Коттеджные посёлки (cottage-style settlements), situated on the outskirts of Russian cities, are not popular places to live but have a certain charm about them come sunset.
Unlike Brits, few Russians aspire to live in a detached home. The area in which I live on my year abroad is one of the furthest from the centre of Novosibirsk, and the third least popular of all the municipal areas in the city.
Previously nobody aspired to live in detached homes because they require maintenance and are far away from workplaces and transport links. Previously they formed separate villages, and as the city has expanded over the years, they have become neighbours with the factories and industrial hubs.
The least attractive aspect of the area is not just its location, but the high crime rates and substance abuse of the local residents.
Over the last 5-10 years something akin to gentrification has happened in this area, after police cleaned out the majority of mafia groups and drug networks. Buyers saw the potential to build big houses on cheap land, which helped make the area safer.
Unlike in Europe, where it’s desirable to buy a period home in order to flip it and do a shabby chic makeover, century old houses are considered unfit for purpose as they are prone to cold, collapsing or burning.
Instead of saving money over time to do an extension or even partial renovation, people repair and replace as money allows, so every house is a work in progress. Car parts and building materials lie around, waiting to be useful.
There is no sense of attachment towards the features of cottage-style homes, and therefore little sense of loss if a quaint 20th century cottage is torn down to build safer, more functional new apartment blocks.
Only in the last 8-10 years has the area become a safer, more socially acceptable place to live, thanks to the construction of a huge apartment complex.
The complex was initially targeted at families and young professionals as its location was between the city centre and university city (equivalent to Hitchin between London and Cambridge). Higher rent was charged in order to entice more a more civilised group of potential buyers, but this strategy failed and so a few years ago, the asking prices were lowered. Now the demographic of the area is not just a mix of middle-class students and young families, but also those who used to live in the village complex.
The Kevin McCloud in me looks at all the barn-style houses as potential for amazing renovations and escapes to the country. Unfortunately the brickwork and plumbing in many of them would require a complete overhaul of the structure, so for now I am just grateful looking at the pink sky above the smoking chimneys.