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Novy Urengoy: the gas capital of Russia today

Exclusive interview with Andrey Volkov, Mayor of Novy Urengoy, for the Arctic Partnerships portal.

Issues of urban life in the Russian Arctic, which range from survival to sustainable development, are on the constant agenda of the authorities, business, science, and the public. Amendments to the Russian Constitution include municipal power in the system of public authority in Russia, which means that cities, as administrative centers of the Arctic regions and decision-making centers, live in a time of serious political reforms. Some Arctic regions have introduced positions of “city managers” and abolished direct elections of city mayors, which is perceived differently by the population, entrepreneurs, and local communities, and is a vivid example of active changes in urban management in the Russian polar region. Rural areas in the context of risky agriculture and their active industrial development with pivotal aboriginal cattle breeding and tourism gaining very little momentum, do not currently win over the cities in the competition of interests. The challenges of single-industry towns also remain among the priorities for all stakeholders today and largely determine the speed and magnitude of migration movements in the Russian polar region.

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Andrey Volkov, Head of Novy Urengoy city administration.

              The “youngest” cities in the Arctic zone are located in regions where hydrocarbon production takes place, or so-called “resource regions of new development”. Therefore, the formation and development of such cities is of the greatest interest. A striking example is Novy Urengoy, which is located in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, one of the fastest growing Arctic cities with ambitious international and oil and gas projects.

             City mayor Andrei Volkov answers questions about economic diversification, sustainable development, improving local self-governance, and the special features of small and medium-sized business in Novy Urengoy.

Good day, Mr. Volkov!

Does Novy Urengoy consider the experience of other, similar regions, such as oil & gas dependent Nenets autonomous area, for example in the growth phase of management decisions regarding business cycles?

–   The cyclical nature of economic development is primarily related to its resource endowment. The primary specialization of Novy Urengoy is gas production. We have the offices of the major gas production companies and organizations that form the oil (and gas) service sector.

Judging by the level of resource availability, Novy Urengoy today shows a fairly stable economic situation. The town is well supplied with labour, material, energy, information resources. The only “minus” is their high price, and in some spheres there is a low range to choose from.

Restrictions connected with coronavirus infection did not lead to significant negative consequences in the economy of the city, because often during recession and crisis small and medium business, which does not have enough working capital and has a high credit load, suffers the heaviest losses.

During this period, we provided financial assistance to small and medium-sized businesses that suspended their activities from the most affected areas of the economy: catering, fitness centers, etc.

Is there an alternative to the oil and gas business that the local government is willing to support?

– We see the development of small and medium business as an alternative to the oil and gas sphere. In this regard, we provide comprehensive support to business – financial, property, information and consulting. There are also some areas of business that need special attention – we’ve approved a list of priority markets that Novy Urengoy must develop. They include food production, construction, repairs and maintenance of motor vehicles, education, and other spheres. I would like to point out that Novy Urengoy has the largest number of registered entrepreneurs in Yamal – more than 4,400.

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One of the Novy Urengoy districts.

Moreover, we’ve introduced a new format of communication with the business community – in the framework of the city’s investment council we discuss the most urgent problems affecting business in the city, and we work together to solve them. I hope these measures will allow our entrepreneurs to expand, create interesting services and demanded products for the city residents.

Does Novy Urengoy socio-economic development program take into account the concept of sustainable development, according to which there must be a healthy compromise between the environment, the economy, and society, which Russia joined back in the 1980s?

– The main goal of the town’s socio-economic development, as laid down in the development strategy, is to improve the quality of life of residents and ensure comfortable living conditions. This goal encompasses all three components of sustainable development: social, environmental and economic. All of them are interconnected.

The social component is a developed social sphere: health care, education, sports, leisure. This is a comfortable urban environment – quality housing, roads, playgrounds, effective engineering infrastructure, communication component.

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Novy Urengoy airport new passanger terminal under construction layout.

An important role is given to a favorable environmental situation. There are no oil and gas fields in the city. There is a partial separate collection of household waste. There is a waste sorting complex. We apply energy-saving technologies, and use gas-powered vehicles. Novy Urengoy is a sustainable city.

All these areas are supported by sustainable economic growth. Gas production was, is, and will remain the backbone industry. The city organizations are not expected to decrease the production volumes in the medium term. In the long term, we are considering the creation of a gas-chemical production (NGCC). Intensively develop transport infrastructure (airport, interchanges). Reconstruction of the railroad as part of the “Northern Latitudinal Railway” project is expected.

How would you evaluate the effectiveness of solving the national question in Novy Urengoy for at least 11 nationalities living on its territory?

– Novy Urengoy is one of the most multinational municipalities of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. All nationalities living on our territory live in peace, unity and conformity. We pay special attention to this issue, support national and cultural autonomies and public associations.  An Advisory Council for Harmonization of Interethnic Relations operates in the city on a permanent basis.

The activity of national and cultural autonomies has increased over the past two years. They are supported in the form of grants.  Children of 47 nationalities study in educational organizations, and there is no national question. We lay the foundations of tolerant behavior in children from a young age.

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At one of the cross-cultural city holidays..

We implement programs aimed at counteracting social exclusion of migrants, spatial segregation and formation of ethnic enclaves and harmonization of interethnic and interfaith relations. We interact with public organizations and national diasporas. The activities of regional internship sites contribute to socialization of children of foreigners, including through vocational guidance work. Various events involving patriotic public organizations are held among the young people to expand their knowledge of cultural traditions and customs of peoples living in Novy Urengoy. Young representatives of national and cultural public associations of national diasporas and confessions together with institutions of youth policy of Novy Urengoy actively participate in All-Russian patriotic actions and city-wide events.

How would you assess the prospects for the development of participative budgeting in Novy Urengoy?

– Since 2019, the citizens of Novy Urengoy have been participating in the social life of Novy Urengoy by offering their ideas in the regional project “Cosy Yamal”. In the first year of participation, the competition committee received more than 140 applications.  The development of participative budgeting is popular throughout the world today, and is certainly relevant for Novy Urengoy. People are very eager to improve public areas, but they can’t always come together and find the money to implement this or that idea.  This is where the participative budgeting comes to the support.

The participants have a unique opportunity to implement their ideas, from proposing and organizing project discussions to monitoring the progress of the project selection competition and their implementation. At the same time, we are solving another problem – improving financial literacy. Not everyone knows what the budget funds are spent for and how this system works in general.

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Novy Urengoy center during Polar night.

The Cozy Yamal project is aimed at creating, developing or repairing infrastructure (except for major construction, reconstruction and overhaul).  For example, last year a monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War was opened in a remote district of Limbyayakha. The initiative to install a memorial sign was made by the inhabitants of the district. Their idea was supported by the population. And now the district has a memorable place to lay flowers in memory of the heroes of World War II.

Every year there are more and more requests to take part in the Initiative Budgeting Program. The project has great prospects.

How do you assess the cultural and tourist potential of Novy Urengoy in view of the growing growth of foreign and Russian travelers to the Arctic?

The city is becoming more and more attractive to tourists every year as a big business and transport center of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug with its unique history, geographical location and developed infrastructure.

The location of Novy Urengoy and its transport accessibility undoubtedly contribute to the increase of its tourist potential. This is the availability of railway and motor road, air service.

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Novy Urengoy has a young, festive and friendly image.

The city has hotels, travel agencies, museums, and a wide network of catering and souvenir shops. We are working on the improvement of the city’s areas, so that the guests and residents had somewhere to go and what to see.

The promotion of tourist routes, such as “Visiting Nenets”, “501stroyka. Gulag – the road to nowhere”, visits to the locations of settlements of indigenous and minority peoples of the North.

But it should be noted that the development of cultural and educational tourism (about the city and its history), which would attract people to visit Novy Urengoy, is unlikely. The city lacks sights, monuments and brands of the All-Russian scale. This is objective because the city is 45 years old. It is quite young! That is why we still have a long way to go. Work in this direction is going on.

Interview by Yan Turov, NGO “Economic Programs Foundation. From the sources of the Novy Urengoy administration press-service.

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