Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

A key city in the Arctic: How to make life in the Arctic comfortable?

Home for future polar explorers

26 july 2023

Andrey Chibis, Governor of the Murmansk Region, as part of his speech at SPIEF 2023, proposed to expand the list of key cities in the AZRF. According to him, the special status of settlements should intensify their economic development, which will significantly increase the attractiveness of the Polar Region for future generations. 'Young people are making a decision today whether they will stay in the Arctic, so we must invest in the improvement of cities, towns,' the head of the region emphasised. Following the forum, Andrey Chibis noted that in the summer of 2023, a command unit was launched on the basis of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, which is working out plans for the development of future Arctic key cities and the nature of the investment.

What is an 'Arctic key city'?

At the moment, this term does not exist in the legal and state practice of the Russian Federation. It was proposed by the head of the Murmansk Region in spring 2023 during a meeting of the working group of the State Council of the Russian Federation on ensuring transport and logistics and socio-economic development of the AZRF.

'Arctic key city,' in his opinion, represents the region's economic centre, where investments are made to create a comfortable social environment and create special support measures.

For example, in terms of education, this includes additional support measures for Arctic universities. These are programmes of preferential loans and subsidies for the purchase of real estate and the development of medicine. It is also the creation of a comfortable urban environment, which includes a master plan for the development of the city by analogy with the Far East ones.

Intensive development of urban agglomerations in the Polar Region should create attractive conditions for the inflow of highly qualified specialists who will live and work in the Arctic on a permanent basis. Criteria are being developed to determine which of the Arctic cities can be called a 'key' city. And it's not that simple.

For example, consider the discussion around the term 'key settlement' in the Arctic. According to the Order of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 4132-r, the key settlement has clear criteria: the key settlement should not be included in the agglomeration zone, have areas for prospective development, the distance to the nearest settlement with a population of more than 50,000 people should exceed 50 km by public roads, but the key settlement itself should be located within the accessibility of the motorway network. Also, its population should exceed 3,000 and not reach 50,000, and over the last five years, the number of residents of such a settlement should not have decreased by more than 5%.

These criteria collectively are not appropriate for the Arctic, as evidenced by analytical papers on the results of scientific work. To summarise the essence of the materials, there are no settlements in the Arctic that adequately meet the criteria of a 'key settlement,' but there is a great need for this option in the AZRF.

Special attitude towards the Arctic

It turns out that for the Polar Region, it is necessary to develop new criteria, but how? One of the questions is who exactly to give preferential treatment to. According to the opinion of the scientists voiced in the article, the Arctic is a network structure, as opposed to the centre-periphery pattern familiar to the mainland. Small settlements with the status of a settlement in the North provide capacities and a range of services typical for regional centres, and the main volume of production is in 'rural' areas (as of January 2022, 55.8% of shipped products and 68.9% of investments in fixed assets are located outside the cities of the Polar Region). At the same time, these settlements largely serve resource extraction assets, which causes their narrow specialisation. In the middle part of Russia, say, a small city usually combines business, logistics, medical and educational components, while in the Arctic, it is almost impossible to find a multifunctional centre other than regional capitals. However, it should be noted that in the near future such 'outposts' should be ports along the North Sea Route.

The experts suggested going with the flow of matter, i.e., adapting the current legislation to the already established network system of functional distribution among Arctic settlements. De facto, this means targeted support measures depending on the specialisation of the settlement, as opposed to a single standardised set of measures for the midland. It is likely that the concept of creating a development programme for 'Arctic key cities' could follow a similar scenario.

What is the strength of a polar city?

The key economic property of an Arctic city is logistics and medicine. On average, more than 78% of passenger traffic and 56% of freight traffic pass through them, and warehouses and major fleet maintenance systems are also located there. Moreover, the size of the city and its functionality and economic importance are not strictly related. For example, Novy Urengoy confidently overtakes Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in terms of passenger turnover, although its population is almost three times smaller. People are also born and treated in the city—in Krasnoyarsk Territory, 87% of children are born within agglomerations, in NAA—56%, and in Chukotka, the figure is 47%. Add to this the dynamically growing need for personnel in Arctic industries, and we need education, especially since international experience shows the success of the concept of a Polar university city.

Thus, the concept of an 'Arctic key city' and the support measures within it should be specialised to take into account the characteristics of each settlement. What is good for Murmansk may be useless in Salekhard, as well as vice versa. This is complex analytical work that takes time and painstaking study of the local economic structure. However, the basic trend remains the same - the regions of the AZRF will try their best to attract people to live here permanently by creating a comfortable space and offering economic incentives. We are already talking about preferential 'Arctic mortgage,' 'hectare in the Arctic' and regional programmes to support private house building. Combined with the coming modern infrastructure and communications, it sounds like a reason to consider moving North.


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