Sochi: the Miami of Russia. Or is the city more closely aligned with an east coast summer vacation spot? The Black Sea destination expands its once domestic and seasonal reach with the 2014 Winter Olympics, sometimes at the expense of year round residents.  

Foreigners may be less familiar with Sochi because Sochi remains a largely Russian tourist destination, but much of the Russian population enjoys occasional visits to the area. Like Bethany beach in the United States or Alicante in Spain, Sochi enjoys a strong travel season from May to September.

Though situated in a nation associated with tundra weather, snow rarely stays on the coast. This phenomenon makes Sochi an interesting choice for the 2014 Winter Olympics, considering past Olympic cities with slightly cooler temperatures.

Jennifer recently returned from one year working in Moscow, Russia and said, “Many of the people I talked with thought it was odd that the winter Olympics were being held in Sochi, due to mild temperatures almost year round.” Jennifer asked that her last name not be revealed.

Still, officials promise there will be snow.

Renovations to Sochi

At first glance, it seems Sochi benefits greatly from the Olympics. Yet the countless construction projects  change the atmosphere of the city. As a vacation town, it follows that Sochi lacks infrastructure to accommodate the flow of millions of Olympic athletes and visitors.

Some of the most notable projects include a renovated Sochi International Airport and a $635 million highway. The highway raises concern regarding the burden on Sochi residents. Many communities were uprooted to make room for the road, though all residents were promised buyout packages. Unfortunately, the government reimbursements often did not cover the full value of the residents’ properties.

The displaced communities represent another side of Sochi. Next to the highway stands a dilapidated apartment building in the hillside Akatsy neighborhood with “SOS” written on the roof. Across the railroad tracks, another housing block experiences flooding caused by the drainage system of the new road.

Despite emerging stories about the hardships of Sochi residents, Russian president Vladimir Putin continues to showcase the stunning resorts and beaches of Sochi, combined with the numerous infrastructure projects, to show progressivity in Russia.

“I would like the participants, fans, journalists and all those who watch the Games on television to see a new Russia, see its face and possibilities, take a fresh and unbiased look at the country,” Putin told Russian and international news media in Sochi.

Changes Harm the Environment

Considering the upcoming construction projects, Putin vowed to uphold environmental standards during the renovations. Construction companies claim they are utilizing procedures that protect the environment, and the Sochi 2014 organizing committee says the projects have successfully contained carbon emissions. Additionally, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak in January said, “The air and water in Sochi have become cleaner than in December 2007.”

However, Russian Railways, the company that provided rock for the new highway in Sochi, was accused of illegal rock dumping and paid a fine for the offense. Residents continue to argue that Russian Railways is dumping in illegal landfills. Once moisture from the rock seeps into the soil, it will travel to the Mzymta River, and this importance source of drinking water becomes toxic.

Sochi after the Olympics

With the media attention surrounding the 2014 Olympics, Sochi is set up to attract a greater tourist population in the coming years.

Sochi continues to gain popularity within the Russian population as well. Jennifer remembers hearing reports that “the women’s gymnastics team visits Sochi for ‘recovery’ camps at least once a year.” The team is currently considering moving its training base to the suburbs of Sochi.

Sochi residents and seasonal travelers will notice changes to the city . A closer look at Sochi, the site of the 2014 Olympic games, shows a city vibrant with tourism but struggling to maintain its identity in the midst of the Olympic season.