MYPLACE team members at Centre for Youth Research, Higher School of Economics (St Petersburg), present their latest blog this one on observations of one of their MYPLACE field locations, Kupchino.
For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE
Kupchino is the informal name for the part of the Frunzensky administrative district in the south of St. Petersburg. Soviet-time panel housing, broad avenues, lots of open space – everything is big here, too big for people. The landscape is quite boring – what you see are the monotonous ‘type design’ buildings from 1970s and 1980s with only a few new constructions.
Though Kupchino is not (geographically) far from the historical centre of St. Petersburg it feels isolated. The district is separated from the ‘mainland’ by the industrial area in the north, railways in the east and west, and the ring road in the south. The district with more the 390 thousands inhabitants only has one underground station – on the periphery, near the southern border of the city. Navigation is thus quite complicated: people have to take buses, marshrutki (small buses operated by private companies) and trams to get to the metro stations in other parts of the city. Most of them do it every day – many people work and study in other parts of St. Petersburg.
But the worst thing is that Kupchino has a bad reputation in St. Petersburg. When one asks the St. Petersburg dwellers about the areas in the city where they wouldn’t recommend a visitor to go – they will probably mention Kupchino. It is believed that all the gopniki (bandits) live in Kupchino, and it’s better to avoid the neighborhood. Especially by night.
These are the usual ‘Kupchino’ stereotypes well known in St. Petersburg: dangerous, ugly and remote. The interesting fact is that the locals, kupchintsy (Kupchino inhabitants) as they call themselves, would not agree. Kupchino has probably the strongest local identity among all the districts in St. Petersburg. One of our focus-group participants (in the framework of the WP3) who happened to be from Kupchino mentioned this when he introduced himself to the others: “I’m from Kupchino. Well, I think that already tells you a lot about me”.
There are lots of blogs, sites and forums on the Internet dedicated to Kupchino, its history and everyday life. There are groups in the popular social network “Vkontakte” where people organize local meetings and exchange information. They often reproduce the stereotypes calling Kupchino “The South Ghetto”, making fun of the criminal image of the neighbourhood. The popular picture on Vkontakte is the map of the informal areas within Kupchino that corresponded with the gangs’ names that used to control the place in the 1990s, when the political and economic system in Russia collapsed leaving space for many informal and criminal activities.
However, in the interviews the kupchintsy mention how green, nice and friendly Kupchino now is. They are trying to fight the stereotypes: one way to do it is creating the history for Kupchino – it is often dated back to 17th century (when the city St. Petersburg itself wasn’t yet established, but on the site of contemporary Kupchino a Finnish village Kupsilla existed).
The other way is creating a positive vision of the district’s future: it is strengthened by the hopes to have two new metro stations soon and the active policies of the district’s administration that works on improving the Kupchino’s image. For example, a new ‘creative space’ in the ex-cinema hall ‘Fakel’ works since several months, a newspaper ‘The Non-Sleeping District’ is regularly issued, and different public events are organized.
We enter the field in Kupchino at the very interesting period in its development – when the identity and history are negotiated and reinterpreted.