Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where I Live (1 of 3): City

I guess the explanation of my living situation can be broken up into three parts: City, Neighborhood, and Apartment. This is by no means a comprehensive or a historical description, just a few tid-bits that I think may help you place me on a contextual map.

At 4.6 million people, St. Petersburg (SPB), is the second largest city in Russia. About 6 million people live in the vicinity. The metro area is 1439 sq. km, which means that the density is 8,389.5/sq mi. This means that the density of the SPB metro area is greater than that of the New York City metro area. Architecturally, it's quite European, having been founded by Peter the Great in 1703. It's a port city on the Baltic and is Russia's "northern capital." Roughly a six-eight hour drive from Moscow, Helsinki, and Tallinn. The center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Cite.

Basically, it's a gorgeous city with a lot of people in a small geographical area and a lot to do--museums, theaters, and lots of parks. There's a huge interest in photography here, which I don't think is coincidental. SPB gets compared to Moscow, a lot--it's inevitable. But I won't go into any detail and will just say that many see the two cities as the only worthwhile cities in Russia. I will let you deduce what comes with this: housing prices, immigration, stratification of society, traffic, pollution, etc. If I was forced to compare SPB to US city, I would choose Boston--sizable, coastal, historical, green, educated, expensive. Except there's more to do here and the pace is quicker.

The city has excellent public transportation and is extremely walkable. However, the central neighborhoods were never built for the amount of traffic they receive. Makes me think of the oldest versions of SimCity, except that you can't plow down historical buildings. (That's a popular topic in itself as the governor is purported to do exactly that). Buildings are not supposed to exceed a certain height (another questionable current topic).

One of SPB's nicknames is "Venice of the North," because of the multitude of canals. Romantic? I always think of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, where the plague spreads through the canals, but yes. SPB was built as a number of islands on a swamp and the chemically-treated tap water is not recommended for drinking (although you won't get sick like you would in Mexico). Pretty? Sure. A boat-excursion trap for tourists? Undeniably. A way to get stuck far away from home if you miss the bridges being drawn at night? Yeah, that too. More about that in the discussion of neighborhoods.

For some basic info I recommend the Lonely Planet page and good ole Wikipedia. I recommend looking at as many pictures as possible, although they won't be able to convey the feeling of awe you get trying to comprehend that you live in such a gorgeous place.

So this is where I was born and where I am, again, living.

*Population, area, and density numbers from "St. Petersburg in Figures."

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