-fifties was due not least to the lack of work for men in the textile factories.

Shrinkage, albeit concealed, could thus have been observed in Ivanovo even back then. It was not until the end of the Soviet Union, however, that the city fell headlong into an unprecedented economic crisis, which hit the textile industry especially hard. The supply of cotton from Uzbekistan ceased. Sales faltered, because the market was suddenly open to clothing suppliers from western Europe and the Far East. The drastic 'transition' from a centralised economy to a free market one led to a slump in the volume of production: in 1998, it was only 22 percent of what it had been in 1989. It did, however, rise strongly again towards the end of the Nineties. The main reason for all these developments was that in post-communist Russia, the manufacture of textiles and machinery counted for little; economic prosperity was provided only by the telecommunications industry and the exploitation of natural resources. The large manufacturing plants of the Ivanovo region suffered from this shift of emphasis. Since then, they have only been able to run at a small fraction of their full capacity.

In order not to lose their status as employees, which guarantees only a minimum of medical and social care, many men and women continue, on paper, to work for these businesses, which are deep in debt. Their salary is so low, however, that it can not pay for their daily needs. Although dachas had never merely been places to relax in at weekends, fruit and vegetables from their own gardens became essential for survival for 60 percent of Ivanovo's population during the Nineties. There is a great deal of personal initiative and people's private networks are closely-spun. The importance of these was long evidenced by numerous kiosks and stalls - and the large bazaars that grew up at crossroads and railway crossings, appropriating wide, empty spaces for trade.

The cities of the Russian Federation are characterised, in respect of their economies, by dual developments: on one hand, the continued existence of inherited Soviet structures; on the other, the growth of new locations, of which some are improvised and low-level, while others, more investment-intensive, are oriented towards global models. Ivanovo, however, lacks modern industries of any kind whatsoever. Although many new businesses were created by radical privatisation (in 1993 alone, 461 works were de-nationalised in the Ivanovo district), the statistics show that, as before, the informal sector makes up one quarter of activity as a whole.

Demographics /// 

Market place in Shuja

In 1920, Ivanovo was a small town of 52,000 inhabitants. Owing to the state-ordered, heavily-promoted industrialisation of the USSR and its role as the new capital of an entire industrial region, Ivanovo grew and grew. In 1940, some 285,000 people lived here; in 1990 the figure was around 480,000.

Since then, the region has experienced a sharp decline in the birth-rate, while more people are dying than before. Women make up 55 percent of Ivanovo's population: a fairly high proportion. Since they live, on average, for ten years longer than men do, this figure will probably increase. Ivanovo cannot compensate for its loss of inhabitants by attracting people from the villages and towns of the surrounding area. Migrants from the former Soviet republics in the south, or from Asia, are not welcome.

Urban Development /// 

Ivanovo was the home town of the three Vesnin brothers and this (in addition to its manufacturing industry) made it, along with Moscow, a centre of Russian Constructivism during the early years of the Soviet Union. Unlike cities in western Europe, Ivanovo retained areas with the spatial structure of a village, even close to the city centre, throughout the twentieth century. This not only means that, just around the corner from imposing architecture of Stalin's era, there are wooden bungalows without running water, each in its own in small garden. In fact, more than half of the area within the city limits is dominated by housing of an agrarian typology.

The huge increase in Ivanovo's population between 1920 and 1980 necessitated a radical, long-term effort to provide new housing. Under the Communist Party bosses Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, estates of colossal high-rise blocks and towers were erected, from the middle of the nineteen-fifties onwards. Although most of them stood on the edge of town, they were usually well-connected by bus with the shops and places of work.

Today, Ivanovo suffers from unprecedented social polarisation and segregation. Occurrences such as the arson attack on the shopping mall in the former "8th March Textile Factory", which took place in spring 2003, testify to social disruption. Against this phenomenon must be counted (in contrast to the cities of eastern Germany) the enormous energy that individuals and whole groups of people put into day-to-day survival.

The cityscape of Ivanovo is also going through changes. Some of the wide, open spaces, often with sparse vegetation, that are typical of the large cities built under communism, are now also privately used. Since the early Nineties, much of this land has been built upon, increasing the density of occupation: at first, kiosks and stalls sprang up at traffic junctions, then came office buildings and supermarkets, some of which have already become disused. In parallel to this, firms donated their cultural recreation buildings, their cinemas and nursery schools to the municipality. Some of these stand vacant, while for others new uses were found.

The spatial and architectural development of Ivanovo is determined more by corporate arrangements and lobbyists than by the financially weak players in the city administration. Here, as in other Russian cities, central planning from Moscow has given way to projects large and small: new buildings, extensions and conversions. It's a colourful mixture - if only for the new coats of paint on those once dirty facades.

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