Ilya Varlamov: ‘A mayor or governor is rarely a sensible person’
The urbanist and blogger about the protection of landmarks, loss of Kazan’s identity and education of the population
The most important thing in the conservation of architectural legacy is not only to found money and interested investors but also create society’s demand for its conservation, thinks famous blogger and urbanist Ilya Varlamov. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent at Telecom Intensive forum, he shared an opinion of how and who should fight for the conservation of historical buildings and why it matters.
Ilya, you’ve had a lot of posts about Kazan in the last years, both positive and negative. We’d like to hear a summary. What do you think of the capital of Tatarstan?
Everything is rather good. In terms of beautification, everything is great.
You named Kazan a “city that is losing its identity”, especially when it comes to the conservation of cultural legacy. What should the Tatarstan capital do to conserve it, the identity?
It is a common problem, not only Kazan’s problem. People don’t appreciate historical legacy. When we talk about architecture, they don’t see it as a value, they don’t understand its meaning. We haven’t got used to it since the Soviet era. If you look at the history of Russia, the Soviet power came in, it said to demolish all monuments, rebuild everything. Another Soviet came in and said to demolish everything, remake everything. In the 90s, shopping malls were built everywhere. And behind this “to demolish everything” we lost the feeling that legacy can have some value one should fight for and protect.
It is a common problem, not only Kazan’s problem. People don’t appreciate historical legacy. When we talk about architecture, they don’t see it as a value, they don’t understand its meaning
One of our columnists said that if people don’t need something, if there is no practical application, one shouldn’t go for it. Can you disagree with it?
This is easy to say when you have not a very educated population. It’s like saying a kid “don’t study if you don’t want”. The kid anyway doesn’t realise the situation, all the value of education. And now we force him to study, and he will thank you for this.
People aren’t told about the value of legacy at school or on TV. We are told what a good car, good clothes, good food is, but we aren’t told what good architecture is. It seems to them that everything needs to be thrown away or, more precisely, demolished. They don’t see potential, for instance, to develop tourism, they don’t see how one can earn from it. And some time later they understand: “Wow, we live in concrete boxes, in awful jams, our ecology is bad, how did this happen?”
And this question goes to specialists who understand what happens and how, they should deal with it.
And here it is important that the wide road won’t save from jams, that these anthills are huge problems in the future
Does it turn out that the main issue in the conservation of cultural legacy is education? Who is responsible for it?
Journalists must be responsible for it — you must be responsible. You must create the correct demand from society. When we talk about authorities in this issue, we rarely can hope for authorities. A mayor or governor is rarely a sensible person who hires normal people and acts correctly. Politicians anyway look at public demand. The question is who will create this public demand.
If society has demand to conserve historical legacy, nobody will touch this legacy. It isn’t a matter of money. The mayor appears in front of people and says: “What do you want? Do you want to demolish barracks? We will demolish the barracks right now. Do you want new flats? We will build anthills. A wide road? You’ll have a wide road”. And here it is important that the wide road won’t save from jams, that these anthills are huge problems in the future, that to demolish a historical building is like shooting yourself in the foot and taking the city’s potential for development, tourism potential. Yes, the state will explain this is some educational programmes. But journalists, urban activists you have in Kazan too must explain this as well.