Akademgorodok: Siberia’s Silicon Valley

Tucked away in a remote forest of birch and pine in the heart of Siberia, 3,000 km away from Moscow, at a place where winters are six months long with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degree Celsius and summers are swaddled with mosquitos, is a city built for scientists and researchers. This frozen wasteland is more suited for polar bears than scientific endeavors, but Nikita Khrushchev felt the distance from Moscow was necessary so that the country’s sharpest scientific minds could work together on fundamental research away from the prying eyes of bureaucracy. This is Akademgorodok, or “Academic Town”—the Soviet Union’s answer to America’s Silicon Valley.

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Akademgorodok is situated in the middle of a forest 30 km south of Novosibirsk city. It is one of several Akademgorodoks built between the late 1950s and mid-1970s in Siberia; the Akademgorodok outside Novosibirsk is the most successful one. Located within Akademgorodok is Novosibirsk State University, 35 research institutes, a medical academy, apartment buildings and houses, and a variety of community amenities including stores, hotels, hospitals, restaurants and cafes, cinemas, clubs and libraries. Less than two kilometer away is an artificial beach created by dumping hundreds of tons of sand along the edge of the Ob reservoir.

At its peak, Akademgorodok was home to 65,000 scientists and their families. It was a privilege to live there, and many scholars in the 60s escaped to the frozen hinterland as a sort of voluntary exile in order to be far from the totalitarian rule of the Soviet capital, and lured by the promise of new housing and professional advancement.

Residents enjoyed great levels of freedom and indulged in activities unheard of in any other corner of the Soviet empire. They discussed the foundations of Marxist theory and about economic reforms, read books, listen to poets and singers not approved by the regime. Scientific research in areas dismissed as dangerous pseudoscience in Moscow, such as cybernetics and genetics, flourished.

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Nikita Khrushchev, foreground center, visits Akademgorodok during construction in the 1950s.

Living standards in Akademgorodok were also higher than in the rest of the country. Shops were stocked with subsidized foodstuffs not easily obtainable elsewhere, and apartments were well-furnished. Those who obtained a doctorate were given a special food delivery service, which provided them a wider selection of groceries than the general population could avail. Members of the Academy of Sciences had access to even higher level of services and were allotted single-family residences rather than apartments.

But the utopian vision of no bureaucratic interference proved impossible in the Soviet Union. Freedoms got severely curtailed in the 1970s during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev. Then when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, many of the former communist nation’s best minds fled to the west. But economic reforms brought about by the end of communism saw the beginning of private investment and venture funding in Akademgorodok. From USD 10 million in 1997, this rose to USD 1 billion by 2015. There are some 300 companies operating at Akademgorodok today dabbling on everything from nano-ceramics to motion graphics for the American entertainment industry. Its current population stands at over 100,000.

While the figures pale in comparison to that of other countries and even elsewhere in Russia—Skolkovo, an emerging tech hub on the outskirts of Moscow, for example, has over 1,100 startups generating over USD 1 billion in revenue alone at the end of 2014—Akademgorodok will remain as Russia’s original Silicon Valley.

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Los Angeles: the freeway capital of the universe

 

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Postcard from the 1960’s.

The Southern California freeways are a network of interconnected freeways in the megaregion of Southern California, serving a population of 22 million people. A comprehensive freeway plan was produced in 1947 and with construction beginning in the 1950s. The plan hit opposition and funding limitations in the 1970s and by 2004 some 61% of the original planned network had been completed.

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The Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange is a stack interchange near the Athens and Watts communities of Los Angeles, California.

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The Inland Empire (I.E.) is a region in Southern California. The term may be used to refer to the cities of western Riverside County and southwestern San Bernardino County. A generally broader definition will include eastern Los Angeles County cities in the Pomona Valley, and/or the desert community of Palm Springs as well as its surrounding area; a much larger definition will include all of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The term “Inland Empire” is documented to have been used by the Riverside Enterprise newspaper (now The Press-Enterprise) as early as April 1914. Developers in the area likely introduced the term to promote the region and to highlight the area’s unique features. The “Inland” part of the name is derived from the region’s location, about 60 miles (97 km) inland from Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The area has a population of approximately 4.2 million people.

 

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The Private Homes of Moscow

The vast majority of Muscovite’s live in apartment buildings.  In the Soviet era private property was sacrilegious. It was a communal society from top to bottom.  Under the later Soviet regimes people could apply to live in the Dachas – country houses just outside the city.  To get into a Dacha one had to be extremely pro-regime and wait on a very long list. It was a type of reward.

Almost a 100 percent of Moscow residents live in high-rise apartment buildings.

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Because there are so many tall apartment buildings, Moscow has more elevator lifts than any other city in the world.

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How about living in the suburbs? Some people do indeed live at their dachas (and in that case these are more like country houses), but there is no such thing as suburbia in the “American way of thinking”. People do not move to suburbs when they start families and want to raise kids. People want to have an apartment in the city as the permanent home and dacha as a summer-house for weekends. And those people, who do live outside of the city, but work in the center are heavily penalized for the opportunity to have fresh air by sitting in traffic jams on their way to and from work for many hours every day.

So, 99% of Russians, living in the city do live in apartments. To have a private house within the city limits is super rare. There are just several townhouse communities in Moscow and all of them were established in the recent decade or two.*

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They all have big fences surrounding the houses.

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This looks like a 4 car garage.

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The Dachas are not really lined on streets, in the North American sense, but narrow back lanes.

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Some have really impressive fences and gates.

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Back in the city, strange parking arrangement. Going over a curb.

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Source: Google maps, *understandrussia.com

 

Las Vegas in the early days

The Mighty Vegas Strip today.

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The Beginnings…

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Las Vegas started as a stopover on the pioneer trails to the west, and became a popular railroad town in the early 20th century. It was a staging point for mines in the surrounding area, especially those around the town of Bullfrog, that shipped goods to the rest of the country.

With the proliferation of the railroads, Las Vegas became less important, but the completion of the nearby Hoover Dam in 1935 resulted in growth in the number of residents and increased tourism.The dam, located 30 mi (48 km) southeast of the city, formed Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake and reservoir in the United States.

The legalization of gambling in 1931 led to the advent of the casino hotels for which Las Vegas is famous. Major development occurred in the 1940s, “due almost entirely” to the influx of scientists and staff from the Manhattan Project, an atomic bomb research project of World War II.

American organized crime figures such as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky managed or funded most of the original large casinos. The rapid growth of Las Vegas is credited with dooming the gambling industry development of Galveston, Texas; Hot Springs, Arkansas; and other major gambling centers in the 1950s.

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