St. Petersburg, 5 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Until recently, a letter describing St. Petersburg's appearance almost certainly included adjectives such as dilapidated and neglected. But the city has started a major cleaning campaign, and the difference is already noticeable.
Last week St. Petersburg officials announced the final results of the "Clean City" competition, which pitted city districts against one another in a public works beautification contest. Most significantly, the competition received considerable support from local business community. Many entrepreneurs, who previously rarely gave to causes that brought no immediate profit, contributed this time to sprucing up their districts.
Not wishing to lose an opportunity to show off months of hard labor, city officials took journalists on a tour of newly-spruced sites in the city's center: charming little courtyards, newly-arranged children's playgrounds, refurbished monuments, freshly painted facades, and sleek, snazzy kiosks.
This is in the central districts. Elsewhere, there is still much work to be done.
In working class districts that were off the official tour, reality is quite different. "What do I think of my courtyard? A dirty, disgusting unbearable place that cannot be criticized enough," says 55-year-old Tatiana Moranevich, a resident in the city's industrial Nevsky district, told RFE/RL. And her situation is still the norm in the city.
The beautification contest is just the first step on the way to what city fathers hope will be a victorious bid for the title of "Cleanest Russian City".
President Boris Yeltsin was so impressed by St. Petersburg's public works contest during his visit here last June that he decreed a national "Cleanest Russian City" contest to be held. Winners will be announced by next May, and receive a premium of 20 billion rubles (more than $3 million).
The contest is organized by the Ministry of Construction and the Union Of Russian Cities, a non-government organization established in 1991 to coordinate activities between city administrations and the federal government.
The competition's goal goes beyond just giving a fresh coat of paint to aging facades or laying new roads. It hopes to instill civic spirit into citizens' hearts.
An official at the union, Alexander Dreier, thinks such a voluntary, spontaneous approach is urgently needed. "In Soviet times there was a plan for public works, but the system was not effective," he says, "We need to create a system of incentives so that people want to do something for their city, and not feel forced to do so."