The Socialist Settlement Experiment: Soviet Urban Praxis, 1917-1932

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The Socialist Settlement Experiment: Soviet Urban Praxis, 1917-1932

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Title: The Socialist Settlement Experiment: Soviet Urban Praxis, 1917-1932
Author: Crawford, Christina Elizabeth ORCID  0000-0002-4450-7415
Citation: Crawford, Christina Elizabeth. 2016. The Socialist Settlement Experiment: Soviet Urban Praxis, 1917-1932. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: If capitalist cities are dense, hierarchical, and exploitative, how might socialist space be differently organized to maximize productivity, equitability, and collectivity? That question—central to early Soviet planning specialists—is the basis of this dissertation, which investigates the origins and evolution of the socialist spatial project from land nationalization to the end of the first Five-Year Plan (1917-1932). This dissertation asserts that socialist urban practices and forms emerged not by ideological edict from above, but through on-the-ground experimentation by practitioners in collaboration with local administrators—by praxis, by doing. Existing scholarship on early Soviet architecture and planning relies on paper projects of the Moscow avant-garde—radical, exciting, and yet largely unbuilt. This dissertation, based on new empirical research, uncovers the untold origins of socialist urban practice through the brick and mortar, steel and concrete projects that defined Soviet urban praxis in the 1920s and 30s. Through interweaved stories of three so-called “socialist settlements” in Baku, (Azerbaijan), Magnitogorsk (Russia), and Kharkiv (Ukraine) this study explores how Soviet physical planners and their clients addressed unprecedented socioeconomic requirements. Provisions like affordable housing near the workplace, robust municipal transportation and evenly distributed social services emerged from these experiments to affect far-flung sites in the Soviet sphere for decades to follow. Material gathered from now accessible archives—including architectural briefs, bureaucratic memos, drawings and photographs—finally permits deep inquiry into these significant years and projects. It draws the Soviet case into dialogue with scholarship on industry, urbanization, and social modernization in Europe and the United States, and highlights the contributions of Soviet designers to devise viable alternatives to the capitalist city.
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