Ukraine - General Overview

Ukraine, a very young country at the Eastern border of Europe, was until its

declaration of independence on August 24th, 1991 a member of the former USSR for 70 years . It is now Europe's second largest country - which often comes as a surprise to many "traditional" Europeans. Its geopolitical location and former membership of the USSR as well as the committment to progress partly leads to a new orientation towards the West. All this represents challenges to the current reform-minded government under president Leonid Kuchma and the communist party. New elections will take place in March 2002.

In the first years of independence the economy suffered high losses. The first positive results for Ukraine as an independent economy, were not realized before 2000 when the growth rate of the GDP increased up to 6 % p.a..

The GDP itself amounted up to 43 % of the level of 1990. As mentioned above many reasons prevented an earlier successful economic growth, but it seems that the country will stabilize and prepare the ground for further success.

50 million people live in Ukraine, but the population is decreasing due to a low birth rate and an even low life expectancy, while a high emigration rate intensifies this effect.

The largest region of Ukraine is Odessa Region, which is situated in the South of the country along the northern coastline of the Black Sea, to which the famous "Black Sea Fleet" owes its name, the latter representing the main reason for the former wealth of the region's name-giving capital, Odessa. Together with its two sister-ports Ilyichevsk in the South and Yushny in the North it forms the most powerful port complex and one of the most important industrial agglomerations of Ukraine.


Odessa - Image

Another reason for Odessa's international fame is the dramatic scene at the impressing Potemkin staircase in Sergej Eisenstein's famous cinematic epos "Battleship Potemkin". The staircase, directly leading from the city centre to the harbour, is definitely one of the most famous attractions of Odessa, accompanied by the Opera House, designed by two Viennese architects Helmer und Fellner, or the renaissance styled Philharmonic Concert Hall. Some sort of cultural tourism already emerged, and given the recreational opportunities tourism holds a great potential for the future.


Development of Odessa

Not only Ukraine, but also the city of Odessa could be said to be rather young. The latter was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great. Its port was always an open door for influences and immigrants from all over the world and the mixture of ethnical groups still influences society, culture and architecture. Currently, its population amounts to approximately one million inhabitants, but unfortunately the trend is the same as in the rest of Ukraine.
The picture shows the steady growth of the city stretching along the coastline. The first architectural draft of Devalon determined the orthogonal raster of the historical centre, that today is surrounded by naturally grown traditional quartiers like Moldawanka. The booming industry and the increasing port activity contributed to wealth and required larger city extensions.
In the communist area between the 1960ies and 1980ies many multistorey buildings were built, which led to the creation of two satellite cities, one in the North and another one in the South. Both are rather monofunctionally configured, thus called "dormitory areas", while the city centre itself appears to be multifunctional. Picture no visualizes the results of the analysis of the city structure and the land use as well as the spread over the city. Only 130,000 people live in the city centre as compared to 300,000 who live in each of the "sleeping satellite cities".


Functional Structure of Odessa

Due to this monofunctionality of the peripherial districts, the connection to the centre is vital for the supply of the population. Therefore, a system of centre-orientated radial streets that pass into highways at the city border was implemented. Public transport - a combination of flexible micro-busses, busses and tramways - is very efficient.
Far-stretching beaches in Odessa are connected to the city by spacious green areas. Furthermore, large parks spread all over the city and numerous avenues surrounded by old trees, leave an impression of a more or less green city. However, as those green areas are often in bad shape, usage is often restricted.
The main industrial zones are located in the Western part of the city and along the coastline, including the port. The industrial sector is dominated by food production and machinery. Due to the economic downturn many traditional enterprises suffered losses and went bankrupt . As a result there are huge non-used areas, which determine the shape of the city.
The port serves as a transit cargo location and constitutes the heart of Odessa. Founded in 1774, it is said that the port building was the first in the city. After a long period of decline since 1991 and the painful loss of the Black Sea Fleet a steady growth can be noticed. However, this also implies challenges for the development of the city centre, as the port and downtown Odessa are located next to each other. Contrasting development interests of the city centre and the port complex represent a wide field of activities for architects and city planners.
The recent main focus of Odessa's city development is no longer extension but urban renewal and in-fill development.


Spatial Planning System

Ukraine's spatial planning system is based on a local-selfgoverning administration, organised in a legislative and an executive branch. Theoretically planning is organised on a national, regional and local level.
In praxis existing building regulations are controlled tightly and spatial development plans such as Odessa's master plan from the 1980ies are not legally binding. Planning and project realisation is very dependent on the decision of the architecture and town-planning-department. Another relevant problem is the re-orientation of the planning system after years of planned economy during the communists' era. Neither Professionials nor the population are used to Western standard methods such as partizipation in the planning process. Thus, a considerable need for reconnaissance is given, also in other fields like politics, economy and social life.


Please contact Lisa KARLHUBER-VÖCKL, if you want more information about this topic.
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