National Conference on Small Urban and Historical Communities Concludes in Vyksa

Between October 5 and 7, 2018, the town of Vyksa (Nizhniy Novgorod Region) hosted a National Conference on Small Urban and Historical Communities to revitalize small communities by engaging local residents in cultural practices. It was co-hosted by the OMK-Uchastiye Charity Foundation and the Russian Federal Ministry of Construction and the Utilities. The conference was co-sponsored by the United Metallurgical Company (AO OMK, Moscow), the Government of the Nizhniy Novgorod Region, the Vyksa executive, and the 8 Lines design studio. The role of the event's program administration fell to the CENTER Strategic Development Agency (Moscow).

The conference was attended by 300 delegates representing 100 towns in 40 constituent entities of the Russian Federation, including municipal chief executive officers, members of the business community, and professional associations. They had available to them 11 sessions, discussions, and lectures as well as an extensive cultural curriculum. It was the first time that a single expert forum hosted over 40 leading domestic and international experts in the development of public spaces in Russia's small urban communities and participatory design, architects, designers, economists, urban planners, representatives of Russian Federal ministries and agencies.

Russian Federation Deputy Minister of Construction and the Utilities Andrey Chibis:
"The project of building a comfortable urban environment essentially breaths new life into small urban communities, provides an impetus for business development, builds a culture for leisure, and provides residents with greater opportunities for sports. And as a consequence, motivation to stay in their home towns. The conference has demonstrated yet again that small urban communities carry a huge potential for developing the urban environment given that they are populated by really caring people. It is up to us all to develop and expand this useful practice."

Nizhniy Novgorod Region Acting Deputy Governor and Acting Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Morozov:
"This is an important event that extends well beyond the Nizhniy Novgorod Region to the entire nation. It is symbolic that it is being held in a small town, the monotown of Vyksa.

Gubernatorial Advisor and Director of the Non-Profit Institute for the Development of the Urban Environment in the Nizhniy Novgorod Region Darya Shorina: 
"The conference became a most important event for experts and government officials, chief executive officers and regional stakeholders meeting in Vyksa. Expert communications at this high professional level is a unique opportunity to reboot and expand boundaries. We can see practical benefits even now: new connections are being made here as well as new agreements regarding collaboration and professional networking. This is the kind of event that speaks sustainable development both in individual towns and on a national scale.

The OMK-Uchastiye Charity Foundation acted as the conference's initial organizer given its long history of developing Vyksa. The Art-Ovrag Festival that has been ongoing for the past 8 years creates a serious new urban agenda by helping develop the local communities and the urban environment and create a better quality of life for the town's residents. Vyksa's experience was presented among the best cases for the improvement of public spaces and participatory design.

The conference was hosted using a Russian Federation Presidential grant for the development of civil society made available by the Presidential Grant Foundation. The conference presented best domestic and international practices in creating a comfortable urban environment in Russian urban communities, the tools for "rebooting" problem areas that take the peculiarities of historical communities into consideration.

Representatives of federal and municipal authorities, including Oxana Demchenko, Director of Urban Environment Department with the Russian Ministry of Construction, Sergey Morozov, acting deputy Nizhniy Novgorod Governor and Prime Minister, Andrey Chertkov, Nizhniy Novgorod Minister of Energy and the Utilities, Natalia Fishman, assistant to the President of the Republic of Tatarstan, Vladimir Kochetkov, Chief Executive of the Local Government in the Vyksa Municipal District, Igor Ponomarev, First Deputy to the Vyksa Municipal Government Chief Executive, and others, noted the importance of initiating this expert exchange, involving experts with successful international experience as well as local business people.

Experts, both international, such as Turenscape Partner and Director of Turenscape International Design Center Stanley Lung, French Orchestra Design Chief Executive Officer, Urban Planner and Urbanist Edouard Moreau, and domestic, such as: Yulia Bychkova, Ekaterina Goldberg, Elena Gonzales, Olga Gritsan, Irina Irbitskaya, Anton Kochurkin, Irina Krymova, Evgeniya Murinets, Alissa Prudnikova, Alexander Puzanov, Olga Ryzhko, Oleg Ryzhov, Maria Sedletskaya, Dmitri Smirnov, Nadezhda Snigireva, Narine Tyutcheva, Bella Filatova, Alexander Chekmarev, Artem Chernikov, Darya Shorina, and others, spoke about the importance of preserving the "location experience" while undertaking urban development. We are talking generation memory and maximum respect for the natural landscape. A lot of attention was given public urban spaces as a most important resource of effecting social change. A very important term referenced in the course of the sessions was "participatory design" and the engagement of the residents themselves in the design process. 

The conference also enjoyed active involvement on the part of representatives from relevant government ministries and agencies: Sergey Rybakov, Deputy Chair of Federation Council Committee on Research, Education and Culture; Igor Sobolev, Advisor to General Manager of the Presidential Grant Foundation; Oleg Zorya, Manager of the Urban Renovations National Project; Maria Derunova, Deputy Manager, Urban Environment Department, Russian Federal Ministry of Construction, as well as OMK, OMK-Uchastiye, and VSW executive management, such as Irina Sedykh, Chair of the OMK-Uchastiye Charity Foundation Supervisory Board, Natalya Eremina, OMK Governance Board Chair, Alexander Barykov, Vyksa Steel Works Managing Director.

The United Metallurgical Company, the OMK-Uchastiye Charity Foundation, and the 8 Lines Design Studio presented a guide entitled "Create Your Own Town". The guide has been compiled from the unique experiences of transforming courtyard spaces and decorating such spaces with items of urban design as well as objets d'art in the town of Vyksa (Nizhniy Novgorod Region) as part of the Art-Ovrag Festival of Urban Culture. The publication will be of use to municipal chief executive officers and urban development experts and will help improve the methods and the approaches to design, to resident engagement in the construction of the urban environment, in creating a set of conditions conducive to replicating the wealth of experience accumulated by OMK and its partners in creating a comfortable urban environment in Vyksa. The guide was published as a video and a book, both available at sredagoroda.ru/create.

Irina Sedykh, Supervisory Board Chair, OMK-Uchastiye Charity Foundation:
"The OMK-Uchastiye Charity Foundation has been creating a comfortable urban environment via the Art-Ovrag culture project for a number of years and engaging in a dialog with the government and the local communities, and introducing contemporary comforts and a new vibrancy into Vyksa's historical context. As far as we are concerned, it is an important mission since the town is intertwined with the plant which, in turn, is the backbone of the United Metallurgical Company. And the fact that this approach has become government policy and gained the support of the Federal Ministry of Construction is validation that we are doing this right. This is the reason that the National Conference on Small Urban and Historical Communities was hosted by us in Vyksa. And it provided a powerful impetus for further development by creating a dialog with experts, an exchange of competencies, an opportunity to engage with the town residents themselves and to present to them practices from other towns.

Yulia Bychkova, ArchStoyaniye Festival producer and curator, producer of the Art-Ovrag Festival of Urban Culture, 
Anton Kochurkin, General Manager, 8 Lines Design Studio, Art-Ovrag Festival curator: 
"The principal trend that is in evidence today is joint efforts by experts, municipal authorities, stakeholders, and local communities to change the urban environment. This is a very important accomplishment of the last few years, and we see this is what is becoming key for fundamental development. Based on our experience in Vyksa, we have published the Create Your Own Town Guide that was presented at the conference. The guide is an aid to those small urban communities that have not as yet started changing their public spaces or are just starting. We use it to talk about why this effort is important, where to begin, and who will find it useful to get involved and why. The book and the video are available to the general public on our website, and we expect this experience to be at the foundation of many changes."

Sergey Georgiyevsky, General Manager, CENTER Strategic Development Agency, Executive of the conference program directorate:
"What is this conference's significance? The fact that, as the expert community engaged in dialog with the delegates representing the various regions, it became clear that several components were required for projects related to comfortable urban environments: money and human resources, on the one hand, the skill and the ability to conduct dialog, create collaboration, exchange best practices, and engage with the local communities, on the other. Only the maximum engagement of residents and local communities will enable urban builders to create an effective public space that is attractive, comfortable, and useful. The conference that has just been concluded became a very good example of professional dialog that will help all the interested parties join forces, create strong expert institutions required to make the plans of all the country's small and historical urban communities come true."

Videos of all the conference sessions are available through the official YouTube channel of the CENTER Strategic Development Agency serving as the event's program directorate. Official Conference Website: sredagoroda.ru.