Moscow is undergoing a major transformation, partly under the impulse of the current mayor Sobyanin. If you’ve been in Moscow in the past 15 years and hated it, maybe it’s time to reconsider and visit the new Moscow.
It is becoming so great that it fills me with joy just to think about it.
Sure, in a sense, a lot of what is new about Moscow is quite normal: there is space for pedestrians to walk, the bus stops have information about bus lines, important navigation signs are written in English.
Yes, in a sense, Moscow is just catching up and becoming a normal city that’s nice to be in. Under the mayor’s motto to make the city “for the people”, Moscow is becoming more livable.
From a hostile, crazy urban environment developed too fast in a new capitalistic world where the rights belong to the rich, Moscow is slowly transforming into a pleasant, welcoming urban space with more opportunity for respect and equality.
The horrible and dirty kiosks that had invaded the public spaces when capitalism boomed, arguably made it very easy to find somewhere to repair your shoes or eat a quick snack, but left no space to walk for people; they have all been removed.
The disgusting asphalt of the streets, full of potholes and covered with stains, have been replaced by new, clean one, and sometimes even stone or other prettier materials.
The authorities are encouraging Moscow people to drive less and walk more. People now have to pay for parking (yes only that’s very recent), and the city has reduced the width of big avenues to create more space for the pedestrians.
The bus stops now have information about bus lines and times, which makes it easier for anyone to use public transportation.
The parks have been renovated, including a sparkly new one that just opened close to Red Square, and include imaginative new features such as the super cool obstacle ride of the Crimea Embankment (Krymskaya Naberezhnaya) that’s so much fun on a hot summer evening. And you can now rent city bikes like in every other big city in the world.
Squares have been renovated too, with more space to hang out and enjoy life, like on the big swings on Triumfalnaya Square.
And all of that great transformation culminates with a smoking ban finally in place everywhere, ultimate sign of modernity.
There are street photo exhibitions very regularly, reminding Muscovites of the beauty of Russia, making Moscow not just a huge megalopolis but a true capital to an attractive country, and adding to the pleasure one has to walk around its embellished streets.
Moscow is crowded, and remains crowded, but at least the people now have somewhere to go and enjoy life, even for free.
This all went actually quite fast, with the mayor instilling a tempo to ensure the city would be ready for its 870th anniversary celebrations in September 2017.
There’s some criticism of course, and in particular about when and where this transformation will stop. The authorities’ have decided to next tackle housing, and destroy up to 70% of the so-called Brejnevka building – pre-fabricated apartment blocks from Brejnev’s time. Not all agree, and quite a few wonder if the mayor is doing this just to give contracts to his friends, a very common practice in Russia; and many fear that this will only increase rents, already very high in Moscow.
But at least, Moscow has caught up with other megalopoles and is becoming pleasant. So pleasant, that when I look back to how things were 5 years ago, I am starting to wonder: what exactly did I like about it?
(Second part tomorrow)