January 27, 2016

Salt and Loathing in St. Petersburg

Salt and Loathing in St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, winter 2016. Photo by Darina Gribova.

As any invading army throughout history can tell you, there's nothing unusual about heavy snowfall in Russian cities. But this force that has helped defeat French legions and German divisions is also an ordinary concern in Russians’ everyday lives. Usually, there's little cause for celebration, when considering the Russian winter. This season, however, thousands of people in St. Petersburg are so happy with their winter that they're asking to pin a medal on the city official who pioneered a new approach to snow removal.

In previous winters, St. Petersburg has had to put up with grisly winter conditions: salt and snow-melting chemicals littered the streets, inevitably leading to a dirty mush that damaged shoes, ruined cars, and even stung animals’ paws. Every year, the city's people complained, giving municipal officials dismally low approval ratings, and every year the city repeated the same approach to getting rid of snow and ice.

This year, the city Committee on Municipal Improvement finally changed its snow-removal tactics, and it's bathing in the public's adoration, as a result.

What is St. Petersburg doing differently? Officials stopped using reagent chemicals, reduced the amount of salt it uses to 5-10 percent, and instead added more sand on the streets (to avoid ice-slicks). Instead, the city is focusing its efforts on active snow removal from roads and sidewalks. You can even track the work of snow-disposal equipment using an interactive map in realtime.

In order to appreciate fully what impact these reforms have on life in St. Petersburg, you need look no further than an online poll launched a week ago on a major Vkontakte community dedicated to local traffic and road safety issues. At the time of this writing, more than 30,185 votes were cast, with just 2,464 people complaining of slipperiness on the streets. Meanwhile, a whopping 17,770 drivers and 9,952 pedestrians expressed total satisfaction with the city's new snow-removal policy. Moreover, people keep sending messages of thanks to the city's Committee on Municipal Improvement.

Though the RuNet has come to be known as the playground of trolls, bots, and hackers, the outpouring of support and gratitude appears to be genuine—even heartfelt.

On Facebook, Anna Zubakina wrote:

Большое спасибо за отказ от применения реагентов, душа радуется как чисто и красиво вокруг!! Машина чистая, обувь тоже, собака больше не обжигает лапы – одно удовольствие! Пожалуйста, продолжайте и дальше также!
Many thanks for ending the use of reagents! The soul rejoices as it's so clear and beautiful around! The car is clean, shoes too, and the dog's paws no longer burn – it's pure joy! Please keep it up!

Lesha Zenin wrote:

Никак не мог понять, откуда это ощущение зимы как в детстве. Теперь все понятно, спасибо за работу.
I couldn't understand why this winter reminds me so of the ones from my childhood. Now I know. Thank you for your work.

Tatyana Pogost said:

Спасибо за чистый город без ужасной слякоти и соли, которая разъедает обувь, автомобили и дыхательные пути. Эта зима в Питере чудесна! Я за то, чтобы и в будущем отказаться от реагентов на дорогах.
Thank you for the clean city without the awful slush and salt that erodes shoes, cars, and lungs. This winter in St. Petersburg is wonderful! I'm all for ending the use of reagents on the roads in future, too.

With a glint of satire in his eye, journalist Sergey Dorenko even dreamed about taking things a bit further in this fairytale:

Санкт-Петербург: 1. Перестали сыпать соль на дороги; 2. Ввод финского вторым языком в школах; 3. Заработная плата в Евро
Saint Petersburg: 1. No salt on the roads; 2. Finnish becomes the second language in schools; 3. Salaries are distributed in euros.

Proud of its public support, the city government highlighted all the love on its official website, quoting praise from citizens both in social media and in mailed letters. Most people singled out the chairman of the committee, Vladimir Rublevskiy, who spearheaded the effort to reduce the use of salt. St.-Petersburg-based artist Karim Ragimov has even launched a petition on Change.org calling for the city to honor Rublevsky with an award. (More than 2,000 people had signed it, at the time of this writing.)

Просим отметить правительственной наградой деятельность Владимира Рублевского, главу комитета по благоустройству Смольного, прекратившего вопиющее ежегодное изнасилование города солью и реагентами в зимний период. За многие годы впервые мы переживаем настоящую красивую снежную зиму в Санкт-Петербурге. Выражаем отдельную благодарность от имени владельцев автомобилей, домашних животных и обуви.
Please bestow state honors on Vladimir Rublevskiy, the head of the Smolny Committee on Municipal Improvement, who stopped the blatant annual violation of the city with salt and reagents in the winter. This year is the first time in many years that we have experienced a beautiful, snowy winter in St. Petersburg. We express our special gratitude on behalf of the owners of cars, pets, and shoes.

Meanwhile, not far outside Moscow, the public is less than satisfied with how officials are managing the local snow-removal process. One group of people even piled a small mountain of snow outside a municipal office, barricading the door of officials meant to be clearing the streets of snow. On Vkontakte, more than 2,500 people applauded the act.

Жители Подмосковья закопали в снег офис коммунальщиков, не справляющихся с уборкой дворов

— Лентач (@oldLentach) January 21, 2016

The residents of Moscow suburbs buried in the snow the office of utility providers who can not cope with cleaning the yards.

This article by Darina Gribova originally appeared on Global Voices on January 24, 2016.

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