Russia Behind the Double Veil: Using Integral Eyes to See Russia’s Cities

In May I visited Russia and was surprised to have my stereotypes of the country and the people overturned.

Russian Map

Using Integral City eyes, helped me penetrate behind two polarizing veils – one defensive and self-justifying (aggrandizing?) filter  created by Russia herself through state-influenced (controlled?) media and the other an accusatory finger-pointing filter fabricated by the western media. The two poles feed off each other and screen the real Russia I viewed with appreciation through Integral City Lenses.

The Nobel Prize of City Capacity-building projects was an Urbanfest event that created a perfect habitat for hearing from the City Voices of 15 Russian cities (from the 44 cities represented at Urbanfest).

What struck me, as I listened to the teams of each presenting city, was that each project spoke from one or more of the Integral City quadrivium of Voices.

4 Voices of the City

4 Voices of the City


Here are just a few examples.

From Perm, we heard about the “Pianos in the Streets”.

Pianos in the Streets http://www.360cities.net/image/white-nights-2012-a-piano-in-the-street-trk-semya-food-court#16.10,18.60,70.0

Pianos in the Streets http://www.360cities.net/image/white-nights-2012-a-piano-in-the-street-trk-semya-food-court#16.10,18.60,70.0


Russian nobel Perm


This Project brought music to unusual places in Perm – literally placing 18 pianos around the city for anyone to play. They placed 9 of them in the streets and contrary to predictions all pianos were played and none were stolen or vandalized.

From Saratov we heard about a project that started with a book of  “Shame” about the Saratov region that showed many negative things in the city.



But after seeing the reaction of residents, the initiators reversed their approach and set out to implement a series of informative and recreational projects that opened up the city to new perspectives. They incorporated walking tours not only to historical places  cities, but to unusual locations like, baths and saunas. They then went on to offer theater, church and tram tours. In one month they gained 1500 participants, and found out that people are even willing to pay for excursions – thus they are creating a new recreational economic sector.

From North Norilsk, (the most northern city inside the Arctic Circle) we heard about an urban agricultural project.

Russian Nobel North Norilsk

North Norilsk

Despite the 9 months of winter this city experiences, it is acting as a model for mapping the green areas of the city. Replacing shrubs and bushes that are poorly adapted to arctic conditions, with special grass seed that is well adapted, NN mapped 180 new lawns – and a multitude of gardens that appeared on porches and balconies (on the typical 9 story residential apartment buildings).

Several cities reported on projects that addressed waste management, recycling and environmental recovery. In the Chelyabinsk Region schools resurrected an old practice of school children recycling paper.




As a result they were able to both capitalize on the modern students’ efforts (receiving payment from a recycling firm) and developed a teachers training manual exploring the effect of debris on the environment, which has been successfully used in the classroom. Sevastopol organized an online  site where concerned city residents can upload photos of illegal dump sites. If more than 100 people complain they forward the complaint to the authorities for action.  As a result, they already eliminated more than 250 dumpsites (and 1/3 of the problem sites have been eliminated even before a complaint is filed).

These are just a sample of the many worthy projects vying for the Nobel Prize (1) for City Development. Each one is involving multiple city voices and each deserves a resounding round of applause and encouragement for taking innovative and appreciative approaches to making each city (and many regions) more alive and more resilient.

… oh and by the way, if you want to become more Integral (in your worldviews, values and leadership) we can highly recommend the practice of “travel”. When you meet real people on your travels it can take you places you  never even knew existed – like behind the 2 veils that hide the goodness of the Russian soul from the rest of the world.



(1) The Nobel that this prize is named after is the older (and richer oil and factory baron) Ludvig, brother of the more famous Alfred.


About the Author:

HI I am the Founder of Integral City Meshworks Inc. and Chief Blogger. Working with cities and eco-regions, I ‘meshwork’ or weave people, purpose, priorities, profits, programs and processes to align contexts, grow capacity and develop strategies for sustainability and resilience in the Integral City. You can read more details about me here http://integralcity.com/about/about-the-founder/


  1. Alia A July 4, 2014 at 7:06 am - Reply

    Your stories give us the benefit of travel second-hand, even if we can’t get there first-hand. Thank you! So inspiring to hear these concerns (and positive initiatives) which appear to be in many cities in many countries, and spanning many eco-regions, too.

  2. Marilyn Hamilton July 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Thanks Alia for being the one who reminded me that travel broadens the (integral) mind. And for me, stories like these open the (integral) heart.

  3. […] « Russia Behind the Double Veil: Using Integral Eyes to See Russia’s Cities […]

Leave A Comment