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.
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