Forest and the Fast Lane

Photo of a metro station in MoscowWhen it comes to transition, it seems there is a lot to learn in Moscow. I'm currently writing from there, after a day of walking around and taking a few pictures. The things that really stand out are the lasting marks left on the city from very different governing ideas: ornate metro stations, trees everywhere, aging apartment blocks, modernist masterworks, cars racing down streets that take an incredibly long time to cross. Everything Stalinist is gigantic.

Many public works have aged remarkably well. The metro stations are efficient and well maintained. The ones in the center of town have all kinds of architectural touches usually reserved for mansions, theaters, monuments, city halls, and museums. There is a basic sturdiness that prevents them from seeming too extravagant. Public green space lines the streets and fills the insides of apartment blocks. It’s very refreshing on summer days. Parks are full of young couples, new families, and elders reading or just watching people pass by. The ones I’ve seen so far have been clean but not highly manicured, which gives them a kind of wilderness atmosphere.

Photo of a park near Moscow State UniversityThe trains and parks seem like lasting gifts from the past, although they’re surely changing with today’s frenetic market experimentation. The giant streets are much less successful from a pedestrian’s point of view -- like highways running through city neighborhoods. If they were narrowed and filled in with plantings, spacious sidewalks, and small businesses, the improvement for walkers would be significant. I can’t quite see this happening, as the young and wealthy seem to really love these roadways. They're good for drag races at night and 360 skids in the middle of the day. It all makes Moscow an interesting mix of values and ideas, like any city, but multiplied by something extreme.

(Photos by Peter Sigrist)

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