From Systemic Underdevelopment to Basic Urban Maintenance: National Priority Projects in the Russian Periphery
The case of urban development in the Russian periphery is often overlooked in the scholarly efforts to theorize the center-periphery dynamics characteristic of the post-socialist contexts, not least in the case of Russia. Consequently, the analysis of urban development initiatives in the regions and provinces defies the logic of large-scale urban projects with characteristic subdominant relations between the state and the private sector, since the latter and the former are tied in competition for limited federal resources. We delve into the particularities of the center-periphery dynamics through the case of the Vologda River embankment renovation project, paying particular attention to the decision-making processes, lack of transparency, and bureaucratic hustle in response to the civil protest—all characteristic of a distinctive, though common across Russia’s peripheral towns, dilemma of systemic underdevelopment vs basic urban maintenance. We rely on discourse analysis of legal and regulatory documents, project plans, meetings proceedings and official correspondence between departmental agencies, and media posts created by the local protest groups during the period of 2018–2019. Through this analysis, we showcase not only the asymmetries of power relations in the postsocialist periphery, but also bureaucratic constraints and uncertainties that often amount to a standstill situation with uncertain prospects for future improvement.