Johanna Conterio is a Lecturer in International and Modern European History at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and a Title VIII Research Scholar at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was previously a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London. She received her PhD at Harvard University in the History Department. Her research focuses on questions in the history of medicine, environment, and urban planning in the Soviet Union. It has been supported by grants from the Fulbright Program of the United States Department of State and the Foreign Language and Area Studies Program of the United States Department of Education, among others.

Project Summary

“Urban Planning as Social Engineering: The Politics of Green Space in the USSR, 1931-1941” explores the relationship between urban planning and policing in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Throughout the 1930s, rapid urbanization threatened the standard of living in Soviet cities and towns, as new migrants strained limited urban resources. From the early 1930s, in the wake of collectivization, the state prioritized raising the standard of living and establishing social order in cities and towns, and this coincided and indeed was linked to large state investments in urban planning and reconstruction.
Stalinist urban planners sought to shape the social order by reducing urban population density and limiting urban growth, contributing to a shift in the movements and settlement patterns of the entire population of the Soviet Union in the entire Soviet territory, away from the two capitals and into new industrial areas and border regions. As this study explores, one way in which urban planners sought to reduce population density in planned areas and establish material barriers to urban growth was through the construction of heavily policed and protected green spaces. By building new and broadening existing roads, removing city walls, and integrating plots into parks, urban planners designed cities that they explicitly argued would be more easily policed and subject to social control. The creation of a highly statist form of urban planning coincided with a turn in Soviet policing, brought under the administrative command of the Joint State Political Directorate (OGPU), from the countryside to a focus on the problem of social order in the cities. In current historical writing, state investments in urban planning under Stalin and the turn of the political police to urban spaces have been treated separately. 
This study treats the rise of urban planning and urban policing in the early 1930s as part of a single, state project to establish social order in cities, and implicates Soviet urban planners in the violent processes of social engineering of Stalinism, particularly in controlling migration and settlement patterns.