When he visited New York for the first time last year, Sergei Tushin already knew the city by heart. Hadn’t he watched “King Kong” and many episodes of “Sex and the City”?
Strolling through Central Park, he remembered where the giant ape had romped. And even if he had dozed through some of Carrie Bradshaw’s escapades, for Tushin, sitting dutifully next to his wife on their living-room couch, Fifth Avenue was as familiar as Lenin Avenue or Karl Marx Street at home.
Tushin yearns to make his own beloved city, Russia’s fourth largest, just as celebrated. Bereft of a gorilla or Sarah Jessica Parker, Yekaterinburg and its 1.38 million inhabitants have settled on bidding for a world’s fair to make themselves known. And as the city’s deputy chief of staff, Tushin intends to make it happen.
The people of Yekaterinburg, often at odds over politics, agree on this: Theirs is the best of cities, deserving of a world’s fair.
“We should win,” said Lena Popova, a former police officer who works as office manager for a foundation called City Without Drugs. “Where else can you have the expo but here? We have everything.”
In the winter, which lasts about six months, there’s plenty of snow, said Popova, who prowls her office in a leopard-print dress and high-heeled boots. If you can’t ski or ice-skate, there’s the indoor water park. And in the short, intense summer, green parks beckon. “I love this city,” she said.
“The intellectual level has always been very high,” said her boss, Yevgeny Roizman. “This is the center of the country.”
World’s fairs attract people and attention — last year’s six-month world’s fair in Shanghai brought more than 70 million tourists. Countries build pavilions; the host nation invests in new airports, roads and hotels; and the money flows.
“It’s extremely important for us,” Tushin said. “If we are chosen, we will become a different city.”
Yekaterinburg won its first victory several weeks ago when Russia officially nominated it. Tushin had already scouted out the competition and was sure of victory. He described a visit to another Russian city. “I saw cockroaches in my hotel,” he said, lowering his voice. “We do not have cockroaches here.”
Last week, a delegation of national and local officials traveled to Paris to submit the city’s application to the Bureau of International Exhibitions. The bureau is expected to name the winning city in 2013, leaving seven years for building and buffing.
Yekaterinburg, in the foothills of the Urals about 1,000 miles from Moscow, was founded in November 1723 and named after Peter the Great’s wife, Catherine I.
Residents tout its historical notes. The last czar, Nicholas II, was killed here in 1918, along with his wife and children. The city has a 50-story building that locals call the world’s northernmost skyscraper. Iron from the region went into the Eiffel Tower. American pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 spy plane over Yekaterinburg skies in 1960.
The first president of post-
Soviet Russia, the late Boris Yeltsin, was born nearby. The Yekaterinburg gold rush of 1745 created enormous wealth — one local baron of the time put on a wedding celebration that lasted a year. The city marks the border between Europe and Asia.
During the Soviet years, Yekaterinburg was called Sverdlovsk, and it was a military-industrial city closed to foreigners. Now it has McDonald’s and Subway, sushi restaurants, and Gucci, Chanel and Armani. The Bentley dealership closed recently, just after Ferrari left town.
“We are number one in city development,” said Alexander G. Visokinsky, deputy mayor for strategic planning. “We believe this is because we are very far from Moscow.”
Visokinsky and Tushin have offices in the magnificent city hall, a neoclassical building crowned with a tall spire and red star. Lenin stands across the street, his right hand pointing out the local Benetton store, his left gesturing toward the bright future.
“This is our chance,” Tushin said, “and we are going to use this chance. We are not sitting back, saying, ‘Give it to us.’ We are working.”