The Desolation of Sochi

The Ecotopia 2121 project outlines the futures of 100 super-ecofriendly cities of the future, as they've overcome various environmental and socio-political challenges, to become 'Utopian'. This week, we highlight the transformation of city of Sochi.



Sochi is the largest city of the Caucasian Riviera, abutting the eastern side of the Black Sea. It’s the warmest city of the entire Russian Federation; a place where Russians go for summer holidays and family fun times at the beach.


For most Russians, Sochi was a rather peculiar place to be selected for the 2014 Winter Olympics since they know it as a warm seaside town. In the winter, though, it can get icy and snowy whilst the weather of the Caucasus mountains folds gently around the town.


Nowadays, in the early 21st century, Sochi residents are having their front and back gardens slip away from underneath them. The Russian authorities, at the request of President Putin, were in an unyielding hurry to make sure that the city was ready for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Therefore, as the roads were built in haste throughout the city and throughout the surrounding countryside and in the mountains nearby, and as new stadia and hotels and sports facilities and ski resorts were quickly built as well, the local residents were often perilously close to the construction going on near and around them.


When it rains, nowadays, the land slips, and sometimes forested hillsides have smashed down onto a number of neighborhoods. If they are lucky, a family might find only a fallen tree in their backyards. If they are unlucky, their whole house will have slipped down the side of a hill or a mountain.


Landslides were not the only environmental problem. By the time the Olympians had packed their skis and headed back home, Sochi has been afflicted with:


- the loss of many wetlands, buried under both the Olympic Village (and buried under the rubble leftover from the village’s construction).


- the deforestation of 8000 acres of the Sochi National Park, for the construction of skiing and shooting facilities,


- the tainting of the water supply, via the illegal dumping of rubble in a water-protected zone. Some  neighborhoods were told “Don’t drink the water” by unidentified officials. When they asked “Why not?”, they were told “It contains something very dangerous. I wouldn’t even touch it”,


- the initiation of avalanches, induced as ski slopes were laid out, and forever altering the mountain environment,


- the destruction of pristine natural settings. In order to build ski facilities, ice-fields in the mountains were destroyed, the forests denuded, and swamps filled in. The whole hydrological system of Sochi has changed, causing unforeseen flood events as well as local desiccation. Those parts that were wet have become dry and those parts that were dry have become sodden all year round.


-wildlife disturbance. Many kinds of animals (from bugs to birds to bears) have fled to unknown locations in search of new homes. The sites of the some Olympic venues were once a stopping-over zone for migrating birds but now they are devoid of them,


- chronic corruption. The construction sector and local politicians have been implicated with corrupt activities on numerous occasions and local residents have been illegally evicted from certain prime real estate areas.


As well as all these problems, one particularly destructive road was cut through pristine woodland to connect the city with a new luxurious private villa built for President Putin atop the Caucasus. 


Worse yet, the Russian government have made it clear that anyone who speaks out against any of these problems will feel its wrath. Putin had a  faithful ‘Sochi Posse’ which aggressively pursued environmental activists to prevent any demonstrations that could interrupt the Games, including jailing the most vocal of them for indefinite periods for very minor infringements, like ‘swearing in public’ or ‘being a nuisance’.


As if all that was not bad enough, the 2014 Olympics served as a grand diversionary tactic for Putin as he amassed Russian troops ready to invade Ukraine just a few hundred miles away on the north side of the Black Sea. The moment the Games ended he sent them to invade Crimea.


Those residents of Sochi that survived the Olympian environmental onslaught have just about caught their breath but then construction resumed for both the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the annual Formula One racing series. More vegetation is to be removed, more coastline despoiled, more environmental activists secured behind bars. This is the present and the near future of Sochi.



As bad as this is, the future of Sochi does rebound to be brighter and greener by 2121AD.For details about this hopeful eco-transformation, see the Sochi chapter of the book Ecotopia 2121. 

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