Vladivostok polishes up for APEC

Set sail to the East: Vladivostok polishes up for APEC 2012

Currently en route to Honolulu, Hawaii, from Los Angeles, Russia’s tall ship the Pallada is nearing completion of its North American visit with stops in Kodiak and Sitka, Alaska, Victoria, BC, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles since early July. The tour pays homage to the 270th anniversary of “Russian America” discovered by Russian sailors and is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. Honolulu will welcome its sailing crew of 100 cadets from Primorye and Kamchatka territories before the Pallada finalizes its Pacific journey to Tokyo and back towards Vladivostok in the Russian Far East where its homeport is based and is the city’s locally-esteemed seafaring icon.
In a few months time, Honolulu will play host to this year’s Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit in November. And next year it will be Russia’s turn hosting the regional trade and business summit in Vladivostok. Although APEC 2012 is not until September, Russia’s Far East city on the Sea of Japan’s northwest coast is not losing sleep about entertaining government and business leaders from either side of the Pacific at this strategic northern port. Several urban and infrastructure projects have been underway for the past few years including the massive cable-stayed bridge spanning the Eastern Bosporus Strait which will connect the mainland city to Russky Island where the seat of the 24th APEC conference will be located. Once completed, the central part of the Russky Island Bridge span will reach a world’s record of 1,104 meters, and the total length will be 1,885 meters. It will be longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. Vladivostok’s second cable-stayed bridge project is the Zolotoy Rog Bridge and it will cross Zolotoy Rog Bay near downtown.
Nearly 3,000 North Korean construction workers provide the muscle of these infrastructure and urban projects according to the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s English-language news daily (Vladivostok Teeming with N. Korean Laborers, 18 August 2011), and city officials expect another 3,000 more to arrive. The city is buzzing with recent construction work for road and highway expansions, new hotels, apartments, and other building projects. The workers are sent from North Korea to work for up to five years in Vladivostok, but their salaries are collected by the North Korean government. Most earn up to $500 US per month. Once their contracts end, they are sent home unless they can tap into more work and pay off their officials to stay.
The city’s efforts to shore up new construction projects is not solely for the APEC conference but also for long-term goals of elevating Vladivostok’s profile as a significant port and attracting investment into the region as a hub for economic growth. Across Russia’s vast expanse from Moscow’s point of view, the city is the eastern terminus for the Trans-Siberian Railway and to tap the Primorsky (“Maritime”) region to source seafood, timber, metals and minerals. From a regional perspective, Vladivostok is poised for increased trade with China, Japan and South Korea. Russia is investing over $9 billion US, according to a Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation press release, to help fuel the city and Primorsky region’s infrastructure, transportation, energy, civic and urban sectors. Many of these new projects are getting built “practically from scratch,” President Dmitry Medvedev announced in June. The Vladivostok International Airport is getting modernized with a new international terminal, reconstruction of a highway from the Knevichi Airport is in progress, Vladivostok’s waterfront will be updated, and various other projects are in development including Russky Island’s Far Eastern Wind Power Farm and construction for the Far Eastern Federal University where the APEC conference will be held.
When APEC 2012 finally commences in just about a year’s time, Vladivostok will have transformed from what was once a sleepy seaside Russian outpost to a modern port city. And despite the capital investment already underway, there’s plenty of opportunity for travel publishers and others to get the word out and get acquainted with these changes as the city hopes to lure visitors and investment from across the Pacific Rim. For mobile devices, Kremlin Multimedia has published two free iPhone apps available to download from Apple’s iTunes store: APEC 2012 countdown timer and Russian Far East – a Russian language travel guide with some nice photography of the landscape, seasons, and views from Vladivostok. However, guide books are particularly absent at amazon.com except for a few recent travel memoirs: Siberian Travels: An Oklahoma girl’s journey from Moscow to the Sea of Japan by Pamela Olson, Isabelle Around The World – The Trans-Siberian Railway by Isabelle Guyot and J.N. Paquet, and Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. For urban planners, architects, photographers and writers, it looks like it’s time to set sail and catch up with this emerging eastern star.
Images: Pallada sailing ship docked in Seattle, courtesy Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times; City Center of Vladivostok and Zolotoy Rog, courtesy Wikimedia Commons; magazine page spread of Russian sailor and Vladivostok’s skyline, “Dark Horse in the East – Vladivostok” by Shaun Walker (Monocle, February 2011), courtesy photographer Will Webster, Twitpic; construction of the Russky Island Bridge, courtesy SK MOST, rusbridge.net; architectural conception for Vladivostok Russkii Island – Sleeping Beauty courtesy Royal Haskoning Architecten, royalhaskoningarchitecten.com.

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