[While] Living in Europe I made two observations about authoritarian states. First thought is that the more authoritarian a state is, the lower and fewer trees are [in the cities]. If you look at many capitals of authoritarian states on their main streets they basically have no trees at all. You can rarely see an old tree in the center of Moscow, you know, a big old tree like you can see here on the streets of Berlin or some other German city. And I think it is because politicians in these [authoritarian] states want to get very fast results, and trees… [do not match this approach – OP]. You know, planting a tree is the best thing you can do to the city environment, to the city beautification, and landscaping. But it's a very long term [process]. And none of these new urban methods and approaches which are used by authoritarian states are about planting trees, gardening and so on.
Next notice I made... We have some questions in the description of our panel today which [address the possible] signs that we can trace before we can say that this state is going to authoritarian way. Maybe one of these signs is [the fact] that government starts it's public spaces development and parks program. Because, you know, basically, a desire to have a park should come from people, from citizens, not from government. And maybe it's because of lack of ownership, a sense of ownership [to a city space – OP] that people in Russia and some other authoritarian states do not have. They do not have these ideas at all and do not go with that ideas to authorities, because they don't even realize that they have a right to demand something for their city. So I love the word "citizen" because ...It doesn't exists in the Russian language. "Citi/y-zen" contains the right to be a part of the nation and parts of the city, two things together. And maybe in Russian it's a word "gorozhanin" , but this word is not used in press or by governments at all, because it's very … strong word [in political sense - OP]. And because it says that citizen have a right to choose, have a right to be owner of his city, of his land, and have a right to make decisions on this land. So when this program starts with, you know, beautification of streets, redesigning of streets, huge programs of redesign of public spaces, maybe something is going wrong already. Or maybe because if they give you something right here, it means that somewhere else they are stealing your right to choose.
And in conclusion I want to tell you a story. I think I faced the very edge of authoritarian urbanism last year. I went to Vladivostok where the local governor invited a team of young architects from Tatarstan who are really good in landscaping, in design, [who can do - OP] really nice looking public spaces. And so I've been to a few of these places, and it was really, really great quality of benches, pavements, of tiles, it was really nice. All places were instagrammable. But I noticed that on every bench they had three cameras in each direction. And then I was told the stories by my local friends that each camera had a microphone and speaker, and they have operators in the office who are watching this square or park 24 hours a day. So if someone at 01:00 AM goes to this square, sits on a bench and drinks beer, this operator tells them through speakers to go out otherwise they will call the police. After that, the operator cuts this video and sends it to the city authorities. City administration of Vladivostok has its official Instagram page. So they put this video of guys who drink beer with a comment: "These are criminals! Shouldn't be allowed to go in our parks, please, be aware!". I was really horrified when I started to look at this page of Vladivostok administration. At some park in the winter there was snow everywhere and kids went from school, about ten years old or nine years old [kids], so they played standing on the bench because it's snow everywhere. And near the bench there was a litter bin. So one kid sat inside a litter bin. It was a game of ten year old children. So the Instagram account of the city administration placed the video of these children and said: "this group of young criminals went from that direction from that school. Please, parents, be aware that if it happens again we will call the police. And you have to speak to your children very strictly about that". So then I realized that these perfectly designed squares and parks are not for people, at all. They are for the government, to show images of how good life is in our city. You know, it's like... these aesthetic pictures are like they have been made in the Soviet Union. I only recently realized that all those Soviet pictures with laughing people are… designed pictures, you know. So they set it up for the photographs. Life never was the same like we see from photographs. So, it was the very edge of authoritarian urbanism I noticed in Russia. And then the war began.