St Petersburg gets better every year


The following text, all of it, is written by Stan Jacox . He posted this as a comment on Facebook. I copy it here with permission.

St. Petersburg

It gets better every year. I moved here 15 years ago after visiting many times since 1976 when it as still Leningrad.

Just about every aspect of life from being cleaner, brighter (at night, the city center is stunning with a million accent lights, wall washes etc have been installed since 2003 and in a winter night snow fall is spectacular), sidewalks have been mostly replaced with large granite blocks, 11,000 new restaurants have opened since I moved here, the city has become a “foodie” city with an amazing number of really good, innovative menus at reasonable prices, it is more social and friendlier….at night most restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs are full with people having a good time, crime has dropped so it is safer walking around at 3am alone in any part of the city than any city I have ever visited in the US or UK, doing business in St Petersburg is easier than anyplace now with it possible to form a business and incorporate it from start to finish in one office, mostly automated in a few hours, corruption has dropped to about zero(I have not dealt with any agency, individual, officials or business that hinted for a bribe or gratuity in over a decade), communications by wireless, internet, mobile phone is very low cost, fast and with excellent coverage (my 110Mb/s fiber optic connection through the phone company is $10/month, unlimited bandwidth and my 4G access and cell phone is about $6/month that works perfectly even in the Metro), free wi-fi in almost every business, shopping center, cafe or pub, more museums and galleries and longer hours, much cheaper taxis than before and with better service, trams, metro, and buses have been upgraded, much more options for shopping and the once quiet sleeping zones now have large shopping and entertainment centers and full services that used to require traveling to the city center, so living outside the center is easy and lower cost with full options for recreation shopping and everything that was missing before.

Even snow removal has greatly improved. They stopped salting sidewalks which means you do not ruin every pair of shoes, every winter like before, and it is easier to walk or drive in the winter as a result.

The only downside is a lot more tourists clog the city center and museums in the summer. The weather patterns have changed a lot in 10 years so coming in the late fall or winter is one of the best times to come, easy to get into museums or events when a visitor wants to. Visiting the Hermitage in the winter is a lot more enjoyable without 16,000 other visitors inside that summer brings. Driving has become easier, less crazy than 10-15 years ago when accidents due to aggressive driving has dropped so they are rare instead of seeing them on every 1 hour stroll like in the 90s. Roads and bypasses and a ring road means no being stuck in the city center in the summer after the bridges open (but that means someone living out of the center has no excuse to stay out partying all night like when the bridges opened traditionally).

The list is just off the top of my head and could be longer if I thought about it. But overall, the city is very easy to live in but it is also less of an exotic adventure like 20 years ago.

What surprised me so much on my first visit was how normal life was, and nothing like we were told back in the US. I read everything that was printed in English about it before my first visit in 1976 and immediately found everything I knew was wrong. Yet, I knew far more than the USSR experts in the news, so they were doubly wrong. Even with the easy communications now, the TV pundits and opinion makers in the west who claim status as Russia experts are just plain clueless and either know nothing or are deliberately lying.
The 90s was sad in some ways, people who had distinguished careers in science, medicine, professors etc suddenly were thrown into a system where money was the only value and they had no value. Knowledge was worthless unless it lead directly to money. The very large middle class and working class both had the same incomes and security for a long time and suddenly had none. I spent a lot of time in the 90s here and it was raw and exciting but hard for my new friends to live and plan for a future. The birth rate dropped very low, because few felt secure enough to want children.

By the time the economy was stabilized the opportunities for young adults expanded so much that birth rates stayed low because young women were seeing so many opportunities for fun and travel and decent jobs that they kept putting it off until their 30s.

photos by Stan Jacox

One Comment Add yours

  1. Stan in an American who has travelled in Russia since 1976 and has lived there since 2001. He has a lot say, and knows a lot first hand, and often shares what he knows on Facebook. Here is another of Stan’s comments, which I’ll probably post as a blog post, but I want to include it here for now. It’s full of information that is completely contrary to everything we’re told elsewhere:

    (Stan Jacox): “…You seem to make definitive statements that repeat the same line told in western press, which by the way, does not even have reporters in Russia. Bringing up Pussy Riot as a cause of freedom would be truly embarrassing to you IF you knew even the least bit of the truth of their rise to stardom and wealth in the west. In fact if you knew anything factual you would apologize for even bringing them up in this topic. If they had acted the same way damaging over 100 cars in one street stunt and caused the death of a woman in another, tying up a main bridge into the city center of Moscow. No arrest for either of these but when the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church was raided and priceless artifacts of religious value were damaged during services, the prosecutor was required by law to enter the case after the church formally requested a criminal investigation under the religious freedom provision of the constitution and religious hate crimes law. The case had nothing to do with Putin, it is not illegal to verbally attack politicians. Only the western press attached his name to the wall-to-wall western coverage for these girls. They were not even a band, but street theater “artists” who thought it was great fun to express their art by staging sex acts on busy streets and sidewalks filled with shoppers and kids going to school.
    If that is your idea of freedom fighters you are one sick woman!
    Your other statements are nonsensical, that is until one assumes you adopted those opinions solely by reading the NYT and WaPo. But not true. Why is Putin popular? The closest US president to Putin in the improvement in the lives of all citizens was possibly Roosevelt bringing the country out of the depression and aiding the quality of life with massive job increases supporting the war. But Russia, after Yeltsin’s Harvard Group advisors had destroyed the economy, to a much worse state than the US great depression, and a 1:10 devaluation of the ruble that wiped out the middle and working class, Putin performed miracles in growing yet stabilizing the economy, tackling corruption in politics, paid down the federal debt, generated a $640 billion sovereign account of dollars and euros in case of economic emergency…and had that money to keep Russia afloat when the wall street meltdown badly hurt every other country. Home values did not drop at all, he expanded the free medical services, incomes averaged a 10 times increase for citizens in his first 8 years, and costs of living rose 2 times. Overall, I would dare say you could not name a leader who during the same time period did more for everyone from pensioners to middle class and children in any country. During the same period American families were really hurt and poverty greatly increased, with the very wealthy the only class to gain under Obama or Bush.
    Police are a major threat to people in the US, yet in Russia there is hardly any interaction with police unless you called them for a noisy neighbor after 11pm. They are not like an occupying army, they talk through problems and very seldom use violence and most have never pulled a gun. Streets are safer even without the police presence, and in large cities, there is no neighborhood where you would be at risk walking at 3am. Try that in some neighborhoods in any city of the US.
    There is a GREAT deal of personal freedom in Russia, it would be hard to believe for most Americans unless they lived in Russia for a while. I am an American and very well traveled, but have been living full time for 15 years in Russia and know a lot about what life is like here and how very different and better than you could imagine reading NYT. The difference is, I don’t have to make it up for a political agenda like they do. There are lots of Europeans and Americans living here because they find it a very pleasant open free place, very social, fun and not angry or fearful like people have been reduced to in the US with declining quality of life, economic insecurity and piles of debt. That is well known to every non-wealthy person in the US but it is not the case in Russia. It is easier to start a business, cost of living is very low, most people, 70% own their home free and clear of any debt. No college debt yet a higher percent of Russians have university degrees than any other country. 93% have post high school education, 58% have a university degree and most of the rest have a college degree. Debt free.”

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