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… back to the USSR

I

first went to Russia in 1992, on assignment for several magazines and a radio network. It wasn’t long after the immediate euphoria of the ripping down of the iron curtain yet it was while the perestroika hangover was still causing pain. There were massive food shortages, housing was unavailable for many, the government seemed to have disappeared and the mafia quickly capitalized on the chaos.

But one of the most startling things I noticed was the decrepit infrastructure. Streets were a disaster of heaving concrete, broken curbs, fractured sidewalks and fetid puddles. Public areas like parks were full of uncut grass, dandelions everywhere. Deserted buildings and packs of roving drunks outside created a bit fear for both residents and visitors.

In St. Petersburg and Moscow it looked run down, unattractive, untended and forgotten. Part of the shock of seeing this was because during the cold war we had been led to believe that the USSR was a formidable enemy, well-funded and ready to invade at a moment’s inattention. What a surprise to find that they couldn’t even afford to fix their streets.

Now, 18 years later, I’m reminded of the Soviet bloc in parts of Winnipeg. Many streets here are a disaster of heaving concrete, broken curbs, fractured sidewalks and fetid puddles. Public areas like parks are full of uncut grass and dandelions are everywhere. Deserted buildings, like those along the downtown part of the main street, and packs of roving drunks outside create a bit fear for both residents and visitors.

It looks run down, unattractive, untended and forgotten. What a surprise to realize that we can’t even afford to fix our streets.