Iconic Pools: The Olympic Swimming Complex at Prospekt Mira in Moscow

In 1979, the Olympic Swimming Complex at Prospekt Mira in Moscow opened its doors. The complex’s three indoor pools hosted the swimming and diving events at the Olympic games the following year. It was a fast pool: for the first time ever, Vladimir Salnikov clocked the 1.500m free under 15minutes!

Many people will also well remember the annual Russian Swimming Championships in the complex that impressed with a futuristic design.

I had a great time at those pools in 2018-2019 when I trained with a masters swimming team of Vladimir Smirnov, the former head coach of the Russian swimming team at the 1996 Olympic summer games.

Since 2020 the Complex undergoes a fundamental reconstruction as pictured below. Looking forward for a brand new pool in the future!


Does environmental policy really work?

I am happy to share my talk on climate change and administrative science that I gave on September 5, 2019 at Gorky Park, Moscow. My talk was part of the Open Talk series at the annual Open Doors Event of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (pictured above). I really enjoyed the event. And thanks to the audience for the interesting and thoughtful questions.

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your interest in the Higher School of Economics and my talk in particular! In the next 20 minutes I will try to answer three questions:

Should we panic about climate change?

What might governments do to protect the environment?

Are authoritarian regimes more effective in combating climate change?

I would like to start with a joke. Two planets meet. The first one asks: “How are you?” “Not so well”, the second answered “I’ve got the Homo Sapiens.” “Don’t worry,” the other replied, “I had the same. That won’t last long.” (Retrieved from http://www.die-klimaschutz-baustelle.de/climate_change_jokes.html, date of access 2019-09-04)

How do you feel about that joke? Are you amused, is there a pondering silence, or do you even panic internally? No matter whether this joke makes you feel happy, thoughtful, or panicking: It became obvious that people have been starting to think about the environment more than in the past.

Should we panic about climate change?

Our planet is getting hotter. There are ever more hurricanes. A month ago Irkutsk region suffered from the most severe flood since years. This time we experience a hot summer, next time there will be never-ending rain. People in urban areas around the globe suffer from polluted air; the ‘silent killer No. 1’ according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are different views on those phenomena. To some they are part of regular cycles that have been occurring repeatedly throughout time. We just did not monitor them as closely as we do now. To others they are messengers of climate change. At least, most environmental researchers agree that global warming accelerated.

But many people outside universities do not agree. Critics state that the hype about Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg is simply a substitute religion. The term sustainability has come under criticism as marketing bluff. We need to take those counterarguments seriously. We need to acknowledge that forecasts about global warming built on complex models. Just change some parameters and those models will forecast that planet earth will cool down by 2050.

But I am not about blaming statistical model building. I am about real-life environmental policy issues and how political science researchers study them.

People usually do not care about remote events. Things taking place far away do not attract their attention. If climate change does not affect me personally, e.g. if a flood tears away my house, I probably won’t get emotionally attached. There are many examples of serious issues nearby. Volokolamsk, north-west of Moscow, hosts a huge garbage site that takes up the waste from the Russian capital. The trash dumb is toxic, and toxic fumes reportedly spread over the town last year, leading to several injuries. That is something that people do panic about.

Another example: Since many years people in German cities suffer from polluted air. Berlin, Hamburg, or Cologne regularly exceed critical values set by the European Union in 2010. Only after courts ruled bans for diesel-engine cars political activity started. We wonder why.

One year ago I mentioned that Earth Overshoot Day is a measure to what extent human mankind overuses natural resources. On global average, Earth Overshoot Day in 2018 was August 1, down from early October 20 years ago. This year World Overshoot Day is July 29. “From July 30 we started to consume more resources than the planet can regenerate in a year.” (retrieved from https://www.overshootday.org/, date of access 2019-09-04). The situation has not become better, yet. We should not panic about climate change. But I believe that most people are aware that we need to change something in the way we live, travel, consume, work, and behave.

What might governments do to protect the environment? And what do governments actually do?

I am an Assistant Professor at the School of Politics & Governance at the HSE. My research covers what governments might do to protect the environment and to foster a sustainable way of living. Here are some of topics of my research:

  • It takes a generation to shift consciousness among people. Awareness training should start with schoolchildren. How does sustainable behavior find its way into curricular?
  • Diesel-engine cars are the main source of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emission, a greenhouse gas, in German cities. Why do politicians not simply ban all diesel-engine cars?
  • Is a tax on carbon dioxide, another famous greenhouse gas, helpful in combating climate change?
  • What public infrastructure a city government needs to offer to reduce traffic in an urban area?
  • Several local authorities in the Western hemisphere declared climate emergency. This is a non-binding commitment to spend efforts and realize resources to tackle climate change. How does such a commitment affect the jobs of top- and street-level bureaucrats? The mayor of a German city that declared climate emergency abstains from using an official car. That’s nice. But red tape already slows down large scale infrastructural projects in Germany, such as building a railway line. Officials will now additionally have to consider the environmental impact of each decision. Will they ever get something done?

It seems strange: Most people acknowledge environmental pollution that comes in multiple types: polluted air, light pollution and environmental noise. We know that they harm human and animal life. And we know how to address them. But decision makers fail to take bold measures. And managers struggle to implement them. I seek to understand why. We need be aware that environmental protection essentially is a huge management issue. Politicians and managers face multiple interests from different stakeholders. They have to deal with conflicts of interests, goal ambiguity, and goal multiplicity. In my research I am analyzing those conflicts, and the multiple understandings on how a good policy might look like.

It is not a secret that I am a German. In Germany the political discussion centers around a tax on emission of carbon dioxide. In such cases we look for evidence from previous experiences elsewhere to judge this idea. In 2012 Australia introduced a carbon pricing scheme. The plan was to combine a carbon tax with a certificate trading scheme. In a first step federal government sold certificates to emit carbon dioxide to industries. Polluters were able to buy as many certificates as they wanted over a 3 year course. The price was 23 AUD (about 2,000 Rubles) per ton of carbon dioxide. In a second step, according to the initial plan, the scheme would shift into a trading scheme. The amount of emission, i.e. certificates, would have been fixed, market would determine price. But this has never happened. The scheme was scrapped in 2014.

The scheme had mixed impact. Carbon dioxide emission decreased from 407 MtCO2 in 2012 to 393 MtCO2 in 2014, the second year of the scheme. Soon after emission increased and reached pre-tax level in 2016 and 2017 (413 MtCO2). The carbon pricing induced some temporary decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. But it also raised electricity costs for households, i.e. regular people. This undermined the public confidence in the scheme and environmental protection as a whole (https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/case-study/carbon-tax-australia/, 2019-09-05).

A tax on greenhouse gas emission is a measure at federal or European level. I would like to give two brief examples what local decision makers in Germany do to address environmental pollution. Those examples also point to problems of implementation.

Berlin, Germany’s capital has an ambitious vision. City government passed plans on mobility transition (Verkehrswende). Inner-city cycle routes should support bicycle traffic. Sounds good. But the devil is in detail. A closer look at the budget plan reveals that in 2020 only 73,000 Euros (about 5.5 Million Rubles) are dedicated for building new cycle routes. 6.5 Mio. Euros (about 500 million rubles) are available for feasibility studies. Such figures nurture sceptics that green interest group capture policy-making.

Berlin is good in writing plans, but implementation is an area for improvement. Too often elected and appointed officials opt for avoiding blame and conflict. Another goal in Berlin is to replace fossil fuels in public transportation by 2030. New routes for tramways in Berlin are reportedly planned in a way that they do not conflict with existing routes for cars. This leads to contradictions.

Trolleybuses are another approach to e-mobility. They are cheaper compared to tramways as they do not require railway lines. They are more sustainable as they do not require rechargeable batteries. The production of batteries causes huge environmental damages. But supporting power supply lines face resistance from residents and local authorities alike. Key essential is a political will and a clear vision of top decision makers in the administration. In my research I analyze such implementation problems. And I do compare the experiences and trends in Germany with Russia.

Are hybrid and authoritarian regimes the more effective environmentalists?

What about Moscow? The major has a clear vision of Moscow’s future development. The last round of capital renovation extended sidewalks at the expenses of roads.

In public transport Moscow takes bold measures that are necessary to transform mobility. Moscow is a best-practice how to maintain and extend a modern public transportation network. Moscow extends the metro. Moscow opened the new MCC, the Moscow Central Circle. And Moscow works on a network of surban trains to further smooth commuting.

Are hybrid and authoritarian regimes the more effective environmentalists? The answer is a clear no!

All those benefits come at monetary and social costs. Ticket prices increased but are still modest. Construction sites cause long-term noise pollution for residents. Public participation beyond the Active Citizen platform is an area for improvement. Bold actions for sustainable development do not vary by political regime. They vary by awareness, willingness, and ethical standards.

To sum up: Research in political and administrative science investigates government actions. Economists propose measures based on sky-high mathematical models. The School of Governance and Politics at HSE looks at policy-making and implementation at the ground. We investigate conflicts and interests. This enables us to advice what will work and what will probably not. Our research informs decision making. It provides transparency.

I started with a joke. I would like to finish with a quote from Alexander Gerst, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut. He travelled to International Space Station in 2014 and 2018.

“Not everything up here [at the ISS] is just cool and fun. Living in space, even on a space station, imposes multiple privations upon you. But I love my job because I know: it provides a meaning to my life.” (http://blogs.esa.int/alexander-gerst/2018/10/01/deutsch-ein-platz-in-dieser-welt/, 2019-09-05, translation by the author). I consider this an excellent example about what motivates people to do the right and sometimes challenging things. Sustainability starts at the individual level. Looking for a meaning in life is a long-term journey. Studying at HSE might contribute to this endeavor.

Living in Moscow Public Service Delivery public transport

Five new metro stations put into operation on Moscow’s 2nd belt line

Yet an updated metro plan sticker in all the cities metro carriages (pictured above). Four new station on the yellow line in Moscow’s north-east recently were put into operation. Besides extending the yellow line the four new station interconnect with the light blue line, the violet line and the dark green line.

Parts of the new track simultaneously realize the first chunk of the second belt line that is currently under construction across Moscow.

In public services terms accessibility of public transport increased, yet again.


Two circle lines outperform a single one

Here is an follow up to a prior post mentioning the new outer circle line in Moscow which is currently under construction.

The figure below depicts all of the outer metro circle’s 30 new stations (bold) and some major interchanging stations.

This is a quite spectacular, or less fancy, ambitious public infrastructure project, since most parts of it will be located below Moscow’s surface.

The outer circle is expected to provide access to an additional million of community members.


The Moscow Renovation Program 2017: A call for behavioral administrative science

Most local authorities and government in the OECD world have withdrawn from housing activities over the last two decades. LADs in the UK have virtually stopped building new houses in the mid and late 1980ies facing a lack of funding from central government. In Germany local governments have been selling state-owned apartments and real estate since the early 2000ies to consolidate budgets. Berlin sold one of his residential building cooperative to a hedge fund in 2004. Dresden, another German city, did so in 2006. While Dresden got rid of his entire debts due to the deal, Berlin is still facing billions of liabilities due to its cold war legacy of overspending money earned elsewhere. Berlin is one of the fastest growing cities in Germany; real estate market is booming, but the increasing level of rents is also putting stronger pressure on low-income families. Having sold a large chunk of state-owned low price apartments decision makers are now facing a situation in which these low-income families struggle to make a living and to find an apartment. Berlin passed several local laws to stop the rise of rents, but these tools proofed to be ineffective.

Moscow’s city government takes another approach to public housing. In May 2017 “Moscow’s program for renovation” (Московская Программа Реновации) was launched. In short: Residents in a number of run down five-story buildings from the 1960ies, named after the back-then Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, are offered apartments in brand-new apartment blocks in exchange for their current ones. The old buildings will be demolished and probably replaced by new buildings in the future. The new skyscrapers to accommodate residents do already exist (one of these new residential complex is pictured above, in the foreground you can see buildings from the 1960ies, they are somewhat similar the Khrushchev houses, but these ones will not be demolished).

So the idea is quite simple: New apartment and more live satisfaction for a significant number of Muscovites, a lot of them pensioners and low income families – for free! City planners in return receive the opportunity to replace run-down small-sized and low-quality buildings by different facilities. New houses are 20-storys apartment buildings, so 15 additional stories are left to be sold on the real estate market.

The program covers some 4,000 five-story buildings spread across all parts of the city. To close the deal two out of three owners in each five-story building have to agree. Non-decision will be counted as a “Yeah”. The exchange apartment has to be within walking distance, the program reads.

Sounds like a good deal at the expense of Moscow City government. But the large scale program has not come without critics. Two weeks ago (mid-May 2017) Moscow’s Prospekt Akadmika Sacharova, a four lane road in the city center, saw a gathering of some hundred protesters. They were holding posters reading “No to renovation” (Против Ренновацнн).

The Moscow Renovation Program 2017 is an excellent example that psychology is an essential feature of public administration. This is another call for behavioral administrative science. Public administration is as much about motivation, fear and psychology of stakeholders, citizens, public officials as it is about proper work sharing arrangements and organization charts.

The program addresses a very large number of stakeholders with very diverse and diffuse interests. Owners and residents affected by the program are afraid of two things: First they are afraid of losing their property. They ask for guarantees. The supersonic transformation from planning to market economy nullified social norms and the right of ownership. There is more than one story where old people were literally thrown out of their apartments in return for nothing in the 1990ies. Ownership on paper counts little. These experiences have been shaping post-soviet collective memory. Second they are afraid of uncertainty. They are used to their place of living, neighborhood, relatives, friends and the shop next door. Relocation even within walking distance will change this environment in the short term.

Generally speaking Moscow’s Renovation Program 2017 has to overcome a situation in which a significant share of stakeholders prefers short term stability and utility over improvements in the mid-and long term.


A New Bus Scheme for Moscow

Moscow introduced a new public bus system in early October. Muscovites will experience five new features:

  • New buses. Newly bought cars in Mosgortrans corporate skyblue-color replace significant number of old vehicles. As far I have been observing mainly trolleybuses have been replaced.
  • New routes: Several old routes covering the same main roads have been merged and renumbered. Take Leninskiy Prospekt as an example: Former bus routes 33, 64 and 84 all went from cinema center Udarnik down Leninskiy Prospekt and then to the area around Metro Station Yougo Spanaja, and even beyond. All three have been merged into the new route M4. I consider this to be a good thing, since it avoids confusion and clear-cuts the endless list of existing bus routes in Moscow.
  • Semi-public Marshrutkas have been completely abolished. Both in peak hours and in late evening these seemingly licensed mini-taxis carried a significant number of passengers on the main traveling routes. Standard fare was 35 or 40 rubles, which is less than the standard fare of 50 rubles for a single ride in Metro or buses. Now they have disappeared over night.
  • New social routes. There are new bus routes which intend to bring community members to social institutions like hospitals, or one stop agencies.
  • New designated bus lanes. In front of Bolshoi theater for instance there is now a bus lane heading down to Okhotny riad. Before the new scheme you could only travel into direction of Lubyanka and Kitai Gorod.

At least to me the new scheme demonstrates a significant amount of innovative and error-correcting behavior within Moscow City government and administration. And it’s already the second innovation in public transport within the last six months, the first being the launch of the new Moscow Ring Railway, or Moscow Central Circle.

One costly potential improvement is still left: Installing display panels at all bus stations. Because uncertainty about the next departure, that is, waiting time, is a main source of dissatisfaction among passengers.

featured picture above: Moscow’s Kremlin in the late evening, Bus route M1 will take you there.


No matter what’s your profession – let’s bike to work

“No matter what’s your profession- let’s bike to work” reads a bicycle drive approved by Moscow City Government I recognized in the metro yesterday.

The poster indicates that there will be a kind of action day on 20th of May. The City Government of Moscow launched similar campaigns to boost the share bicycling in public transportation in recent years. Bicycle-sharing stations are visible all over the city. Green colored bicycle lanes of some hundred miles length have been created in major routes throughout the capital. From time to time I am even witnessing some brave bicyclists on the bus lane of Leninskiy prospekt.

I appreciate these policy-actions.

To the reader it might be noteworthy that the bicycle-use drive is supported / co-organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a partisan endowment from the German Social Democratic party.

How to cite: Tim Jaekel (2016): „It doesn’t matter who you are working with – you may bike to work“. Publicsector-research.net. Retrieved YYYY-MM-DD. (add current date here, e.g. 2016-04-23)


LeCorbusier in Moscow

Public Administration is more or less about how to manage large organizations and to enable individuals within them to take effective decision. Or as Herbert A. Simon put it in the 4th ed. of his seminal book on Administrative Behavior:

„Administrative behavior is generally upbeat about organizations (…) and particulary on the conditions that enable them to operate well“ (H. A. Simon 1997, Administrative Behavior. The Free Press, p. viii)


We are quite well informed about models that seek to explain how people take decisions. I wonder whether there is rich evidence on how the architecture of a public agency building impacts organizational performance.


Does the Russian Federal Statistical Office perform better because its employees work in a building designed by LeCorbusier? Well, there will be better predictors of organizational performance. But it is nice to have a look at this building.


LeCorbusier won an international competition in 1928 to design this bulding, which is located in Myasnitskaya Street, some 300m away from Metro Station Chistye Prudy.




Kitay-Gorod, Part II

The lower part of Kitay-Gorod situated next to Moscow River was a living area mainly for poor people. Floods were a frequent event. The first port could be found there. Two storey houses dominated, with shops in the first floor, and apartments in the 2nd one.


Il’inka Street (ильинка ул.) was the place to negotiate and close financial deals. Street hosted several hostels for merchants. Most hostels belonged to Moscow monasteries. Pictured above is such building that once hosted such a monastery hostel. The former stock exchange was located at Birzhevaya square (Биржевая пл.).


Nikol’skaya ul. (Никольцкая ул.), today the most vibrant and fancy part of Kitay-Gorod was the area for academic purposes back then. Bookshops and printing presses could be found there.


In the area around Varvarka Street there was also an Open Market Space with several small lanes designated to particular good. In Rybny lane (russ. Рыбныи переулок), which still exist today (pictured) one could get seafood for instance.

Nowadays Il’inka Stree (ильинка ул.) is home to several financial state institutions. You can spot the front of the Federal Ministry of Finance, for instance. Passing by HSE’s Political Science Department (also very important) the Constitutional court can be recognized by its impressive clock (though not by an informative label such as mounted on the Ministry of Finance).


In current Moscow terms, Kitay-Gorod is quite small. At the height of Kitay-Gorod Metro Station there were closing wall and gate. Lubyanskaya square (Лубянская пл.), and also Myasnitskaya Street (Мясницкая ул.) were and are not part of Kitay-Gorod.



Kitay-Gorod, Part I

Today, Anna Lapidus and Narina Dadayan from the Higher School of Economics delivered a splendid walking tour through one of the oldest parts of Moscow: Kitay-Gorod.


Russia history is complex and multifaceted (too multifaceted for Google’s algorithms; typing Китай-город into Google Translate yields ‚China Town‘ – a translation that is at least misleading. Kitay-Gorod has neither strings attached to China nor anything in common with similarly named districts common in North American cities). There are two sense making explanations for the name. The first one is that Kitay derives from the old Russian word кита, fence; the district of wooden fence. The settlement of Moscow was founded in 1147, with the Kremlin at its centre. Kitay gorod is the area that was constructed next to the Kremlin and fortified with wooden fences.


The second potential explanation refers to the Italian word città, town or city. Italian architects designed large parts of the Kremlin’s architecture in the 15th and 16th century.


The former explanation is the more popular one. The latter one makes more sense, at least to me.


The district of Kitay-Gorod was and is still composed of three main roads: Nikol’skaya ul. (Никольцкая ул.), Il’inka ul. (ильинка ул.), and Varvarka Street (Варварка ул.). Varvarka Street was the religious street. Several churches have been located there. The first Romanov tsar was born in one of the houses located in Varvarka Street. Literally the Russian word Варвар comes from Barbars. Back then all foreigner that did not speak Russian were entitled to be called Barbars. So Varvarka Street was the street for the foreign traders. Nomen est omen.