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What surprised foreign experts in the capital most of all, and why, despite the pandemic, one can only look with optimism in the future of world megacities? These and other questions were answered by Denis Boykov, General Director of the Moscow Urban Forum.

After a two-year break, the capital at the beginning of July hosted a jubilee X Moscow Urban Forum (FUF), which this year was held in a new, hybrid, format. Most of the foreign experts joined in the discussions via teleconference, and the FUF beat record for the number of participants throughout its history.

Despite the success of virtual technologies, Denis Boykov, CEO of the Moscow Urban Forum, believes that it is difficult to replace personal communication with something. He told how the landmark international congress was held, what was the focus of its participants, and why it is important to show live how Moscow is changing.

International attention

– The X Moscow Urban Forum was held in a hybrid format for the first time. Is this a successful experience?

– FUF this year was held in difficult conditions. In some countries, due to the pandemic, there is a ban on travel and entry, which is why we chose a hybrid format, when some of the speakers connected online from different parts of the world – from Singapore and Seoul to Los Angeles and New York. Nevertheless, some of the guests were able to get there, and we were happy to receive them in Moscow.

Thanks to this format, we managed to expand both the geography and the number of participants, and attract more high-profile speakers. For many, it can be quite difficult to find time in a busy schedule and come to Moscow. And when people are at home in their countries, it is easier for them to find time.

But I still hope that in the future guests will come to us. It’s one thing to join the forum online and tell about your agenda, as well as hear something about Moscow at the session. It’s another matter when you come and see everything with your own eyes. This is important because one of our goals is to demonstrate the transformation of Moscow.

– Can we say that the future belongs to the hybrid format?

– We held the tenth forum to show that Moscow shares its experience of urban projects that have been implemented in recent years. Therefore, I would say that the future belongs to an even more mixed format, when as many participants as possible meet face-to-face, and those who cannot connect via teleconferences. Personal communication is difficult to replace with something. It is better to see once than hear a hundred times.

– What are the main results of the anniversary forum?

– The main result: in spite of everything, the forum was held at a decent level. The record number of speakers from many countries speaks of the special attention to the work being done in Moscow.

We did everything that was possible. I repeat: it is extremely important for us to bring a large number of speakers and show them Moscow live. This is necessary to popularize what is happening in the city. People come, see how the capital is changing, and they have more impressions.

World-class projects

– What topics became the main ones at this year’s forum?

– The life of cities in the era of a pandemic is one of the topics that cannot be dispensed with in today’s conditions. Issues related to this were on the agenda of the second international congress Urban Health, which took place within the framework of the Moscow Urban Forum. Its participants paid a lot of attention to this topic and health issues in general.

The key topic of the entire forum was the transformation of cities that has taken place over the past 10 years. During this time, many truly world-class projects have been implemented in Moscow. The FFM participants walked through all sectors: the development of transport, technology, public spaces, cultural projects, projects in the field of urban planning and economics were discussed.

– How did the forum participants assess the main challenge – the coronavirus pandemic? Are there any predictions, prospects for combating COVID-19?

– It is difficult to make predictions in this area, but there is an opinion that the victory over the coronavirus largely depends on the level of herd immunity, which is achieved both by vaccination and the number of people who have been ill. The high rate of vaccination that Moscow and the world as a whole have gained will help us quickly return to our usual way of life.

It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done, but, as it sounded at the forum, now vaccination and the achievement of herd immunity are the most essential in the fight against the pandemic.

– What projects of Moscow, presented at the MUF exhibition, were the guests most interested in?

– Many guests are surprised by the speed of changes that the capital is demonstrating today, how quickly it was possible to go this way. Over the past 10 years, Moscow has become the leader in the number of megaprojects and urban development projects.

We are talking, for example, about changing public spaces. Here one can recall the creation of the Zaryadye park, the renovation of the Northern River Station and the area around it. As part of the forum, we had a press tour, and we showed all this to foreign journalists. They were also taken to the sports cluster at Luzhniki, which is actively developing.

The experts did not ignore Moscow’s transport projects. Including the Big Circle Line, which will become the longest circular metro line in the world, as well as the construction of transport hubs, the development of railway transport – the Moscow Central Circle, Moscow Central Diameters. The unique renovation program is also relevant, because we are talking about the resettlement of more than a million residents. This is comparable to the population of some large European cities. The scale of the projects being implemented in Moscow amazes and cannot leave anyone indifferent.

Challenge and success at the same time

– In addition to the business program, what else did the forum offer to people interested in urban studies?

– By tradition, a festival was held for the townspeople, but due to the epidemiological situation, it was held online. The speakers were at Zaryadye or connected via a teleconference, and their speeches were broadcast on the forum’s website. The activity on the Web was high: we had over 350 thousand views of open lectures and other events. And we even conducted sports training online. During this year, people apparently adapted to this format, were active, listened to lectures and played sports.

I would also like to mention the Urban Health design laboratory. Several teams of young professionals participated in its work, who proposed solutions in three areas: an inclusive environment, the fight against loneliness and the fight against excess weight. They presented interesting projects, of which they chose the best three.

– What impressed you the most at the FUF this year?

– Probably interested in the format of the forum itself. It turned out to be mixed inside and out. Recently, we have seen face-to-face events with spot-on online inclusion of speakers at the plenary session, as was the case at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. Or events were held without spectators, only online. Therefore, it is especially pleasing that we managed to make the forum hybrid in every sense. Our broadcasts were watched by more than 100 thousand people from 75 countries of the world. But we also invited people to the forum. Although a limited number of people visited us, they were there. This is both a challenge and a success at the same time.

– Have you already started preparations for the XI Moscow Urban Forum? What topics will be the main ones next year?

– While we are busy summing up – we are specifying the numbers, assessing the PR effect and so on. But as soon as we finish this work, in two or three weeks we will begin active preparations for the next forum. We will offer dates, site, formats.

I believe that the focus will be on urban development, given that we are already living in a different era – post-pandemic. The spread of the coronavirus has greatly influenced not only the usual way of life of people, but also the management of cities and the projects that need to be implemented.

Cities are now focused primarily on the health and well-being of residents, their safety and the preservation of lives. I think that in a year, when we jointly cope with the challenge of the pandemic, we will have something to discuss, take stock, share experiences and understand how such challenges can be prevented. In any case, we have every reason to look to the future only with optimism.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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