Tula: Brand New?

It has been a VERY long time since I had a chance to update this blog.  I look at some of my earlier entries and I see that Tula has changed.  It is becoming more groomed, more modern.  Many of the old wooden houses I’ve been eulogizing here will soon be gone forever – streets of new modern high-rises will take their place instead. I am not sure if “gentrification” is the correct term here but you can see improvements everywhere – old apartment buildings are being repaired throughout the city, coffee houses and restaurants are popping up on every corner, parks look well-groomed, inner yards of apartment buildings receive colorful playgrounds.

At the same time the city’s image is being re-conceptualized.  It includes two, seemingly opposite, components.  First, it continues to be built within the frames of Tula’s official symbolism: the city as the country’s “arsenal and shield”.  At the same time, Tula – and Tula region – take on a new identity, that of a place open to its guests and comfortable to its citizens, a city with modern sports facilities, major tourist attractions, a stage for various art festivals, a cultural and “cultured” center.

I will talk about this metamorphosis later but I think that one recent project in particular illustrates this new development.   It is the restoration of pedestrian underpasses.

There are several pedestrian underground tunnels in Tula. Built in the Soviet times (early 1980s) they’ve seen good and bad times.  Dilapidated and some of them closed in the 1990s they have been repaired and now continue to help pedestrians to cross the city’s busiest streets.

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They were mostly unadorned, gloomy, dimly lit at night and a nightmare for those with strollers or in wheelchairs.


They seem to be in a pretty good shape now but a representative from the mayor’s office said that a complete renovation is scheduled for the next year and that the underpasses will be equipped with elevators.

But for now, in time for Tula’s 870th anniversary, passageways have been decorated with mural … graffitis!

I was really surprised to learn that these graffiti writers were winners of an open national competition of young graffiti artists sponsored by the city.

Painted by various artists these murals allude to Tula’s role in Russia’s history.

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All of these murals feature patriotic and historic images done – however – by a modern medium of contemporary graffiti!

The painter who worked on an underpass near one of Tula State University’s buildings is Dmitri Yazykov. Here is his rendition of the Patriotic War of 1812.

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Yazykov has already painted another graffito in Tula. It is the 140 meters long and 3, 5 meters tall piece on the embankment of Upa.  It decorates the fence of Tula’s MashZavod (now Machine Works holding), one of Tula’s oldest manufacturers specializing both in defense and civil products.  I find the fact that this work has been ordered by the plant really surprising.

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(A local newspaper documented the process of graffiti completion here: http://mk.tula.ru/news/n/39051/)

What is even more important is that Tula’s new image is on the agenda of the municipal committee on urban planning and development. А Moscow consulting agency has been hired to create Tula’s brand. I don’t write “rebranding” here, since I don’t know if Tula’s “city brand” has been developed before.  It formed, of course, by itself, organically, over the centuries of city’s long history.  But now, with the help of three focus groups including city’s representatives, students and businessmen and after a series of meetings over the last four months a new concept for the Tula Region’s brand has been developed.

Some of key words used in this place branding are: “workmanship, Tula secret, ability to create the unfeasible, pride, dynasties, continuity, competition, might, school, initiative, and talent.) (https://myslo.ru/news/tula/2016-10-19-kakim-budet-brend-tulskoy-oblasti)

It is said that about 86% of place rebranding campaigns fail.(http://www.citymetric.com/business/why-do-most-city-branding-campaigns-fail)

Let’s hope that this amalgamation of Tula’s past with the future will prove to be more successful.

March. Ice is Everywhere and Spring is in the Air.

The transition of February to March in Tula is not the most exciting period. It can be boring and gloomy, with grey thaw, overwhelming news about flu epidemics, and news reports on what food has bigger amount of vitamins needed in order to overcome the pre-Spring depression. On these days, it is rather difficult to find any poetics in patches of black ice on sidewalks, dirty snow with sooty-looking spots and polka dots of dog poop, buses enveloped in clouds of wet freezing snow and exhaust or thawed patches revealing disheveled brown grass and last Fall’s leaves.

But the first days of the Spring can also be sunny and frosty. Then the icy sidewalks begin to sparkle, and walking becomes almost pleasant.
Ice road

It usually snows here a lot, not necessarily every day, but repeatedly. When it snows, it can continue for several days so eventually snow accumulates and turns into ice. Street cleaners, both municipal as well as private businesses try to clear snow and then later split the thick coat of ice on the sidewalks. Also, sand is used to make the sidewalks less slippery. Every morning a big truck with sand comes and a worker puts several buckets of sand on corners of avenues to be used later in the day by the street cleaners.

Eventually, the ice comes off, but nevertheless, walking may still be rather difficult and tricky, the key is to lean forward slightly and making careful steps try not to fall. (However, you see a lot of women of all ages walking freely on icy sidewalks in high hills.) The ice on the streets is a perennial trait of a town in Central Russia in the winter. I remember this problem from my childhood; in fact for us, children, it was one of the exciting things in the winter – we would slide on the most glassy patches and even go skating on some of the icy streets. I’ve recently read in the book of history of Tula (written by a local historian S. Gusev) that skating on the city’s central street was popular among citizens in the beginning of the twentieth century.

Amazingly, streets themselves – the road parts – are absolutely free of ice. I see it as a very big improvement, as I remember how sometimes it used to be difficult to drive. Now it looks like two seasons magically placed together – wintery sidewalks and summer-like roads; walking on the icy sidewalk makes you wish you were a car!

Another interesting winter trait is icicles.
Old House Icicles in Tula

On warmer days the sun melts the snow on the roofs and icicles appear.
Apartment Building Icicles in Tula, Russia

They are removed (broken off) by crews of municipal workers on cherry-pickers. Newer co-op buildings usually hire professional climbers to do the job.
Cleaning Snow off the Roof

But on sunny days you look past signs on buildings that say “Danger: Icicles Falling”, stop and look up and see glittering spikes (usually you just swear under your breath and dock as icicles do fall on people, despite the city’s continuous efforts to take them off of the roofs.)

It’s the beginning of March and it’s been snowing today yet again. But the spring is in the air. The workers have been trimming trees’ branches on city’s streets during past two weeks.

Trimming the Trees in Tula, Russia

I guess this is done in order to maintain the trees healthy. This work has to be done before April, when the tree sap begins to flow. Neatly collected piles of cut branches wait to be picked up.
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Trees look ugly now, their long braches turned to bare stomps. But we all know that soon, even before we get tired of this seemingly never-ending winter, new green leaves will appear.