The digital projects of Veronika Yukalova and Galina Belozerova focus on the human factor, for example in a music label supporting buskers and a city app for the visually impaired. A trip around Moscow in a smart fortwo.
Moscow remains mainly unknown in the West. Which urban trend has impacted Moscow in 2016?
Veronika Yukalova: Muscovites are always active and enjoy being outdoors: There are yoga classes happening in the parks, and during the winter, we have public ice skating rinks there. Furthermore, the city really invested into bicycle paths. This open air trend also results in a large number of festivals. In 2016, we probably had more than ever before. Every weekend, there were two or three festivals going on. A highlight was definitely “Alfa Future People“, taking place towards the end of July near the city. It is one of the largest Russian music and tech festivals. Cool DJs alongside new and cool technology, like chat bots – very fun and very interesting.
What is triggering these new impulses?
Veronika Yukalova: There is a growing number of start-ups that is setting out to changing the scene – starting with a “just do it” approach and the development of innovative apps and services that can improve urban life on a grassroots level.
Moscow is attracting more and more fortune-seekers from all over Russia. The greater metropolitan area has already surpassed the 15 million inhabitant mark. What is the city spirit these days?
Veronika Yukalova: It’s stressful (laughs). You are always in a rush. It’s a big city, offering a lot of opportunities. People work a lot. Especially in advertising, we work long and demanding hours. There’s a million meetings every day. You really have to plan your time wisely – not only because of the looming traffic jams. At the same time, living in such a big city is cool and exciting. Everything is changing all the time.
What are your favorite urban spaces in Moscow?
Galina Belozerova: The entire city centre: There’s many small streets inviting you for a stroll. Also, the city in the morning and at night are two completely different places – a fact that I think is great.
Veronika Yukalova: Gorky Park, right next to our office, is enjoying increasing popularity with the people. It is one of the parks that was really invested into. It has a new museum of modern art, many food joints, and festivals in the summer. In the winter, it has a huge ice rink.
What is the infrastructure like for digital workers, creatives and young entrepreneurs?
Veronika Yukalova: We now have many coworking and creative spaces in Moscow, serving as breeding grounds for start-ups and ideas. Before, you would have had to sit at someone’s home because you couldn’t afford renting an entire office space. These days, you can share spaces with like-minded people who have similar ambitions and goals.
Does Moscow set trends for the rest of Russia?
Veronika Yukalova: Smaller cities in Russia have different rhythms of life and other priorities. We initially develop our concepts here, and later adapt them for export to other cities and regions. In Moscow, there is still a prevailing attitude to let the authorities handle things. Real grassroots change works better in smaller cities.
Two of your recent projects have enjoyed quite the media buzz: “Sound of Change”, a tool for supporting buskers, and “SeeLight”, an app that helps the visually impaired maneuver the city’s streets. Did working on these projects influence your perspective on the city?
Galina Belozerova: When we, together with the team from our agency “Possible”, create projects like “Sound of Change“, we think about people, not the city. For “SeeLight“, we focused on people with visual impairment. We thought about how they connect with the city and their environment. We hope this project helps people live more comfortably. For “Sound of Change”, we thought about street musicians and building connections between cities around the world. If you discover a musician on the streets of a city anywhere in the world, you can directly support them by paying money for their music.
How are these projects performing so far?
Galina Belozerova: We have had a good impact on and positive feedback from music festivals. We are now being approached because of our connections to street musicians. There’s been a lot of interest to collaborate and connect brands to this project.
You’re taking a ride in the smart fortwo today, the ideal car for big and congested cities. Traffic is still an issue in a city like Moscow, right?
Veronika Yukalova: Yes, the constant traffic jams are really challenging, not only during rush hour. People still prefer their car over public transportation. However, during summer, navigating the city is way easier than in winter.
How is the city tackling this issue?
Veronika Yukalova: Our government is testing solutions such as separate lanes for public transport. A while ago, they opened Moscow’s Second Ring – a second circular underground metro line. A new system for paid parking has been set up – up until four years ago, parking was free all across Moscow. The city is also providing parking lots outside of the city centre. The idea is to park there and continue with public transport – to create your individual mobility mix. There is a good network of public membership bikes. You can take these bikes whenever you need to. Locals actually use this option frequently as it is quite convenient for getting around in the city centre. Of course, when it snows, you wouldn’t use it.
In an attempt to mend the gap between East and West: What can other cities learn from Moscow?
Veronika Yukalova: We surely set a good example that peaceful coexistence with around 15 million people of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs is possible.
What can Moscow learn from other cities in return?
Veronika Yukalova: I think Moscow has a hard time learning and adapting to changes. You don’t have many European cities with such a large population. In terms of parks and architecture, we often invite European or American experts to share their experience and help bring in best-practice urban design and other concepts.