Zelenograd means, in Russian, the Green City. Built in the middle of a beech wood forest in 1958, the city takes its name from the trees between which it sprung up from. Zelenograd is high-rise, with most of the city's buildings standing at 10 to 18 storeys tall. The buildings – their height and their style – are pretty typical 1950s-60s Soviet apartment towers, but what distinguishes Zelenograd from other Russian and post-Soviet cities is that it was planned from scratch, and adapted to a master plan. The planners kept as much of the forest intact as they could, and the white apartment towers which house the city's 240,000 residents stand nestled among the beech trees. Zelenongrad – the Green City.
Zelenograd was built from scratch because the Soviets wanted to create a high-tech, electronic cluster to rival the likes of Silicon Valley in the west. At 37 kilometres from the centre of Moscow, Zelenograd is accessible from the capital via the colloquially named Crimea Highway, a motorway which starts in Crimea and travels all the way up through Russia to Moscow, St. Petersburg and then further north still. Zelenograd is connected to Moscow by rail too. Trains depart from Leningradsky station four times an hour, taking passengers through the outer suburbs of Moscow, over the Moscow Canal and into forest, before arriving at Zelenograd station 55 minutes after embarking from Moscow. Many Russians commute between Zelenograd and Moscow every day, but back in Soviet times travel wasn't as easy, for Zelenograd was once one of the Soviet Union's closed cities. Soviet citizens could enter Zelenograd through a checkpoint, but they faced restrictions when there; taking photographs of most of the buildings in Zelenograd was prohibited. Non-Soviet citizens were denied access to Zelenograd altogether.
As the Russian Federation emerged from the charred embers of the Soviet Union, Zelenograd opened up and was integrated into administrative region of Moscow. Geographically Zelenograd remains a distinct city in its own right, separated from Moscow by the surrounding forest that gave it its name, but for governmental purposes the Green City is a region of the capital. The reason for this Zelenograd's integration into Moscow was to do with how the Russian Federation pays it state pensions; the value of a Russian citizen's pension is based open his or her postcode, and those that live in Moscow receive far more than those who live elsewhere in the country. Because of Zelenograd's role as a high-tech, microelectronics city, it had always been home to many highly-qualified engineers and scientists, and new Russian government thought the only way to keep the skilled workforce there – and therefore keep Zelenograd viable in the post-Soviet world – was to offer the city the same high pensions and benefit perks that Moscow enjoyed. Today, therefore, Zelenograd is Moscow’s 10th administrative region.
I visited Zelenograd in July of 2017, and found the city to be one big open air museum to Soviet architecture and urban planning. Although only 37 kilometres from Moscow's city centre (a miniscule distance by Russian standards), life in Zelenograd is differently entirely to life in the capital. I hope the pictures here often a snapshot into urban but provincial Russian life is like.
Zelenograd’s train station is entitled Krukovo, named after the village which once existed in the forest where Zelongrad was built in the 1960s. Krukovo station’s platform steps lead straight down to Zelenograd’s market – indoor and outdoor – which is arguably the beating heart of the city. Here is where most people do their food shopping, haggling for the best prices at the fruit and veg stalls. There is a calibrated scales in the centre of the market where anyone can take a bag of vegetables and verify that the seller hasn’t rigged their own scales to state a higher weight than is actually the case.
Opened on the 17th of April 17, 1983, the Culture Centre in Zelenograd quickly became one of the city’s most important locations. Its unique architectural style made it a landmark in the city, and to this day it stands out as an example of communal Soviet architecture. Cultural centres played an enormous role in Soviet life, with most towns and cities across the socialist republics being home to one. The cultural centre in Zelongrad, though, was particularly large, and particularly central to life in the city; the centre contained a cinema with a 1000 seats, a theatre with 760 seats, a disco hall with capacity for up to 220 people, and the lecture room with 80 seats.