Russia’s second-largest city is buzzing with exciting news. After hosting the World Cup in 2018 and winning the award for the top European tourism destination in 2019, St Petersburg has now set as its goal for 2020 to focus on liveability.
A new series of innovative projects will change the face of the city and fill it with greener, more modern public spaces. Heavy investments will be destined to make everyday life easier and more enjoyable for its citizens.
Of course, the plan will not only improve residents’ life. The hope is that more efficient transports and free leisure areas will boost the local economy while at the same time encouraging international tourism.
These are the areas that the new St Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov will focus on:
- Improving St Petersburg’s public transport network
- Opening new parks
- Investing in urban renewal
- Strengthening connections with Moscow and the rest of the continent
Does St Petersburg Have a Good Public Transport System?
St Petersburg metro is famous for being one of the most beautiful in the world. Using some of its stations feels like walking around in a museum or palace and tickets are relatively inexpensive. Foreigners may find it challenging that most signs are written in Russian.
Overground, it’s a different story. Governor Beglov’s efforts will focus especially on the bus network in what he announced as a ‘transport reform’ similar to the one that revolutionized Moscow’s transport system 4 years ago.
Here are the most important points of his plan:
- Eliminating or dramatically reducing the marshrutkas. Marshrutkas are private minibusses famous for their drivers’ reckless driving style.
- Replacing all old buses with new ones. All buses built over 2 years ago will be replaced with modern models equipped with air conditioning, wi-fi, USB chargers, and entrances more mindful of passengers with disabilities. 1,700 new buses are expected to be purchased. The government asked St Petersburg’s residents to vote for their favorite new bus color and sky blue was chosen.
- Introducing a new electronic payment system similar to the ones already adopted in smart cities across the world.
Of course, this is an ambitious plan that entails a great investment on the government’s part. To reduce the economic impact, ticket fares are expected to be raised.
Buses are not the only focus — the government has also announced the construction of a new high-speed commuter railway that will connect St Petersburg with its suburbs.
A Park for the People in St Petersburg
St Petersburg does not lack public parks, especially in its most famous areas. From the botanical gardens of Peter the Great to the hip New Holland Island, the cultural capital of Russia is known for its outdoor spaces.
However, the government wanted to do something completely different for its new plan and asked the local population to participate actively in the design of a new public space right on the banks of the Neva River.
Locals were asked to pick the name for the new park — Tuchkov Buyan — and took part in public hearings where they had the chance to make suggestions regarding what they’d like to see in the park.
Government officials openly stated that this will be an area ‘given to the people’. The project will be largely financed with federal funds.
The City Will Invest More in Urban Renewal
Urban renewal (blagoustroystvo in Russian) is also a major part of St Petersburg’s innovation plan for 2020. The city’s urban renewal committee will see its budget increased in 2020 by nearly half — going up to 22 billion rubles ($346 million).
Projects go from building new outdoor areas and sports centers to street renovation. Particular attention will be given to green spaces and the environment with plans to plant 15% more trees than in 2019 and 13 km of new bike lanes.
Connecting Saint Petersburg with the World
The government is acutely aware that tourism is one of St Petersburg’s greatest resources. More than 4 million foreigners visited St Petersburg in 2019 and the city is doing everything it can to make the numbers grow.
A new electronic visa program allows eligible foreign tourists to obtain their visa in minutes online. In order to visit St Petersburg, it’s no longer necessary to visit a Russian embassy, hire a Russian travel agency or get an invitation letter from a Russian agency. Tourists can complete their application on their own from anywhere in the world as long as they have access to the internet.
Moreover, St Petersburg will allow foreign low-cost airlines to operate flights at Pulkovo International Airport in an effort to attract more tourists traveling on a budget.
Finally, plans are already underway to better connect St Petersburg with Moscow. A new high-speed train line will cut the travel time down to only 2.5 hours (currently, the fastest train on the line is the Sapsan train, which takes 4 hours). A new 669-kilometer toll highway will also allow for a better connection for drivers.