20 miles south of Novosibirsk
Submitted by: Alexander Blakely
An academic oasis in the midst of the vast Siberian taiga.
Despite the Siberian cold (and Soviet planners), Akademgorodok is a robust pedestrian community. The town is home to dozens of academic institutions and the University of Novosibirsk, so there are always plenty of fresh student faces as well as the respected visages of professors along the town's main street, Illicha.
What really sets this town apart from others, in terms of public spaces, is its network of well-used pedestrian paths. These trails are the sinewy arteries of this vibrant town. They are an organic part of the landscape. The wide streets are busy twice a day with cars and buses slipping and sliding along the ice. The trails, by contrast, are almost always buzzing with activity. As the day progresses, the composition of the walkers changes. The first people to set out on the trails are those commuting to work, followed by children walking to school, followed by grandmothers walking to their favorite gathering spot (usually a bench), followed by folks on errands, professionals headed to lunch, etc.
In the afternoon, it's the same people in reverse order, heading home. The groups overlap and meet each other on the paths, stopping for a few minutes to exchange news and indulge in gossip. In the evening, lovers walk along the more secluded trails.
What Makes Akademgorodok, Siberia a Great Place?
Akademgorodok is linked to the city of Novosibirsk by road, river, and railroad. The road is used by three bus routes (local #22, semi-express #8, express #15), official taxis ($5 for the 30 minute drive), and private cars. The river has a passenger ferry service, but a dam in between Novosibirsk and Akademgorodok restricts commuter travel. Along the railroad is a commuter service used by many to get from the bustling heart of downtown Novosibirsk to the bucolic edge of Akademgorodok. But the pedestrian paths, in addition to weaving the town together, also link it with destinations beyond the town: the beach at the Ob Sea, the woods (for berry picking and mushroom gathering), and even nearby villages.
Litter has become a huge problem because of the arrival of Western disposable products. Gum and candy wrappers, soda cans, etc. are tossed into the snow and forgotten about for months. But Spring reveals a winter's worth of refuse, covering the forest floor.
Everybody in town uses the paths - all age groups. And they use them not only for transportation, but also for exercise. They use them to fall in love or court potential lovers. People walk along the paths while their dogs (or children) frolick nearby. One of the neat aspects of the trails is that, since there are so many, you can choose from the many different ways to get from point A to point B. Stores, houses, offices, and playgrounds are scattered in places, clustered in others, but they are all within walking distance.
The paths are not where you plan to meet, they are the places where you run into familiar people by happenstance, which makes meeting friendly faces all the more enjoyable. Playing children are almost always within sight, and always within earshot.
History & Background
I lived for four years in this town and relished the emotional, social, and physical benefits of living in a vibrant, if cold, pedestrian community. I miss it very much now that I'm back in the US, where cars take priority over community.
I wrote a book about, among other things, the joys of living in this town. It's called Siberia Bound: Chasing the American Dream on Russia's Wild Frontier.
- New Atlantis Revisited: Akademgorodok, the Siberian City of Science - Winner of the 1998 Marshall Shulman Book Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies - published by Princeton University Press
- Siberia Bound - by Alexander Blakely