June 5, 2023

The centenary is the cut-off point on the other side of which history begins. In this case, it is the history of modern Russian geo-urban studies, whose father, not without reason, is considered by many to be Georgy Lappo. A well-known paradox is that it is precisely today that the ideas of the scientist are relevant as never before.

Georgy Mikhailovich became interested in cities as an object of study of geographical science long before urban studies became a fashionable trend in social thought. He himself recalled that this interest arose almost by accident and under very dramatic circumstances. During the war, Lappo served as a flight radio operator, on his account – more than a thousand sorties.

We then flew low, and a good view opened from the aircraft, he recalled in interview RGO website. — During our flights, I looked at cities: Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Austrian, and German… And from a height, any city, even the most seedy one, looks more attractive. I have accumulated quite a lot of such visual observations. I got interested in cities.

Thanks to military aviation, or rather, this view from above, Georgy Mikhailovich came to geography. After graduating in absentia from the Faculty of Geology of Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov, he received a red diploma and began to do what was most interesting to him in the world.

Since 1957, Georgy Lappo worked at the Research Institute of Urban Planning and Regional Planning of the Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture of the USSR, led the sector for the reconstruction of large cities. In 1964 he returned to the Faculty of Geography of Moscow State University, where he worked for five years as an assistant professor in the Department of Economic Geography, having developed the course “Geography of cities with the basics of urban planning.”

Since 1969, Georgy Mikhailovich worked at the Institute of Geography of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and since 1973 he headed the department of economic geography here.

In 1975 he defended his doctoral dissertation on the topic “Problems of development of large urban agglomerations in the USSR”. Since the beginning of the 1970s, their study has become one of the main directions of Lappo’s research.

For 28 years he headed the Dissertation Council at the Institute of Geography of the Academy of Sciences on economic, social and political geography, which released dozens of doctors and hundreds of candidates of sciences into the world of big science.

Georgy Mikhailovich was a member of the Expert Council of the Higher Attestation Commission on Earth Sciences, a member of the State Expert Commission of the State Planning Committee of the USSR. Participated in the examinations of master plans for large cities, master plans for the resettlement of the USSR and the Russian Federation, in the 1980s he was chairman of the editorial board of the collections “Questions of Geography”. As part of the team of authors of the most popular in Soviet times book series “Countries and Peoples” he became a laureate of the USSR State Prize. And besides, he is an Honored Scientist of the Russian Federation and an honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society.

Georgy Lappo conducted his scientific research in the field of geo-urban studies, settlement, territorial structure of the economy, and regional socio-economic geography. And most of all he was interested in cities and large agglomerations. Georgy Mikhailovich is the author of the concept of the supporting frame of resettlement, the basic one in the General Scheme of Settlement on the territory of the Soviet Union, and then the Russian Federation. By the way, for the first time he fully presented his idea in a report read at the Geographical Society of the USSR in 1977. And Georgy Mikhailovich became a member of the Society back in 1954.

This concept is often opposed to the so-called district school, which dominated the socio-economic geography of the USSR in the 1930s–1970s. In Soviet times, this was fraught with consequences – Lappo was criticized precisely along the ideological line. Regional specialization of the economy was one of the ideas of the GOELRO plan, which, in particular, assumed the economic regionalization of Russia.

However, Georgy Mikhailovich himself noted that such a contrast does not make sense, on the contrary, “the study of the territory based on the principles of economic zoning and with the help of the concept of a supporting frame complement each other. The second follows from the first.”

The nuance was that the key nodes in Lappo’s concept were agglomerations and their interaction. This thesis inevitably opened up the topic of the city as such, in which the population could no longer be only a labor resource, as was thought in the days of industrialization. And the cities themselves were a more complex organism than the space for the placement of this very resource.

In general, Lappo’s city knowledge went hand in hand with city love, which was unusually vividly expressed in popular science books written by the scientist for a wide audience: “Stories about cities”, “Cities on the way to the future”, “Cities of Russia. View of a geographer”.

Georgy Mikhailovich knew well the nature of cities, their characters, substance and rhythm. It seemed that for him there were no ugly or bad cities. He found a niche for everyone, he could say something curious about everyone – even about those that disappeared forever.

Lappo wrote: “The city appears as a tangle of contradictions, a combination of the incompatible. Indeed, in cities there are the peaks of culture and … the social bottom. The greatest works of art and science are created in them, and vices nest nearby, crimes are committed. Progressive creative forces are concentrated, but also forces are actively at work that hinder progress, throw society back.

How to weed out the bad and take the good? Surprisingly, the scientist saw the answers in the very nature of the city: “Contradictions in it are inevitable. Compromises are obligatory. And it is fair to consider the city itself as a compromise.”

Georgy Mikhailovich considered diversity to be the key characteristic of the city. Moreover, both its own, internal, and in the system of relations – local, regional, sectoral. Actually, the formula of its development is hidden in this diversity. “Diversity defines and nourishes very important properties of the urban environment, contains a wealth of emotional resources, and evokes creative impulses”, Lappo emphasized. The multiplicative, as we would say now, effect that the city is capable of, or better, a well-built and managed agglomeration, makes it possible to make a breakthrough in everything: in technology, productivity, creativity, quality of life.

But on one important condition: it is necessary to understand and take into account the logic of geographical processes, which causes changes in the territorial structure in accordance with the natural evolution of settlement and transport networks. If you let things take their course, or, even worse, fall into the abyss of opportunities to receive profit from the city, then the properties of the agglomeration can change, threatening hypertrophy, and in the future – catastrophic consequences.

Already in the post-Soviet period, Georgy Mikhailovich lamented more than once, observing the “urban tragedy.” He warned: this is an extremely harmful illusion – to think that you can do whatever you want with the city, and the city will be obliged to meekly listen and obey.

The power of true science, Lappo believed, lies precisely in the fact that, understanding the nature of the city, delicately direct it in the right direction for the benefit of man and country.

Georgy Mikhailovich lived a difficult, long, but in his own way happy life. One of the most honorable awards, by his own admission, was the Big Konstantinovsky Medal of the Russian Geographical Society. It was presented to the scientist by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Geographical Society, President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

The last lifetime scientific article, smart, relevant and surprisingly energetic, came out in 2019, when Lappo was already 96 years old. You can learn about his path, scientific search and citizenship at the next meeting in the Moscow lecture hall of the Russian Geographical Society on April 19. The daughter and granddaughter of Georgy Mikhailovich, Elena Lappo and Anna Anikeeva-Syroechkovskaya, will come to us. By the way, both of them followed in the footsteps of their father and grandfather. Details Here.

Tatiana Petrenko

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