A difficult question: Tyumen is the most comfortable city in Russia

For the third time in a row Tyumen has been named the most comfortable city to live in, chosen from 38 Russian cities that are populated by 500,000 people or more. A chief editor and an architect from Tyumen discuss how this reflects the real situation there.

Tura embankment. Tyumen / photo: Vladimir Varfolomeev / Flickr.com

The Department of Sociology of the Financial University under the Government of Russia provided the quality of life in cities rating. A lot of factors were considered, such as the state of health care, education, and housing systems. 

The results should not be taken as something definititive. For example, in the quality of living environment ranking performed by the Russian Union of Engineers, Rosstroy, Rospotrebnadzor and MSU for the Ministry of Economic Development in 2013, Tyumen came in at 19th in the ranking. For that ranking there were 164 participants and data was collected based on 13 indexes. 

720,000 people live in Tyumen and the population increased by 23,000 during 2016. This growth rate is second place among all Russian cities from 500,000 to 1 million residents, after Krasnodar. Strelka Magazine asked Tyumen’s natives who know the city well to talk about what it’s like to live in the most comfortable city in Russia and where the rating got it wrong.

Maria Naumova, chief editor of Tyumen webzine «Neft»

«Tyumen is the best city on Earth». Thist statement, written on a large banner, covered the facade of the First State Printing House in the city center for a few years. The residents of Tyumen ironically recall this unofficial slogan when something unfortunate happens, like the hot water shutoff in summer or there are some discomfitures; for example, the fake light bulbs on the embankment.

Of course, it is much more common for Tyumen citizens to speak proudly of the best city on Earth. The city often places in the top of various ratings; major contests are held here, houses and roads get built. The government even created a website, «yadoveryayu.rf» («ядоверяю.рф»), where the main achievements of the last few years are collected. It is as if there was a big bright rainbow hanging over Tyumen, which declares to the whole world that this place is the best. To make sure that it’s true, let’s go on a virtual tour of Tyumen. 

«Roschino» Airport. Tyumen / Photo: ядоверяю.рф

Let’s imagine that you came by plane. You land in Roshchino Airport, which will be fully reconstructed by the end of 2016. The Tyumen airport had led the anti-rating of Russia’s worst airports for several years in a row. Not long ago the passengers of some flights would come down the ramp and simply walk from the plane to the baggage claim hall. Now the district administration plans to transform Roshchino into the aviation hub, increase passenger traffic and expand the network of interregional transportation. 

The route from Roshchino to the city center is quite short. And if you have ever been in other regions of Russia, the quality of roads would probably be the first thing you appreciate. 2.625 billion rubles were allocated from the budget for road-building, reconstruction and repair in 2016 alone. The roads are constantly being renovated; that’s why Tyumen citizens consider «typical Russia» pictures with wrecked asphalt somewhat fictional. 

Photo: Danil Starikov
Photo: Danil Starikov
Photo: Danil Starikov

There are many cars: about 380,000 cars for 700,000 citizens. In order to get rid of traffic jams the government creates new overpasses on the outskirts. In August 2014 traffic lanes for public transport were implemented on the main highways. This is a way of making bus transportation more appealing. 

If you ask citizens where you definitely must go in Tyumen, everyone will answer: the embankment. Tura embankment is the most expensive and impressive public space in the city — a four-level construction made of granite, marble, and concrete. It is rightfully called the face of Tyumen. 

In general, Tyumen is a well-maintained city with a variety of parks and green zones. Since 2014 several gardens and squares have been repaired at the initiative of the local administration. All of them are arranged in roughly the same way: benches, a playground, and horizontal bars. The plan is to connect public spaces with a network of bike paths 200 km long. The building of the paths began in 2016. Aside from the gardens, the building yards are also being repaired in Tyumen. Every summer, city services renovate about 50 yards. Heating networks, asphalt, sidewalks and playgrounds are being replaced. 

In May 2013 the administration launched the «Tyumen is our home» portal. It is a website where one can monitor the snow removal equipment, or send a complaint concerning garbage not being removed, non-working lighting and other housing inconveniences. 

Tyumen State University (TSU) / Photo: ядоверяю.рф

If you want to get an education in Tyumen, you have the choice of several major universities, the largest of which include Tyumen State University (TSU) and Tyumen Industrial University (TIU). The latter was formed in 2016 after the merger of the Oil and Gas University and the University of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering. TIU obtained the status of a supporting university, which is supposed to make the institution more respectable and improve the quality of education. Tyumen State University participates in the «5-100» project. The goal of TSU’s administration is to enter the top 100 best educational institutions of three prestigious global ratings. 

The status of the capital of an oil and gas region defines the field of education. The basic specialties are the oil and gas industry, the chemical industry, mechanical engineering and economics. TSU, Tyumen State Institute of Culture and TIU also have programs in the fields of humanities, design, fashion, media, communications, culture and art. 

The generally pleasant atmosphere in the city and the work of officials and city departments eliminate the necessity of the corruption that is common elsewhere. An inquiry, permit or any other document can be acquired at a single window at a Multifunctional center, which provides government and municipal services. There is no point in kickbacks anymore.

Ekaterina Nagibina, a researcher at the Institute of Architecture at the University of Liechtenstein; graduated from Tyumen State University of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering in 2011; left Tyumen three years ago

I want to emphasize that I am not a supporter of any ratings and the fact that Tyumen was considered the most comfortable city does not imply that it has an objectively high quality of life. It only implies that the quality of life in Tyumen is higher than in other Russian cities, according to the criteria of the rating compilers, which baffles me. 

The criteria, used to evaluate cities consist of just some basic things that are supposed to be there at all times. I would rate cities using different criteria, which would allow discussing the quality of life itself: 

First, an active cultural and social life in the city, meaning the presence of, and preferably a variety of theaters, museums, and educational institutions. Another criterion would be the development of pedestrian infrastructure and the public transport system. 

Another criterion would be the city’s ecology: thequality of air and water. 

Bortsov Revolutsii square. Tyumen / Photo: Danil Starikov
Bortsov Revolutsii square. Tyumen / Photo: Danil Starikov
Public garden of Neftyanikov. Tyumen / Photo: Danil Starikov
Bortsov Revolutsii square. Tyumen / Photo: Danil Starikov

Right after graduating from university in Tyumen in 2011, I decided to continue my education in the field of architecture. It took me about a year to choose the program and prepare all the necessary documents and in the summer of 2013 I left Tyumen. Since then I’ve come back here twice a year or more and at least one of those times I try to stay here for no less than a month. It is funny that Tyumen has led this rating for the last three years, exactly since I moved. Although a huge poster that used to proclaim Tyumen the best city on Earth (and also cover the demolished facade of the former printing house on Pervomayskaya street) appeared long before any official ratings. 

Certainly Tyumen is being built up; it’s growing and changing, sometimes with astonishing speed. Every time I come home, my parents drive me over the new bridge, road, or overpass, by a new office building, multilevel parking garage or enormous mall. The province, which I wasn’t that familiar with before, now has lost any sense for me. Rows of standard houses form standard yards, yards — blocks, blocks — micro districts. My grandmother quit moving around the city in her last years because she was afraid that she might get lost in the city where she lived her entire life. Even though it used to take ten minutes to get from her house to ours by bus in a straight line, without any turns or transfers. 

The comfort of drivers on city roads seems to be an extremely important issue. Just within my recollection the city’s main street — Respubliki street — has been expanded twice. It was done at the expense of green spaces the first time, the second time — at the expense of the sidewalk. In certain places it turned out really absurd: two people walking towards each other can not pass without bumping into one another. On the other hand, the road expansion allowed fora separate lane for public transport. The problem is that I don’t really feel like getting into an old bus reeking with nauseating diesel. And that’s how it works with everything. 

Photo: Danil Starikov

It seems like plenty is being done: they put up a fence (completely tasteless, though), painted the curbs (what’s the point of painting them anyway?), arranged a new public garden (although a playground slide is in the form of an oil derrick), set up some new street lamps (although they stand so close to one another that it seems like there are just too many and they take too much space) — but there’s no sense of satisfaction. Generally, I support the idea of a sober assessment of the city and the projects in the context of its long-term development, as opposed to solving immediate problems in an attempt to raise one’s position in some rating. 

I don’t think that people leave Tyumen, Moscow or any other city out of disappointment in the city itself, definitely not because of bad roads or ratings. We simply live in a new world where this kind of mobility is more available, and if someone wishes to go, he or she will. I know a lot of people who moved away from Tyumen and I know enough people who came back and are quite happy and successful there.