When I went to Kiev in 2012 my hosts at the Kiev Cyclists Association had an office in Podil, the Kiev lower city where I found an interesting and bustling urban centre close to the river Dnieper.
However this time I was a bit surprised to find my taxi taking me past Podil and into what looked like an industrial yard on the riverside. Ksenia met me there and took me up to an office within a hostel for dock workers and sailors.
This confirmed that my first impressions were correct. I was in the heart of Kiev’s former docklands, a down-at-heel landscape inhabited by some residual industry and stray dogs, mainly interesting for its industrial archaeology.
Personally I find old industrial heritage very interesting, I think it must be the years I spent working in factories in my previous career, but it’s the sort of place capital cities regard as an asset and it’s very different to the bits the tourists get to see.
My walk to the nearby Hotel Amarant continued the story of the neighbourhood. My route around the massive flour silos that supply the city’s bakery showed that they were still in use, but otherwise it was a zone of broken pavements and half built renovations.
The hotel itself comfortable and immaculately clean, but its view of a derelict building is hardly the vista to cheer a weary traveller.
Grim and grey would probably sum it up, the brightest colours were the fruit at the market stalls around the metro entrance.
I mused that it must take some sort of mad optimist to decide that the first thing a building site needs is a business hotel?
But there’s the real story. This zone is not so far from Podil (2 metro stops or 20 minutes’ walk) and it is experiencing an “urban breakout”. One of the sites has become a film studio popular for filming pop videos and over in the docks a former port building has been converted into a “creative community”, together with trendy loft style interiors featuring stripped pine and primary colours.
Across the harbour a giant factory site is going to be regenerated into modern trendy riverside living. Of course it is. The cynic within me immediately wanted to scream “property developers” and “hipsters’ as an alarm call and run for the exit.
I know I am just being an old codger, not wanting every regenerated city waterside in the world to end up looking the same and pricing out the remaining residents and early adopters who make it their home and workplace now. I was told that right now the transition in the docks area is a melting pot, especially in the Soviet era works canteen that serves a hearty meal to all sections of society for an affordable price. It will be great if the developers can maintain that shared sense of place with the much needed regeneration, then Kiev could enjoy a waterside district to match places like London or Copenhagen but with its own distinctiveness.
And I can’t regret that all over the world the cultural crowd bring bikes. On my walk through the grey neighbourhood en-route to my hotel I was very surprised to see a newish bike shop featuring a window full of folding bikes, while the I-ZONE cultural community has chosen a bike to brighten up their entrance.
It could be that Kiev Cyclists Association is in exactly the right place for its next phase of life?
Next time I go back maybe I will be able to ride a bike around and say “I remember it when….”