Illegal constructions in Voznesensk rooted out thanks to civic activists

Mar 11, 2016

Voznesensk civic activists Ruslana and Yuliya and other supporters targeted street vendors when they discovered that their peaceful neighbourhood could be tarnished by illegal constructions.

"Watching the numerous protests against illegal constructions in the capital, I never thought that our small city, Voznesensk, would have similar problems. Illegal constructions obstruct vehicular and pedestrian traffic and 'spoil' the silhouette of the cityYuliya argued.

It came to a dead halt when the womenand like-minded activists gathered to investigate the issue and actively raise awareness of illegal construction, preventing city officials from turning a blind eye.

Activists drew the attention of the public and regulatory authorities to the problems related to the legality of the placement of temporary structures for business, the arrangement of street furniture, and the maintenance of the cleanliness of Voznesensk's streets. The so-called 'aliens on wheels' – grilled chicken, coffee, shawarma, hot dog, and ice cream vendors – have popped up in the central part of the city near the market. These illegal structures, which hardly comply with proper sanitary standards, occupy the sidewalks and block the way for pedestrians.

The group of activists was especially outraged by the actions of a coffee cart owner who arranged his business on a green area at a road intersection, destroying the lawn and littering the surrounding area with disposable cups, napkins, and spoons. The owner refuses to get official permission to locate his outlet, saying that placement on the lawn next to the bus stop allows him to sell a lot of coffee and that he would not have so many customers in any other location. At the same time, the entrepreneur believes that pavement cleaning should be carried out by the municipality.

There are 12 temporary structures of this sort in the city. Some of them are equipped with dangerous gas cylinders and have unhygienic conditions for preparing food. Only one of these outlet owners has permission for placement of his food booth, while the others are illegal and without any permit or entrepreneur registration documents.

The problem became rampant when entrepreneurs started to set their booths on the pedestrian and green areas of the city. Most of them do not pay any taxes and do not follow sanitary requirements, carrying out illegal trade, violating public order, and threatening the safety of pedestrians.

To solve this problem, the community and government decided to cooperate in order to develop policies and mechanisms to regulate the work of street vendors' booths. In particular, they developed a procedure for dismantling illegally installed temporary structures in Voznesensk and included it as a regulation in the City Council's plan for November 2016. The city has also established a special committee that is responsible for demolishing or evacuating illegally installed temporary structures. The commission includes representatives from the police, utility service providers, and the architecture unit, as well as officials from municipal property and divisions of housing and communal service. Thanks to the joint actions of civil society and government, two illegal booths, located next to the central market in front of school №2, were dismantled.

"A victory for us is a victory for everyone," Ruslana said, after activists, along with the local government, ensured the removal of illegal temporary food booths from the streets of their city.

Empowered by the decentralization process, communities are now able to manage their city's money and land, participate in decision making, and attract investments to their regions. Today, the city started working on the transfer of powers from the State Architectural and Construction Inspection Departmentto the Department of Urban Development and Architecture of Voznesensk City Council. Now, all permits for construction, reconstruction, and overhaul will be provided by local officials, while community activists will have additional opportunities to influence their work and fight against corruption.

The initiative is supported by UNDP's Democratization, Human Rights and Civil Society Development Project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

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