Back to Moscow. I had some romantic ideas about what was going to be outside this city. In that transition area between the metropole and that enormous land. Finally I had the chance to see it. Moscow Regional Government invited me to discuss the future of their parks with the park managers in a conference. I felt it was important to visit some of these parks first. So that’s what we did.
The car approached in front of the hotel on a cold morning in summer. My colleague Lena was already inside. The driver obviously wanted to get us to the first park fast. Or do they just always want to drive like this? Fast in Moscow still meant that we were going to spend some hours in the car on our way to the first park of the day in Schelkovo. The province is big, bigger than Switzerland.
We discussed the day. I had no clear idea what to expect in these local parks today. What qualities do they have. Which people visit them. What is around them. What is the state of their management. It was not going to be easy to get more than a first impression. But it would be realy exciting to get there and get a better understanding. Lena told me there would probably be some journalists there as well. When we arrived in Schelkovo there were three camera crews waiting for us.
The quality of the public space can tell you a lot about the world that you are in. Public space is a reflection of the environment. You can not really expect to see a public park in a much better state than, let’s say, a public building or a nearby housing complex. In the huge outstretched country that Russia is there is an overwhelming amount of “green” space. Which can never be all public in the sense that it will be maintained well and taken care of. What choices are being made? How much high quality green space do you really need and what should be the program for that?
There is also another side to this. Moscow is one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in Europe. It may be nice to know that you live in a huge country but for your normal life it doesn’t help you much. Distances are huge, traffic congestion is a problem everywhere. Public parks are a vital ingredient for every city. They are there for the day to day users and they are there for the visitor, no matter what or where he comes from. A woman with a new born child wants to get out of the house for a walk, even if it is only for fifteen minutes between two rainshowers. Kids need a safe place to play. The elderly want a place to meet. There are so many possibilities for a good quality green space to be used. With almost 20 million people living in the Moscow metropole these parks have an enormous visitor potential.
So who are they, the users of these parks. I did see one woman practicing Nordic walking. Some people on a bike. Two others jogging. A school class of children on their way through the park. People working there. Other joggers, other young couples with strollers. These parks have visitors, but not that many, on an ordinary day of the week, be it relatively cold.
We had seen the first park and I did my first interview. “What do you think?” is the obvious question. We went to Serphukov, a long drive, the televison crews behind us trying to catch up. After Serphukov we went to Podolsk. In every park we met an enthusiastic park manager. The parks that we saw were taken care off. Clean, green and safe for me are the first characteristics that any public space should have. And that is what they are in the first place: clean, green and safe. I was not very impressed by their design though. I was alos not impressed by the way these parks tell their stories. I was wondering what these parks were doing to attract their visitors. But the basics are there and that is an important value.
The playgrounds for children look almost all the same. There is not much grass available to have a pick nick. The fences are not very well maintained. But there are different sport facilities. Podolsk has a huge theatre, Serphukov uses a nice building for marriages. In Serphukov the park manager took us to a coffee bar on wheels and the espresso that I had was very good. I liked that idea. There was a small structure for a book exchange.
Here is one of the videos that were made from my park visit.
The next days more interviews were to follow. Exiting stuff these parks in the Moscow region. The presentation for the park managers was going to take place the same week. We had a better understanding of what to tell them.