One of the most important events in the development of the Far Eastern region of the Russian Empire was the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway (1897–1903), which became a powerful incitement for the revival of the remote area. The development of the CER line was marked by a wave of urban development, which involved the appearance of city plans of Dalian, Port Arthur (both 1898) and Harbin (1899).
For the two major seaports (Port Arthur, Dalian) areas on the shore of beautiful bays, where the railway went towards the ocean, were selected by the CER Company. The third of the cities (Harbin) was constructed as a trade city over the Songhua River, at the intersection of railways.
Professional design engineer teams who planned all of these cities, during their work took into account hypsography and used functional zoning methods.
In their zeal to avoid regular planning, architects created polycentric schemes consisting of independent parts, which were accentuated by their special attention to informal arrangements, street layout, and erection of churches of various denominations.
The housing stock was based on the large areas of private cottage houses. In addition to well-appointed public spaces there was necessary infrastructure. Architects’ specialization on the neoclassical and neo-Russian architecture brought a “national” — sense of a triad of S. Uvarov into the appearance of remote outposts.
Characteristics of these plans with due regard for economic independence and legal management of the CER Company are remarkably similar to the principles of the Howard’s garden-cities theory, published in the book “Tomorrow: peaceful path to real reform” (1898). The extremely rapid penetration of the theory to the Far East became possible because of the determination of St. Petersburg intelligentsia. The authors of those Far East city plans were K. Skolimowski, A. von Gogen and I. Oblomievsky. They worked together in the “Zodchiy” magazine in the 1890s — 1910s with future translator of the book and personal friend of Howard — Alexander Bloch. Almost the direct impact of the English urban planning theory and the attempt of its realization on the most remote piece of the Russian Empire (as the only possible site, away from the royal sight) played a major role in the history of the Russian urban development. For the short period that these towns belonged to Russia, we had real garden-cities.