Vancouver could learn a thing or two from how Russians manage their cities, says an architect who just returned from speaking at a Moscow conference.

Over the past two years, Michael Geller has been invited to speak at conferences and jury urban planning design competitions in Russia. He says Russians see Vancouver as one of the leaders in sustainable planning, along with Copenhagen and other European cities.

But North American planners should take note of Russian priorities when it comes to designing cities, he said.

"One of the things that I discovered was ... there were some very specific rules and regulations by the government, said Geller, an architect planner and developer based in Vancouver.

Those rules regulate the distance between a child's kindergarten classroom and their home, the distance between a dog park and a residential area, how much sunlight each room in a two-bedroom apartment must get, and even how much sunlight a three-bedroom apartment must get.

"There's an interest in things that I think perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to," he said.

"We spend a lot of time wondering about how many parking spaces per unit we have to have."

Dispelling myths

moscow financial centre

Several glass office towers stand tall in Moscow's new financial district. (Michael Geller)

Geller says the backers of a new financial district in Moscow want the world's experts on sustainable development to design it.

"There's a desire from Russia to learn from international experiences."

Many Russian cities are more cosmopolitan than stereotypes suggest, he said. 

In fact, Geller says he walked past just as many Starbucks shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg as he does when he's in Vancouver.

"It isn't this big cold place where everybody is still under some kind of government hold. It's an increasingly affluent place."

Geller is giving a talk about his experience in Russia on Feb. 18 at SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre at 7 p.m.


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: City planning lessons for Vancouver from Russia.